President Barack Obama told a group of young black, Hispanic, Native American and Asian men on Monday that they need be proud of their backgrounds and draw strength from their cultures, but ignore people who accuse them of “acting white.”
Obama shared the advice to the young men as part of his “My Brother’s Keeper” program that is marshalling private and public resources to help more boys from minority groups succeed, a program that he views as an important part of his legacy.
Obama said students are sometimes discouraged from “reading too much” or “speaking so properly” because of “the notion of ‘acting white.'”
“The notion that there’s some authentic way of being black, that if you’re going to be black you have to act a certain way and wear a certain kind of clothes, that has to go,” Obama said.
“You don’t have to act a certain way to be authentic. You just have to be who you are – and to go back to the values that you care about.”
Obama, who was raised by his mother and grandparents and had very little contact with his father, told the students he was not a serious student until he was about 20 years old.
He explained part of the goal of the “My Brother’s Keeper” program is to broaden the perspectives of young men about possible careers.
“Part of the problem with young men of color is oftentimes the only thing they see to be passionate about is basketball or rap,” he said.
“We want to make sure you get exposed to graphic design, or you’re exposed to engineering, or you’re exposed to being a lawyer, so that maybe you will be passionate about that.”
His top life advice?
“Number one is: work. It’s a pretty simple concept. There is nothing worthwhile where it just falls in your lap,” he added.