The election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States has had an enormous impact upon the lives of African American children. It has had a dynamic effect upon the psychopathology of America’s racial discourse. Obama’s candidacy has helped to elaborate many of the lingering themes and fault-lines governed through the socialization of the American’ racial idea’. African American children today are in a position to view their future in ways unlike that of any generation before them. It is up to adult African Americans to change the racial discourse and to begin the process of rebuilding dysfunctional African American communities nationwide.
The Impact of Barack Obama’s Election on the Lives of Black Children
“I have to pinch myself every five minutes just to realize that something truly extraordinary has happened. Yesterday, the American people moved beyond many of the traditional barriers of race sex, and class to something extraordinary. To give an extraordinary gift not only to our country, but to the entire world in the very redemptive story of Barack and Michelle Obama. His inauguration on Jan 20th is going to be a statement on how far we’ve come as a nation. It also says something about the American people who have been criticized in the past for being exploited by racial fears and racial division” (Jackson, 2008)
Racism in America is a brut social force which is perpetually re-enforced by the ritual perception of Black racial inferiority. This manufactured perception is necessarily maintained and made to appear as if a ubiquitous reality, as it is continuously buffeted by the lingering subconscious threat and the ever-present intermittent actuality of traditional acts of unprincipled ethnic violence. This is the American racial idea; an abstract thought fraught with a fearful historic memory. Thus, it is in order to limit, restrict, or fully deny the actual ‘humane-ness’ of the targeted group that this is so. This is why a lynching has never required a rope or a tree to make it so; and it is why the lynching of African Americans in this country remains an inconspicuous aspect of American life.1 Nonetheless, this unspoken social construct can only be achieved when the overwhelming majority of the White population is able to be manipulated into acting against their own self-interest, in order to keep the mute Apart-hate structure in place. This is the paradox of Joe the Plummer. It is his inconspicuous racism, which was quickly made suspect when he initially commented that Obama “tap danced almost as good as Sammy Davis Jr. (Huffington, 2008)”, which alone makes him favor the contrary policies of the rich, while all along he simply yearns just to achieve a middle class status. Although this particular example does leave room for doubt, it is nevertheless illustrative of the true nature of racism as it can be seen within the dark psychopathological rubric of ‘projection’2. However macabre in its application, it is the stuff of which legends have been made; and it is exactly that which has helped to keep the Klu Klux Klan in business for nearly 145 years. Why not thrust my own anxieties upon someone else, especially when I live in a country that allows such behavior to continue to be directed towards Black people almost as a way of life. Although this may seem to be quite a mouthful, it is purposely so because the true reality of racism within the lives of African American children and adults is continually distorted by a political and social discourse that bears no likeness to reality. This is done in a rather purposeful way. It is a linguistic process whereby illogically conceived concepts and phrases are made to rule the day. Language is then used to repress independent thought and conjecture by simply confining the entrance into where one buys into an idea. In time, the true psychopathology of racism remains hidden like a deformed child that we all (Americans) have kept hidden in the basement. We all know that he or she is there, but we really not supposed to talk about it. On November 4, 2008 with the election Barack Obama, a Black man to the highest office in the land, every pillar of that delusionary racial construct was completely demolished.
“Cultural action is always a systematic and deliberate form of action which operates upon the social structure, either with the objective of preserving it or of transforming it (Fieire, 2000 p.179).” Paulo Fieire words speak immediately to the enormous impact of Obama’s election. It is the culturally transformative nature of his triumph that is really important here. It helps us to understand why Congressman Jessie Jackson Jr. was so effusive in his constant use of the word ‘extraordinary’ in his comments stated (2008). Moreover, children can only emulate what their environment has presented before them. As long as just one pillar of the racial construct (the ritual perception of Black racial inferiority) is missing, Black children begin to question the whole structure of the world that exists in front of their eyes. For the Black child, Obama’s triumph may actually mean that they no longer need to go off into some far off classroom corner in order to shed some painful tears simply because they have been told once more that this society has rendered their humanity as somehow naturally deficient. In view of an actual President of the United States that looks like them, they now begin to aspire far beyond the ubiquitous restrictive cast made all too apparently real through all manner of coded discourse throughout the course of their lives.3 Suddenly, the old racial construct can be a rather confusing reality in the eyes of a child.
The pivotal evidence that would come to shape the 1954 Supreme Court Decision in Brown v. Education was the work of Dr. Kenneth B. Clark. Clark was a Black psychologist who had studied the reaction of 200 Black children to the stimulus of self-identification when asked to state their preference for either a white or a black doll. The children overwhelming chose the white doll which Clarke concluded indicated their belief in the superior nature of White people and their negative impression of themselves (Your Child, 1947). The jurist on the Supreme Court could easily see the terribly damaging effects that segregation had upon the psyche of Black children. Today, 54 years later, Black children are able to look up and see the image of themselves in the lives of two adorable little girls, Sahsa and Malea; living in the White House as the daughters of President Barack and Michelle Obama.
However, perhaps the greatest impact that this election will have on children of color, is that it will force their parents to re-think their own blind acquiescence to the culturally distorted and politically dysfunctional language of race in America. It is only when the African American adult begins to question their own blind acceptance of this distorted discourse that would consider them a ‘minority’ in the first place; that this structure shall fall. When they begin to ask for themselves, why is this so? If the percentage of European Jews in the United States is substantially lower than that of African Americans, wouldn’t that make you wonder just how these labels were instituted in the first place; and to what purpose are they applied? Nobody refers to Jews as a minority. Labels such as these are meant to instill a subconscious stigma, which helps to provide a buffer to overt racism. Obama’s victory points the way towards the future, and that singular act instantly put every black child in America on notice. On that extraordinary day, they discovered that their future will definitely be much different from that of their parents. The rest would be up to them.
America has a unique ability to remake itself. Nonetheless, it is also incumbent upon the African American community to change itself. The overwhelming sense of hopelessness in many Black communities can be deafening; and this itself can do just as much damage to a child than any stereotype can ever do. This is something that I have witnessed during my travels first hand. It is the shameful reality that a sense of oppression has somehow given birth to its own self-propelling negative reality. Obama has done his part. It is now incumbent upon Black people to remake their own reality. It is incumbent upon Black parents to provide better role models for their children, and it is incumbent upon the Black capitalist class to begin to once again reclaim a stake in the development of self-sustaining African American communities. If African Americans were able to create tremendously prosperous business districts during segregation, what is it that prevents them from doing so today (Vaughn, 2006 p.166)? The bleak picture in many Black ghettos throughout the country due to decades of neglect could not be much more bizarre as it often appears today.
This generation of African American children shall have what no other generation has had before them; an instantaneous realization that in American their ‘blackness’ is less a barrier to success than it has ever been before. In time, they will find it increasingly difficult to just sit and watch their community constantly turned into the nation’s political dumping grounds. Obama’s victory is such that Black children just may begin to look at that which has always appeared to be out of place and instantly question it.
1 This begs to question whether random acts of “racially motivated” violence should simply be classified as lynchings.
2 Psychological projection or projection identification is a common defense mechanism. Here oppressor projects his own subconscious hatred out of fear of reprisal on to the oppressed.
3 This is probably no more apparent than in the African American ghetto, where the stores are often owned by foreigners.
Clark, K. (original edition 1947) Prejudice and your child Wesleyan; 2 Revised edition Quoted from the New Press Kenneth B. Clark Prize website Available at <http://www.thenewpress.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=13&Itemid=21>
Fieire, P. Myra Bergman Ramos, Donaldo Perieira Macedo. (2000) (Trans) Myra Bergman Ramos. Pedagogy of the oppressed. Continuum International Publishing Group. 30th Anniversary Edition.
Gregory, D (Interviewer). (2008, November, 5) Interview with Jessie Jackson Jr. 1600 Pennsylvania Ave (Cable news program) MSNBC Available at
Vaughn, L (2006) Black people and their place in world history. Lulu.com.
Weiner, R (October 16, 2008 8:50 AM) The Huffington Post. Joe the plumber: Obama tap dances like “Sammy Davis Jr.” Available at