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Valerie Jarrett defends 'My Brother's Keeper' against criticism

In an exclusive interview with msnbc, White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett responded to a letter raising concerns about My Brother’s Keeper.
White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett speaks during an event at the White House  January 16, 2014 in Washington, DC.
White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett speaks during an event at the White House January 16, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Just because something is targeted at one segment of a minority group doesn't mean that it's exclusive, White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett told msnbc in an exclusive interview Wednesday, defending My Brother’s Keeper, President Barack Obama’s new program aimed at men of color.

Jarrett's defense of the initiative comes after over 1,000 women of color, including Anita Hill, Angela Davis, and Rosario Dawson, earlier this week signed a letter raising concerns about the fact that women won’t be included in the program.

“We are profoundly troubled about the exclusion of women and girls of color from this critical undertaking,” the letter reads. “The need to acknowledge the crisis facing boys should not come at the expense of addressing the stunted opportunities for girls who live in the same households, suffer in the same schools, and struggle to overcome a common history of limited opportunities caused by various forms of discrimination.”

Jarrett responded to the criticisms raised in the letter, saying “I think the flaw in the logic is not understanding that this is not either/or, this is both/and,” Jarrett said. “The president’s approach is to create a society where nobody gets left behind, and right now are young boys of color are falling farther and farther behind than everybody.”

The letter objects to the premise that women and girls of color need less help. “In short, women and girls of color are not doing fine, and until they are, men and boys will not be doing fine either.”

Jarrett chairs the White House Council on Women and Girls, which next week will co-host a Summit on Working Families with the president, first lady Michelle Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden. But the signatories of the letter questioned whether the Council would satisfy their concerns: “To those who would urge us to take up our concerns with the White House Council on Women and Girls, we note that the Council, like many gender-focused initiatives on women, lacks an intersectional frame that would address the race-based challenges faced by young women of color in a racially-stratified society.”

Jarrett also disputed that point. “Many of our initiatives have been designed to make sure that that cohort doesn’t fall behind,” she said, referring to women of color. “So for them we’ll add encouraging girls of color to go into STEM fields. It’s a big priority of us, and that means that that begins with science and math courses, so what can we do to provide mentors to those young girls so they go into those fields.” Jarrett also mentioned the president’s recent focus on campus sexual assault, although that hasn’t included an explicit focus on women of color.