Posted on 11 September 2011.
When I was a boy, I would overhear older black men talking about this evil, mythical figure called the Man. I thought there was Batman, Spiderman, Superman, and The Man.
The Man was accused of selfishly hoarding power and resources that prevented black men from getting jobs, owning businesses, and having greater opportunities in general. as a young impressionable child, the Man seemed like one bad mutha. it took me some time for me to figure out that the Man was the white man.
As humorous and antiquated as this notion may be, it surprises me that the Man still lives in the minds of many black men today. After listening to Barack Obama make his presentation at the Democratic National Convention, which coincided with the 45th anniversary of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech, there is a palpable energy, optimism, and pride that I’m sensing in my conversations with other black men. An awakening that’s almost spiritual. A fertile synergy that can produce the seeds of a movement – a black male movement.
While the women’s movement has been legitimized and publicized in the press since their struggles for liberation began, there is a potential – and much needed – black man’s movement that’s underway. Of course the media has not picked up on it because they don’t consider it newsworthy or noteworthy, but conscious black people, especially those who desire and seek financial, mental, and vocational liberation for themselves and their children, are well aware of it.
It’s the effect that Barack Obama’s campaign and legacy will have on black men.
To really understand the magnitude of this effect you have to go back in history to another speech. it was given at a graduating ceremony for Howard University in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson in the aftermath of John F. Kennedy’s assassination and the passage of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination of all kinds based on race, color, religion, or national origin.
You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: ‘Now, you are free to go where you want, do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please.’ you do not take a man who for years has been hobbled by chains, liberate him, bring him to the starting line of a race, saying, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe you have been completely fair.This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity-not just legal equity but human ability-not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result.
The bill was later amended to cover discrimination on the basis of gender. that amendment largely benefited white women and opened the floodgates for their entry into the workplace.
As more white women migrated into the workplace in 1964, occupying jobs they were allowed to have and armed with new legislature and a spirit of liberation that would gain momentum and evolve into the women’s movement, black women would soon follow suit and be deployed in less desirable roles while black men would essentially be displaced; spawning an employment imbalance in the black community where the men consistently have higher rates of unemployment and underemployment than black women.
This statistic holds true to this very day.
When I Juxtapose today’s work environment with yesterday’s, I see that black men still comprise the bulk of the work force that’s relegated to manual labor or undesirable jobs with marginal pay. I searched, but did not find, statistical data on the ethnic composition of the labor force of FedEx and UPS, but through observation, I’m willing to bet they are among the top – if not 1 and 2 – employers of black men, closely followed by any company that provides security (guard) services.
They are all jobs that place physical demands on their employees. Black men have always been used and valued for their physical strength since they stepped (chained) foot into this country. After all this time, we are still more likely to be paid millions for our muscles than our minds.
The Barack Obama Effect will cause the pendulum to swing in the other direction.
In the 60s, gainful employment was denied due to racism, fear, and distrust. Racism is not what leads to unfavorable employment conditions that black men have to overcome, it’s negative perceptions about black men as a group that have proven to be a greater economic and psychological barrier to our success. It’s the internalization of these perceptions that impact us. There’s extensive research that proves how devastating these perceptions can be when internalized by young black males.
According to Dr. Alvin Poussaint, psychiatrist and author of Lay My Burden Down: Unraveling Suicide and the Mental Health Crisis among African Americans over the last twenty years, suicide rates among young black males between the ages of 15 and 19 increased 114%. Head coach of the Indianapolis Colts lost his 18 year old son to suicide in 2005 and finally the epidemic caught the media’s attention, albeit for a fleeting moment.
With commonplace scenarios such as fragmented families that are often headed by single mothers, lack of male leadership, negative influences, and continued discrimination in our schools from teachers who do not embrace, nurture, or support young black males as readily as their white peers, it’s no wonder that so many young black males fabricate false bravado and a cool facade to camouflage low self-esteem, and often seeking validation through sports, entertainment and sexual conquests. Even worse, it creates a fixed mindset.
Author Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., who is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading researchers in the fields of personality, social psychology, and developmental psychology, notes that psychologists know that negative stereotypes and labels are harmful, but they are still discovering just how negative labels harm achievement. she writes in her book Mindset: the new Psychology Of Success, that a fixed mindset limits achievement. it fills people’s mind with interfering thoughts. it makes effort disagreeable, and it leads to inferior learning strategies. What’s more, it makes other people into judges instead of allies.
My father told me at an early age that black men have to work two to three times harder than white men to achieve the same success. We also have to work smarter to be as successful. There are political, psychological, racial, and legal elements at play in every arena that we thrive in. it behooves us to know how to best navigate through situations that pose a threat to our success.
Whether it’s working harder or smarter, extra work is inevitable. Dealing with the inertia that stems from apathy in many of our neighborhoods, communities, and homes; dealing with lingering fears and stereotypes, and having to exert constant effort to fit in with white men who don’t feel as comfortable with us or in our presence. Historically, our prosperity as black men has always been tied to our ability to successfully interface with white men.
I imagine that living life as a paraplegic or without one’s sight is probably harder in terms of difficulty and adaptability, but certainly not capability. That’s where the line gets drawn and a new way of thinking can begin. Yes, being a black man is harder for some black men and it certainly has some societal drawbacks, but like those with the aforementioned physical challenges, we must view them as just that; challenges not disabilities, and certainly not handicaps. being a black man is hard, but being a black man who is president will be inconceivably hard.
What do we find when we delve into Barack Obama’s background? Let’s see:
Barack Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii to a Kansas-born mother, Ann Dunham (who is a distant relative of Robert Duvall) and a Kenyan-born father, Barack Hussein Obama Sr., who met while both were attending the University of Hawaii, where his father was enrolled as a foreign student.
His mother and father divorced when he was two and his mother re-married and they relocated to Indonesia. his father attended Harvard, traveled around the world on official business for Kenya and saw Obama only a few times by the time he turned 10, at which point he was sent back to Hawaii to live with his maternal grandparents so that he could attend the highly-regarded non-sectarian private Punahou School where he graduated from.
Obama studied for two years at Occidental College in California before transferring to Columbia University, where he majored in political science with a specialization in international relations. He became a community organizer for a small Chicago church-based group for three years, helping poor South side residents cope with a wave of plant closings. He then attended Harvard Law School, and in 1990 became the first African-American editor of the Harvard Law Review.
He turned down a prestigious judicial clerkship, choosing instead to practice civil-rights law back in Chicago, representing victims of housing and employment discrimination and working on voting-rights legislation. He also began teaching at the University of Chicago Law School. Eventually he ran as a Democrat for the state senate seat from his district, which included both Hyde Park (where he currently lives) and some of the poorest ghettos on the South side, and won.
In 2004 Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Democrat, representing Illinois, and gained national attention by giving a rousing and well-received keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in Boston; won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word for the CD version of his autobiography Dreams From My Father (2006); won his second Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for the Audacity of Hope (2008); sought the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Presidency (2008).
It’s a brief overview that highlights great accomplishments, but his origins are similar to most black men I know: He came from a single parent household, had a strained relationship with his father, a close relationship with his grandparents, and had to make choices.
Law school, community organizer, civil-rights activist, Grammy award winner, member of the U.S. Senate, Presidential candidate – they are all talent and value based decisions. None of them would be feasible if Barack Obama did not truly believe that these goals were possible and put forth the consistent effort to reach them.
What will happen if Barack Obama gets elected president? what will happen when black men stop blaming the man, and start being the Man? Every door will be open. Every American dream – including being President – can be a reality.
Our view and definition of the Man will finally be flipped; replaced by a positive self-image and greater awareness of the super powers we possess, but seldom activate. We will become more motivated to utilize resources, get better jobs, start successful businesses, and capitalize on opportunities because the leadership and role model that so many of us have lacked, will have emerged in the highest visible position in the country – the presidency.
In short, the Barack Obama Effect will mean that our statute of limitations on excuses will have officially run out. the fixed mindset that has plagued black men for centuries from the aforementioned internalization of negative perceptions will be repaired. the Effect Of Barack Obama will germinate a growth mindset which will benefit black men for centuries to come.
Dweck writes: the growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. the growth mindset takes the teeth out of stereotypes and makes people better able to fight back. they don’t believe in permanent inferiority. she also writes: Prejudice is a deeply ingrained societal problem.a growth mindset helps people see prejudice for what it is – someone else’s view of them.
The Barack Obama Effect will inspire little black boys to find the courage to choose the road less traveled and explore the many options available to them. the Barack Obama Effect will motivate the parents of little black boys to instill an authentic, deeply rooted confidence which allows and enables them to have personal and professional lives that are only limited by the boundaries of their imagination and efforts, not lack of opportunities. the Barack Obama Effect will linger because black men and black boys will know that in their hearts and in their minds, they are the Man – the only man – who controls their own thoughts, actions, and destinies.