The Repositioning of the Black Male

The Repositioning of the Black Male


Expert Author Gian Fiero

The Repositioning of the Black Male
By []Gian Fiero

In the first presidential debate, Senator John McCain repeatedly accused former Senator Barack Obama of lacking experience, being naive, and most ironically, not knowing the difference between a tactic and a strategy. It was a portentous allegation.

On Super Tuesday, after watching the Maverick and war hero (a.k.a.) McCain go down in defeat, state after state, one thing was abundantly clear: “that one” (a.k.a. Obama) not only knows the difference between tactics and strategies, but has mastered them. It proved that you don’t have to be a former prisoner of war to effectively use tactics and strategies to accomplish your goals.

This article focuses on how black males can use the same tactics and strategies employed by President Obama to reposition themselves to achieve success in their professional endeavors and add momentum to the black male movement.

First, let’s define terms to ensure that we are on the same page and are speaking the same language:

Tactic: a device for accomplishing an end.
Strategy: a careful plan or method; a clever stratagem b: the art of devising or employing plans or stratagems toward a goal. (There are many war references made in its alternate definitions; thus the reason for McCain’s arrogance.)

The commonly used and often misunderstood term “position” was created by marketing pioneers Al Ries and Jack Trout in the 70s. According to them, position simply means to occupy a unique mental position in one’s mind. We are all positioned in one way or another. Positioning is the deliberate effort of establishing and controlling one’s position. To reposition is to change or improve one’s original position. The act of positioning and repositioning should be thought of and used as an element of strategy.

Now let’s move on to the specifics of how the repositioning of black males can be accomplished through lessons provided by President Barack Obama’s historical campaign run.

First, I have to say that while both blacks and whites adroitly handled racial issues in this election with stunning diplomacy, we all know – whether we care to admit it or not – that race, like sexuality, is always an issue. It’s the big elephant in the room that we are aware of, but try to ignore, as I try to ignore the fact that I now have over a decade of experience working in corporate America and have yet to work alongside another black male. With the election of our first black President, hopefully a trickle down effect will take place and employers will be able to transcend any racial issues which may alter my situation (or isolation), and an increase in black male presence will occur.

No doubt we’ve crossed an epic racial barrier – but we still have many battles to be fought. We can’t be naive; racist issues (not to be confused with racial issues) still exist and they will undoubtedly surface during Obama’s Presidency. Many of the racial issues which pertain to and specifically effect black men, can now be dealt with openly and politically since they were eclipsed by universal concerns during the election. Focus upon them would have created the appearance of an imbalanced perspective for Obama. After all, black issues are esoteric.

Obama’s campaign team, lead by David Plouffe, and his chief strategist David Axelrod, have acknowledged that one of the key tenets of the campaign was, in fact, to avoid discussions focused on race. From polling and interviews, the campaign concluded from the outset that it was imperative to define Obama’s candidacy in terms that would transcend skin color.

Who were their first efforts aimed at? Blacks. Apparently, they deemed it imperative to get blacks to move beyond their “natural” skepticism that one of their own could indeed become president. They knew that Obama would have to position himself to be chosen as a leader because leaders don’t choose their followers; followers choose their leaders – regardless of race.

In a report on by Adam Nagourney, Jim Rutenberg and Jeff Zeleny, Obama’s campaign team made the following quote, “The biggest race problem we had to solve was not with the white voters,” Mr. Axelrod said, “but with African-American voters, a deep sense of skepticism that this might happen.”

How about that?

These are called interracial issues. They offer a window, if not a measurement, into just how long the roots of negativity and its insidious effects can have on the psyche of an oppressed people. Were we really skeptical? Yes, initially, but we were not doubtful of Obama’s competence; we were doubtful of his chances based upon our system, and our individual and collective black experiences.

After identifying the hurdles to the White House, Obama’s camp had their agenda, a mission, and a message. They were all set to execute a textbook course on repositioning Obama, and offer America’s black men invaluable lessons that they could use to transform their lives and achieve greater success in their professional endeavors.

This brings us to lesson 1 in repositioning the black male: remove skepticism – primarily your own – and identify the hurdles to your success.

With Obama’s campaign mantra of Change you can believe in, and Yes we can!, they created a strategy that would enable them to fuel hope and engender allegiance at a time when our nation is at war and in dire economic straits, while simultaneously instilling optimism into the psyches of African Americans, and the vast majority of Americans, in the process.

The strategy was brilliant, but not surprising when you consider that Obama wrote a book entitled The Audacity Of Hope, in which he wrote: “Hope is that thing inside of us that insists, despite evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it.” The tears that flowed so copiously during his acceptance speech were tears of hope. He clearly understands that one can not have hope without optimism. He may want to entitle his next book The Benefits Of Optimism.

Lesson 2 in repositioning the black male: understand the mental and emotional state of the people you will serve in order to inspire optimism. Build a bridge from them to you (not the other way around).

Psychologist Martin Seligman, author of the book Learned Optimism, says that optimism has been defined by some researchers as simply seeing the silver lining and suggests that your explanation for why something happens has a major impact on how you will act in the future and what result your actions will bring about. This in turn has an eventual impact on your self-esteem and self-image. Optimists expect the best outcome, even during setbacks, and they’re more motivated to bring it about.

This is the reason why a record number of blacks, youth, and first time voters shed their apathy and zealously headed to the polls in record numbers which accounted for 13 percent of the electorate.

The significance of optimism is not to be understated. Since studies show that black men live 7.1 years less than other racial groups, have higher death rates than women for all leading causes of death, and experience disproportionately higher death rates in all the leading causes of death, they’d be interested to know that increased optimism has health benefits. The May 2008 issue of Harvard Men’s Health Watch explores possible reasons for this connection.

Among the report findings: Highly pessimistic men were three times more likely to develop hypertension, and people who display positive emotions had lower blood pressures. In one study, the most pessimistic men were more than twice as likely to develop heart disease compared with the most optimistic. That’s welcomed news since 40% of black men die prematurely from cardiovascular disease as compared to 21% of white men.

The report concludes: These results argue persuasively that optimism is good for health. It is possible that optimists enjoy better health and longer lives because they lead healthier lifestyles, build stronger social support networks, and get better medical care. In addition, optimism itself may have biological benefits, such as lower levels of stress hormones and less inflammation.

Because I know that many black men are church-going folks, they are sure to revel in the fact that the Bible also contains scripture on optimism and its effects. (Matthew 8:25-27) Pessimism results from lack of faith. Pessimism is born of doubt; optimism is born of faith. The repositioned black male will have more faith in himself and will prove to be adept at garnering the faith of those who were once reluctant to give it. Being extraordinary will be the norm.

Cornell Belcher, a pollster who worked for Obama’s campaign and studies racial voting patterns said to the press, “It would be difficult for an African-American to be elected president in this country; however, it is not difficult for an extraordinary individual who happens to be African-American to be elected president.” Obama made mention of this in his acceptance speech when he said, “I was never the likeliest candidate for the office.” But he ran anyway. And he ran unlike any other presidential candidate in history because he had to. Analysts say he ran a perfect campaign that was extraordinary in its execution.

Lesson 3 in repositioning the black male: understand that being qualified begins in your mind with your own self-image; the least likeliest candidate can still get the job. Also, you are no longer the least likeliest candidate.

Like Obama, you must make it your mission to get employers to become comfortable with you and the role in which you will play in their company by demonstrating your ability to handle the challenges within that role. If your values are aligned with theirs, all you have to do is effectively manage expectations and deliver – which is what the world is waiting for Obama to do next.

It was obvious from the outset that Obama was a proficient politician, but he got better during the election in the same manner that any talented and driven athlete gets better as their season progresses. He became superlative during the playoffs of politics, the election run, and was simply indomitable in each of his debates. He didn’t just win the election, he restored faith in the integrity of the presidency while repositioning himself and showcasing solid character.

Lesson 4 in repositioning the black male: showcase solid character at all times.

Where does the process of building character begin? At the very beginning of your journey: at home with your parents and in college. It intensifies when you are pursuing the experience and skills necessary to successfully navigate through your career when entering the workforce. It doesn’t matter where you want your vocational journey to take you because most people can’t imagine where they are going to end-up; they just need to be prepared to succeed when they get there.

Chances are Obama didn’t imagine being president when he was working with victims of housing and employment discrimination. That experience, along with teaching at the University of Chicago Law, and landing a spot in the senate clearly helped him acquire the skills, knowledge, and experience necessary to navigate through the slippery slopes of the political process without getting tripped up – despite the disproportionate lack of experience he had in comparison to McCain.

Lesson 5 in repositioning the black male: lack of experience does not equate lack of opportunity unless you allow it to.

As previously stated, for many Americans character takes shape in college. For black men, college attendance – on the community college and university level – is dwindling. According to the spring 2006 Integrated Post secondary Education Data System survey (IPEDS), Black, non-Hispanic male students had the lowest three-year graduation rate – 16 percent – among all minority male community college students.

In an article published in 2007, Disappearing Acts: The Vanishing Black Male On Community College Campuses, Lorenzo I. Esters and Dr. David C. Mosby write: What is most alarming about the current state of the Black male on America’s community college campuses is that those who are in positions of leadership have been slow to recognize the situation as a state of emergency and have been almost reluctant to own up to their responsibility to take corrective action. The accumulated research studies on the subject of Black male student retention may be a source for community colleges to gain some insight as to how they may appropriately respond to the epidemic.

Over the past 33 years, black women have enrolled in four-year colleges at higher rates than have black men, according to the results of a new study conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. In 2004, black women comprised 59.3 percent of all first-time, full-time black students attending four year institutions, compared to 54.5 percent in 1971.

With this type of research and data, why haven’t there been any special initiatives or greater outreach from colleges to address this issue? My research found a potential answer:

Black male enrollments are shockingly low at many colleges and universities, even those with good track records at attracting a diverse student body. While some demographers have noted this situation for years, many colleges have shied away from dealing with the issue head on, fearing that doing so could reinforce stereotypes, offend women, or draw conservative criticism.

Perhaps Obama will put this on his ever growing list of priorities. He’s well aware of the problem and has referred to it on several occasions, the first in his Democratic National Convention speech when he stated: “Yes, we must provide more ladders to success for young men who fall into lives of crime and despair. But we must also admit that programs alone can’t replace parents (and) that government can’t turn off the television and make a child do his homework…that fathers must take more responsibility to provide love and guidance to their children.”

Last year, at the NAACP forum on July 12, 2007, he was also quoted as saying: “We have more work to do when more young black men languish in prison than attend colleges and universities across America.” That is incorrect. The media has perpetuated that myth by reporting the total number of incarcerated black males, in comparison to the the total number of college-age (18 – 25) black males. Accurate statistics reveal that since 2005 there are, in fact, more college age black males enrolled in colleges and universities than there are incarcerated in the same group.

Lesson 6 in repositioning the black male: increase and expand your education with the goal of becoming smarter. That includes, but is not limited to, enrolling in school. Education builds character and is a crucial tactic in our overall success strategy. Education shapes values, alters perspectives, and fosters altruism. Studies show that there is a direct link between increased education and decreased levels of crime and violence – even within the prison system.

Education is also the fountain from which the tactical resolutions to the previously stated problems and those which have plagued us for centuries will be spawned. The repositioned black male must encourage the next generation of black men to take interest in pursuits other than sports and entertainment at a younger age. We need to deepen our talent pool of future policy makers who can instigate and sustain change. A generation of young men, who like Obama, will be efficient at using tactics and strategies to get results.

That’s the crux of President Obama’s success. Success is within closer reach for the repositioned black male who comprehends that positioning is an art, a psychology, and a science. It’s not just for the artful, the psychological, or the scientific; it’s for determined visionaries who want better lives and a greater share of resources for their families, their communities, and themselves.

And while we have reached our most significant milestone as black men, we must now look ahead to the future and prepare for it in the present, the way Obama did when he contained his emotions, less than 30 minutes after being elected, and had the presence of mind during his shining moment, to take the opportunity to manage soaring expectations by remarking in his acceptance speech:

“The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America — I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you — we as a people will get there…there will be setbacks (see paragraph above on optimism and setbacks) and false starts. There are many who won’t agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government can’t solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.”

Final lesson in repositioning the black male: always see the big picture and your place within it.

Gian Fiero is a seasoned educator, speaker and consultant with a focus on business development and music/entertainment industry operations. His affiliations include the United States Small Business Administration (S.B.A.) as a business advisor, and San Francisco State University as an adjunct professor.

Article Source: [] The Repositioning of the Black Male

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