Barack Obama has spoken about the dangers of toxic masculinity and what it really means to “be a man”.
The former President attended a conference in Oakland for his My Brother’s Keeper initiative alongside NBA star Steph Curry.
The foundation was launched by Obama in 2014 to “unlock the full potential of boys and young men of colour in America” through mentoring and educational programmes.
On Tuesday, Obama spoke candidly about stereotypes of masculinity and the need to create spaces where young men of colour don’t feel the need to “act a certain way” in order to be respected.
“All of us have to recognise that being a man is first and foremost being a good human,” the former President said.
“That means being responsible, working hard, being kind, respectful, compassionate.
“If you’re confident about your strength, you don’t need to show me by putting somebody else down. Show me by lifting somebody else up.”
Obama also made specific reference to racism and how it plays a role in perpetuating toxic masculinity.
“Racism historically in this society sends a message that you are ‘less than,’” he said.
“We feel we have to compensate by exaggerating stereotypical ways men are supposed to act. And that’s a trap.”
Obama added that much of the “violence and pain” communities suffer comes from men “seeking respect”, including through gun violence and knife crime, calling it “a self-defeating model for being a man.”
The 57-year-old noted how cultural influences, like music, can also perpetuate these stereotypes by bragging about money and showing overly sexualised images of women.
“Ironically, that shows the vulnerability you feel,” Obama said.
“If you were very confident about your sexuality, you don’t have to have eight women around you twerking… you seem stressed that you gotta be acting that way.
“I got one woman who I’m very happy with,” he added, referring to his wife of 27 years, Michelle Obama, as the audience applauded.
When Curry spoke about the need to create spaces where men can be “open about their feelings”, Obama discusses the differences between the way he interacts with his friends and his wife interacts with hers.
He said how in his own household, he tends to get together with his “boys” to watch or play a game of basketball, but they might not say much to each other.
However, he noted that Michelle “will get with her girlfriends, they’ll show up at noon, they’ll be talking, I’ll leave, come back three hours later, they are still talking.
“That’s the difference,” he added, concluding that that young girls and women often create spaces “to talk about vulnerabilities, doubts, lack of confidence” that men don’t.
“It has to do with socialisation.”
Despite this, Obama also recognised that young women of colour “need an enormous amount of support, too”.