Inclusion and “My Brother’s Keeper”

One criticism that has arisen about My Brother’s Keeper is that, by focusing solely on black men and boys, the program is limited in scope and denies the needs of other marginalized groups. Perception Institute Research Advisor john a. powell, writing alongside our Research Director Rachel Godsil and our Executive Director Alexis McGill Johnson, responds to this criticism with Beyond Othering and Into Belonging. Here’s a brief excerpt:

These are important and legitimate questions, and they deserve to be answered.  The government, in using its resources—including its moral authority—has an obligation to all of its members, not just to some.  When it focuses on some and not all, we need an explanation as to why. What must inform our policies is not equal treatment, but equal concern for all groups and individuals. A plan that focuses on everyone, without recognizing that different groups are in unique situations and need responses appropriate to their position, will fail at delivering equal concern or effective outcomes.

We can understand this idea if we think of individuals who are in a wheelchair trying to reach an upper floor. An escalator will not support those individuals in the same way as it would those who are able-bodied. It is not the disabled group that needs fixing, but the structure.  The goal is to convey everyone to the upper floor and it is universal. But the strategy to achieve this goal must be targeted toward the disabled individuals to address their circumstances, which differ from those of other groups. We call this strategy “targeted universalism.”

Does this mean that we should only focus on the individuals in the wheelchair?  No. But neither does it mean that we treat all groups attempting to get to the upper floor the same.  A targeted universalism approach is concerned about the mobility of all groups while recognizing that some groups will require targeted strategies to get there.

To learn more about targeted universalism and how it intersects with and helps explain the usefulness of My Brother’s Keeper, you can read the whole thing here. An abbreviated version appears as an op-ed in the Chronicle of Philanthropy as well.