Monday, January 19, 2009

Black Males & the “Obama Effect”

The day after the 2008 Elections, Beyond The Spectrum briefly—albeit cynically—explored the possibility of whether the successful election of Barack Obama would have a positive impact on the self-image of African-Americans in general, and male in particular. Given Obama’s stylish panache, professionalism, ability to articulate, and his upbringing—a narrative of the trials of single parenthood applicable to many such homes within the black community—there has been a lot made of what I shall call the “Obama Effect.” I define this would-be phenomenon as the potential for Obama’s current appeal and mainstream success to translate into inspiration among black males to the point where many would want to emulate him.
On this particular day, the Martin Luther King Holiday, and the day before the country’s first African-American takes the Oath of Office, it seems the urge to explore this notion has taken root among the mainstream media. On this morning’s National Public Radio’s (NPR) Morning Edition, Comedian Bill Cosby and noted psychiatrist Dr. Alvin Poussiant are interviewed on the subject of black male role models in the form of responsible black fathers
(listen to the podcast of this interview online at:
For their part, the duo has been challenging the counter-productive negative self-images and mindsets that many lower-income blacks have in their 2007 book, Come On People: On the Path from Victims to Victors. In fact, their co-authorship of this book (and high-profile spokesmen on the subject of negative black self-image) has found them making the rounds on many news programs, particularly since Cosby raised the ire of many traditional African-American leaders with his 2004 speech at an N.A.A.C.P. gala berating many self-defeating deficiencies within the black community, such speaking in Ebonics and associating good grades with “acting white.”
On this morning’s Today Show, NBC aired a couple of pieces with a similar overall theme. In one mini segment, Obama himself suggested that young black males should “pull your pants up,” a reference to the Urban-originated fashion “trend” of “sagging.” At the risk upsetting those wearing rose-colored glasses, I have my reservations as to whether Obama’s elegance will be a source of inspiration for those unfortunate young black males without the benefit of benevolent intervention, guidence, or self-motivation . My reservations come from the constant ignoring of rational thinking I find in many black urban males; consider fashion as an example.

Even before Obama, the black community was brimming with well-dressed black males of distinction. The beliefs, mannerisms, and overall demeanor of these would-be role models represented the gamut of socio-political thought; there was a potential role model for whatever social-political persuasion one sought to affiliate themselves with. On one end of the spectrum, mainstream role models such as community activists and pastors provides not only a spiritual base within the black community, but social activists such as Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X, both articulate and elegant in their own ways, represented those the more—relatively speaking—radical end of the role model spectrum.
Even today, many Hip-Hop moguls such as Jay-Z and 50 Cent have traded their previously preferred sense of street-inspired urban “gear” and gaudy “bling” for the more conservative look of tailored suits and ties. Among this latter set, the adoption of a more conservative approach to the symbolic trappings of success as well as adopting a more reserved behavior devoid of constant high-profile run-ins with the law signifies an evolution of thinking that the majority of Hip-Hop entrepreneurs have seemingly gone out of their way to ignore. And sadly, as Hip-Hop goes, so to does the mindset of those who idolize the counter-productive thinking and negative imagery of these individuals. Keeping in mind that “clothes make the man,” and that appearance is an indicator of the desire for success, the fact that so many black men fail to adopt a manner of dress that is conducive for success in a world where everyone else is seemingly passing them by in terms socioeconomic mobility, the issue seems to reflect that any effect which Obama could have as a factor for inspiration for a great deal of African-Americans is not forthcoming.
In this pathology of thinking, the advice and inspiration of the Cosbys and the Obamas, which many black parents are obviously failing notice or even emphasize is ignored, if not altogether marginalized within many segments of the black community. And until such time as many African-Americans learn to engage in meaningful introspection and dialogue as well as question their collective thinking as it relates to roles models, values, aspirations, and personal goals, pants will continue to “sag,” along with grades, and the hopes that under- and counter-productive black males will, instead of being inspired to look up will continue with to be infatuated with all things being “down” (pants included). Until such time, we can add the “Obama Effect” to other would-be pipe-dreams such as world peace, an end to world hunger, and the Cubs in the World Series.


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