At the Oakland event, Mr. Obama doubled-down on his finger-wagging. “Oftentimes racism, historically in this society, sends you a message that you are less than and weak,” Mr. Obama said. “We feel like we got to compensate by exaggerating certain stereotypical ways that men are supposed to act, and that’s a trap that we fall into that we have to pull out of.”
This is also how conservatives depict black people, as the philosopher Cornel West explained in “Race Matters.” Conservatives accuse them of being lazy and demand self-improvement. Liberals pity blacks for not being able to help themselves. But, to both groups, the burden is on black people to fix themselves. Neither conservatives nor liberals sufficiently challenge racist people or institutions that have long exploited poor people and people of color.
To put it another way: Programs like My Brother’s Keeper insist on making better versions of Trayvon Martin, the black victim, instead of asking how to stop creating people like George Zimmerman, the racist vigilante. Rather than encouraging them to dismantle the systems that deepen wealth inequality, Mr. Obama tells black boys to tuck their chains.