Austin, Texas (PressExposure) February 09, 2009 -- I Have Always Known That We'd have A Black President In My Lifetime
I came across a just-released study by Dr. Ray Friedman of Vanderbilt University, David M. Marx of San Diego State University, and Sei Jin Ko of Northwestern University, in which 20 questions from the verbal sections of the Graduate Record Exam were administered four times to White and Black test-takers during the just completed U.S. presidential campaign involving Barack Obama, John McCain, and others. In total, 472 Americans took the exam. Both White and Black test-takers ranged in age from 18 to 63, and their educational attainment ranged from high school dropout to Ph.D.
The results and their implications are astounding. On the initial test last summer, Whites on average correctly answered about 12 of 20 questions, compared with about 8.5 correct answers for Blacks. But on the tests administered immediately after Mr. Obama's nomination acceptance speech, and just after his election victory, Black performance improved, rendering the White-Black gap "statistically nonsignificant," according to Dr. Friedman.
The researchers conclude that Mr. Obama acted as a role model that helped Blacks overcome anxieties about racial stereotypes that had been shown, in earlier research, to lower the test-taking proficiency of African-Americans.
I don't know whether to be pained or happy about the study results.
I am always happy when individuals become more motivated and raise their level of achievement. As a Life & Executive Coach I have dedicated my life to helping others achieve more.
However, while I know that heroes and role models are important, it is dangerous and ultimately self-defeating to totally link one's sense of self-worth to the accomplishments of other men and women. Barack Obama will do what his political philosophies dictate in his workings as President. But it most be noted that we have always had high-achieving Black role models on the national scene, recent among them Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Clarence Thomas, and a variety of CEOs, entrepreneurs, military leaders, academics, and inventors (to include Lonnie Johnson, inventor of the Super Soaker water gun, popular with my children and millions of others). Our competence at the highest levels is not recent.
That said, I am faced with the question, "What changed in the test subjects that caused Black test takers to get better scores in line with the White test takers on the standardized test?"
I assume that the survey participants did not become smarter or better test takers in the few months across which this survey was given. Clearly, what changed was Black test takers' belief that White people believe in Obama, and by extension, other Black people. This led to an upward change in the belief by Black test takers that they themselves were capable and competent. The results were higher test scores. This suggests that higher-level belief in our mental competence was not there before Obama's ascendancy.
In my work with clients, I have seen that it is superior belief in self that separates one world-class athlete or businessperson from another. And now we see proof that it is belief that separates one group's level of performance from that of another group.
I have always cringed when I have heard that "White men can't jump" as high or run as fast as Black men. Why do I recoil at these statements, and others like them? Because I know from my background in a variety of sports - volleyball in particular - that White men CAN jump very high. And run very fast. But alas - I believe that too few White athletes believe they can run or jump in competition with Black athletes. As a result of this lack of belief in their collective athletic competence, I've observed that White athletes remove themselves from competing with Black athletes in certain areas. The result: We see very few White men at the top levels of basketball, track & field sprints, or the speed positions in football. It's not that they can't do it. It's that they don't believe they can do it. Any visit to your average public playground gives ample evidence that Blacks do believe that they are faster and can jump higher. The results are apparent all over big time college and professional sports.
What I take away from this study is the foundation for all personal development: Belief overrides potential, opportunity and promise. Belief overrides race. Belief overrides country of origin. Belief overrides talent. Bottomline: Belief equals outcome.
My problem with the study results is that they suggest that it took White America's belief in a Black man (as evidenced by the sizeable number of White voters who chose Obama) for Black Americans to believe in their own mental competences. This suggests that too many Black Americans still seek the approval of others. In effect, too many Blacks still believe that the "White man's ice is colder." This keeps the power for our (Black America's) happiness and accomplishments in the control of others. If their (White America) belief in Obama dissipates, we are then left with no internal foundation for believing in our abilities. This precarious position concerns me.
I'd prefer that we believe in ourselves if only because we are children of God.
Where do we go from here? I humbly submit the following four suggestions to Black America that can permanently change the way we see ourselves and the outcomes we achieve:
1. Black Americans (indeed, all people) must decide to believe in their complete competence in all fields of endeavor. We must eliminate the mindset, the words, and the actions that communicate that we are "less than." Maintaining, even celebrating, thoughts that don't well-serve us is a self-hate that we can no longer afford.
2. Black parents must expand their selection of people that they hold up to their children as role models. Do not let the selection be driven by political affiliation. That is short-sighted at best. At worst (as history has long proven) it is self-destructive. Let us lift up ALL appropriate achievers around us and pull inspiration from them to suit our needs.
3. Do not tie the belief you have in yourself directly to another's accomplishments or status. Time shows that many men-as-messiahs have feet of clay. They end up being less than advertised, less competent than believed, not legitimate, a victim of the Peter Principle, or otherwise flawed. Then what do you have?
4. Let US be the idols our kids seek to emulate. Let US live in greatness so that our kids and our neighborhoods are inspired. Let US regale our kids with stories of those who came before so that they realize that their own greatness is assured and part of an onward march that has never stopped and must not.
It was industrialist Henry Ford who said: "Whether you think you can or you can't, you're right." As this survey shows, he was right.
For the record, over the years I have been asked many times whether or not I thought there would ever be a Black President of the U.S. My answer has always been, "Yes. And in my lifetime." Why did I believe this? Because I've always believed in the competence of Black Americans and in America's march towards equality of opportunity. My father and mother allowed no other mindset.