Friday, January 30, 2009

The Obama Effect: Setting Black children up for failure

As I read this article, Study Sees an Obama Effect as Lifting Black Test-Takers, I winced.

Researchers have documented what they call the "Obama Effect." Researchers from Vanderbilt, San Diego State, and Northwestern administered a 20-question test four times throughout the presidential campaign. When they administered the test after Mr. Obama's nomination acceptance speech and then again after President-elect Obama's election victory, they concluded that the difference between White and Black performance had become “statistically nonsignificant.”

I do believe that having a Black man in the highest office of our country is bound to change the thinking of Black students about themselves, as well as change the perceptions people of other ethnicities have of Black people. However, to say that this effect happens literally overnight is disconcerting. It opens up the floodgates of being able to "blame the victim" and exclaim that Black people are responsible for their own inability to achieve.

Since they provided a test to "high school dropout to Ph.D" students, the research can be read two ways. 1) Having a Black man in the highest office changes people's perceptions of themselves, or 2) Black people have been provided with equal opportunities and simply haven't used their abilities and opportunities to this point. If we go with the second point, which I believe people are bound to do, it has the potential to cause us to sit back, justified, with the inequities of our current system.

I do believe that Barack Obama has caused a shift in our thinking that may have some immediate effects and definitely will have some longer-term effects if we continue to embrace the diversity he brings to the table. But I also believe his presence in that office is our opportunity to recognize the injustices that exist for children of color all over the United States.

President Obama allows us to say to our Black children (and other children of color), "Yes, it is possible for you to become president of the United States." And because of his background and childhood circumstances, Barack Obama provides us with the example that allows us to challenge our kids to dream big dreams and aspire to heights they may not have previously thought possible. For some children of color, that is all they need. But, for others, primarily in areas of concentrated pockets of poverty, where children of color are disproportionately represented, school systems are inadquate, healthcare is limited, and economic development is nearly non-existent, more needs to happen to create true change. Without improving the systems in those areas, and without providing adequate educational skills that will allow them to compete in a highly technological world, it is ludicrous for us to say that just because Barack Obama now stands in the White House Black children should perform better.

We need to work hard to challenge the systems and to challenge people to recognize that our inner cities, our communities of poverty, our segregated minority neighborhoods just might hold the next president of the United States, the next Secretary of State, or the next Nobel Prize winner. But in order for the children in those neighborhoods to develop those talents and achieve greatness, we must include them and their communities in our plans of improvement.
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