Obama is Exceptional!
Maybe not. Senator Barack Obama is probably one of the most talented politicians and orators of our time; arguably in history. He is the quintessential intellectual and currently holds titles as “the first” and “the only”; with one more to be added on November 4. He is an impressive individual, but his “exceptionalism” is due to exclusion.
Senator Obama IS exceptional by any standard, but he is not an exception. I don’t intend to diminish the achievements of Senator Obama; however, the lack of media coverage of successful black men leaves people in this country, and across the world, with depictions of inarticulate, criminal minded, non-parenting, money-chasing, unemployed, lazy, womanizing black men. When a black man— void of these descriptions— enters the national scene, we are amazed and awed.
At times I am shocked at the public’s reception of dynamic black men in the media. I recall when Kwame Jackson was a contestant on “The Apprentice.” To most viewers, it was almost unbelievable that that Kwame was educated at Harvard’s prestigious school of business, co-founded several Internet start-ups during his time there, and held sales and marketing positions at the multi-billion dollar, Fortune 500, Procter & Gamble. Are his achievements impressive? Indeed. Should I be surprised? No.
There is an excess of positive stories of black men to be told, but the media’s failure to tell the stories of black men like Kwame, and their ardent promotion of minstrels like Flava Flav is due to pure laziness and the public’s unwillingness to accept positive images of black men.
Ill-informed images of black men in the media not only shape the public’s perception, but also influence how black men see themselves. I would argue that these depictions do not boil down to a direct cause-effect relationship— negative images seen produce negative behavior. What takes place is the creation of a subconscious framework that influences how one views and relates to black men. By perpetuating these negative images, the media reinforces pre-existing stereotypes that encourage prejudice behavior.
The most important point this raises is the esteem issues that black men face when they enter a hostile world that views them in the most negative light. A black man’s awareness of how he is perceived by society creates an additional hurdle he must overcome in order to focus and cultivate his natural talents and abilities.
Instead of striding into an interview with the self-assuredness to tout how he can uniquely contribute to an organization, he first thinks about how the interviewer will frame their interaction based on the color of his skin. Instead of being confident in his pitch to a potential client, he frets that they may be inclined to think he isn’t competent to handle their business because he is a “lazy black man.” Although one must always be aware of their environment, this neurosis impedes him from focusing on what’s important by obsessing over the racial barriers that have hindered him and generations of men like him in the past.
Senator Obama has made a positive impact on how black men are seen nationally and internationally, and has inspired many black men to continue pursuing their dreams. But to take a page from the Senator’s campaign play book— it took millions of people donating $100 and less to fortify his war chest, not just a few big spenders maxing out at $2,300— the way black men are viewed will take the stories of many to show the diversity within this community and dispel the notions of a monolithic body that history created.