Former president Barack Obama wants women to become more politically involved, saying Wednesday that “men have been getting on my nerves” lately.
Obama made the comments during the second day of his visit to South Africa, during a town hall before members of the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg.
“Every day I read the newspaper and just think like ‘Brothers, what’s wrong with you guys?'” Obama said. “What’s wrong with us? We’re violent, we’re bullying. Just not handling our business.”
More about his comments
Obama said that the increased inclusion and empowerment of women in politics would create better policy, both in Africa and in the world generally, and warned the students not to shy away from politics because of corruption or conflict.
His audience was comprised of 200 students out of 10,000 applicants who were going through leadership training.
“The one thing you can’t do is pretend that politics doesn’t matter and say to yourself ‘that’s too corrupt, that’s too broken, I’m not going to get involved in it’ because at some point if you are ambitious about what you are doing in your home country, you will confront politics.”
Identity politics contradiction?
Obama’s most recent comments have been interpreted by some as a contradiction of what he said just one day earlier, when he rebuked identity politics during the late Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday celebration.
Here’s what he said (emphasis added):
“Democracy demands that we’re able to also get inside the reality of people who are different than us, so we can understand their point of view. Maybe we can change their minds, maybe they’ll change ours. You can’t do this if you just out of hand disregard what your opponent has to say from the start. And you can’t do it if you insist that those who aren’t like you because they are white or they are male, somehow there is no way they can understand what I’m feeling, that somehow they lack standing to speak on certain matters.
While Obama’s remarks were targeted to an audience in a country where less than 10 percent of the population is white, and therefore have a different meaning than they might to an American audience, some observers couldn’t help but point out the sharp tonal dissonance from one day to the next.
As written by Noah Rothman of Commentary:
“This contradictory behavior is standard fare for America’s 44th president. He has at times eloquently attacked the “crude” identity politics that pits Americans against one another, but these flashes of brilliance were few and far between. Barack Obama was a politician catering to a constituency, and that constituency took to divisive identitarianism like fish in water.”