President Mr. Obama: the new black male role model?

Today we are proud to have a guest blogger, Dr. Chuck Williams. He is an Assistant Clinical Professor and is the Director of the Center for the Prevention of School-Aged Violence at the Goodwin College- School of Education at Drexel University. He hosts a radio talk show on The Big Talker - 1210 AM and hosts his own blog, Dr. Chuck Speaks.

Question: Will Mr. Obama replace traditional negative role models for young black males in America? Some seem to think a President Obama will usher in a new era, if you will, as it relates to models for young black men. This could be key, given that most folks feel that one of the major problems, as it relates to violence and chronic underachievement among black male youth, is that their familial and media models are poor examples of moral, positive and socially desirable behavior. So, if it is the case that Mr. Obama will offer a new positive image of a successful black male, super imposed over readily available negative ones (a situation further exacerbated by the marked lack of appropriate familial models), he may actually serve as a catalyst for a social paradigm shift in the black community which has been a long time coming. This vision speaks to me personally. I grew up in foster care and was never adopted, certainly a recipe for failure. But, unlike most young people in similar positions, I found an inner strength that pushed me to achieve and to be successful. To a large extent, appropriate familial models aided in my eventual success.

As someone who has worked as a counselor, educator and community leader for more than a decade, I have found, at least anecdotally, that young black males tend to parrot and embrace the socially undesirable behaviors and self-fulfilling negative images, which have been packaged and marketed to them by those who, ironically, look like them and claim to have their best interest at heart, i.e., BET. This unfortunate situation is then reinforced by the overwhelming access to negative familial models-- drug addicted mothers and chronically incarcerated fathers and older brothers who spend more time in youth detention centers than school. However, as one can imagine, these black youth are unaware of the full implications of this. Moreover, sinister and unaccountable black media executives , who are responsible for much of this media induced mess have foolishly decided that this social poison should be created, given that it "reflects black culture." Therein lies the rub. (This does not suggest that so-called black pop culture is, by default, all evil. I've just purchased T. I.'s new release Paper Trail, and his song "Live your life" is very apropos this discussion.) We, as a community, have allowed the lack of appropriate familial models and "urban media" to solely define who young black males are and what they should become.

While I can't claim to understand all of the variables or life dynamics which may lead an individual to choose one path versus the other, what I do know is this: The best buffer against negative images is a loving and caring family who loves you and is there for you through good times and bad, a family who will give you security and guidance and help you become the best that you can be and provide for you positive familial models. That’s why I’m an advocate for placing children who lack appropriate guidance from familial models in adoptive families and encourage those in our community to open their homes and their hearts to the many young people, including teenage boys, who wait for families to want and love them. I know too that there’s been no successful collective effort towards encouraging our young black males to choose education, a profession and career outside of the drug, sports/entertainment arenas. By reinforcing stereotypical media images we have enabled young black males to engage in behaviors fraught with unnecessary risks and diminished returns. That is to say, they tend to throw caution to the wind and embrace goals and beliefs which are far reaching, irrational and non reality-based. In the absence of appropriate familial models and support, they are left to their own childish devices.

Also, young black men, who lack appropriate familial models, tend to hold dear to non reality-based, black media induced ideals and goals, while ignoring any opportunity for reasonable and necessary approximations toward goal attainment...of any sort. That is to say, their goals are profanely out of sync with reality. Yet, instead of acknowledging this point of fact, they become more aggravated by the fact that society does not give in to their non reality-based view of goal attainment and they begin to see society as the 'enemy'. Once this adversarial approach has been adopted by the young black male, the anti-social and overtly aggressive behavior, i.e., adopting the gun and drug culture, begins.

Moreover, in the mind of the young black male, such behavior is more than justified under the guise -- "They won't let me reach my dream, so I gotta do what I gotta do!" There tends to be a lack of motivation about these young black men. Some falsely characterize this phenomenon as 'laziness,' yet this would be a misnomer. The avolitional behavior which can be observed, or the appearance of not having interest or applying effort is a manifestation of 'chasing the impossible’. If you know that you want to be a millionaire, tomorrow, but you're a high school drop out, living in your mother's basement, you're probably not going to appear to be too motivated. This is because intuitively there's a sense that your goals are in fact unrealistic, but given the irresponsible decisions that have been made, which have led you to the basement of your mother's home at 23 years of age, without a high school diploma and/or post-secondary training, feeling as though you’re 'in too deep' or 'too far behind' creates a sense of social lethargy. This of course is facilitated by the casual and regular abuse of large quantities of marijuana (blunts) and alcohol. Yes, the perfect storm.

The core issue here is the reinforcement of this glorified and unrealistic lifestyle, by inappropriate models and the unconscious assimilation of readily available negative media stereotypes. Let me be clear: life for a young black male, even with good homes and decent parents, is not without its significant challenges. There's institutionalized racism, low-expectations, lack of regard, lack of support, social barriers, etc. However, as Dubois once stated "with all we accomplish all." So, one could argue that it is now time for positive familial models and popular media to encourage our young black men to pursue a path which can lead to them becoming a PhD, business owner, tradesman, teacher, decent father, loving son, or President of the United States.

It is my hope, that the very presence of a President Obama will cause the black community to seize this opportunity to re-cast the die and challenge these erroneous media created assumptions which send our young black men to prison or the morgue, not the White House. moreover, having a child in need, who lacks appropriate familial models, placed in a loving and caring adoptive home will take some of the weight off Mr. Obama's shoulders.

A version of this post appeared on his site last week.