On January 20, 2009, President Elect Barack Obama will become the 44th President of the United States of America. The political impact of this historic event has been thoroughly discussed and digested by the media, political analysts and people all over the world, resulting in Obama winning the confidence of the American people on election night. However, little has been discussed about the psychological impact of such an unprecedented and miraculous occurrence, the election of the first African American president of the United States of America.
All along the campaign trail before and after the Democratic National Convention as well as the actual election night, snapshots depicting the excitement of people from diverse backgrounds spoke volumes about the psychological impact of Obama’s journey to the White House. There was an overwhelming flavor of hope and empowerment throughout local communities and the world because of the promise of change. President Elect Obama ignited the fire for action as he began a movement of change.
In the midst of an economic downturn, a failed housing market, and the collapse of the stock market, the Obama campaign kept change as their victory song, and no matter where it was sung, people began to sing it, believe it, and evidentially promote and share it with others. A psychological shift happened in the thinking of the people. It was apparent that they began to believe in something greater than their current circumstances. They became motivated almost insistent on Keeping Hope Alive, a concept coined by the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Hope is critical for the development of good psychological health and overall wellbeing. Without it, people do not have the necessary motivation to fight to overcome the inevitable stressors and disappointments of life. Without hope, our communities sit in a sea of despair, and the best and brightest minds sometimes drown and take others with them. When feelings of hopelessness persist, people are much more vulnerable to the deleterious effects of depression and anxiety.
Not only does President Elect Obama’s presidency promote a sense of hope and empowerment, it also has the potential to raise the level of self esteem and self concept for the young and the old. Countless reports in the media, especially CNN have captured the essence of pride that has been exuded by school age children, adolescents, young adults, middle age adults, and our elders from all walks of life. When Black folk see a Black family residing in the house where Blacks traditionally visited or relegated to a role of serving, it does something to one’s psyche. It changes a mindset that once believed: Only White men can lead our country, therefore, white must be better. The root cause of inferiority for Blacks stems from the legacy of slavery. Even though slavery was officially abolished, its psychological impact continues to enslave Black people today, especially when we constantly compare ourselves to the dominant culture and fail to see ourselves represented in positions of power. Furthermore, increasing self-esteem and self-concept are critical for our communities because when we feel better about ourselves, we will feel better about others.
We can’t leave out the articulate and gifted Michelle Obama who is a force to be reckoned with in her own right. In the culture of women and girls, Mrs. Obama is a serious role model along with the couples’ two daughters who will bring life and culture to the White House.
It is probably too early to tell the long range psychological impact of President Elect Obama’s move to the White House. But as he takes the oath to serve Americans which represent diversity at its finest, he will represent a little of all of us. His commitment to the spirit of community and collaboration that we have already witnessed has the potential to help us to heal from the negative impact of racism and discrimination that has been our most debilitating and serious disease along with its counterpart poverty. As people from diverse communities sit around the table together, there is a greater likelihood that the awareness of self and others, the commitment to eliminate the barriers that separate us, and an appreciation and celebration of our differences will occur.
Everyone, however, is still not in a good mental place. In fact, some Americans are blinded by the lethal effects of hate and fear, and because of the color of Obama’s skin, these folk may be unable to see and embrace the positive impact of his leadership. Others are fearful that harm will come to this dynamic yet approachable leader causing people to become paranoid and anxious. Some may not think he can truly relate to the civil rights struggle, which may increase feelings of doubt and worry that may be heightened by the ongoing civil rights struggle that is at risk of being forgotten. Therefore, these issues may encourage a sense of hopelessness, resulting in increased psychological distress and ultimately impairment which would be unfortunate.
At this very moment the Inauguration Committee is making the final plans for the Inauguration events where President Elect Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. History is in the making as the Obama family prepares to move into the White House. I wish I could be a fly on the wall to experience what it is like for this extraordinary family to stand on the steps that were built by slaves. I imagine they can still hear the sounds of the songs that sustained our ancestors as they dreamed of a day when they would be free. I believe they will think about Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr., and other Civil Rights leaders those gone and still alive, because I think this family knows that without them, this day may have come a little later in history. Perhaps they will talk to one another about their understanding of how difficult it is for people to remain hopeful when everything looks so bleak because of current conditions giving rise to their determination to work even harder to change the economic forecast.
But what about those of us who are outside the White House? How do we remain hopeful, when the potential to return to a place of despair and hopelessness is more familiar? Surely we cannot expect that President Elect Obama holds the key to our entire survival. There are, however, some things you and I can do to remain hopeful about a brighter future and the power of change:
1. Rely on your spiritual source for guidance and for developing a greater sense of peace and wellbeing.
2. Live in the moment by celebrating where we are and what has been accomplished right now.
3. Discuss your fears openly and honestly with healthy people you love, trust, and/or respect, but confront, correct, and/or modify maladaptive and faulty thinking.
4. Find a way to participate in the process of Change. Get involved by getting off the sidelines because you will feel much more empowered when you become part of the solution.
5. If the stress becomes too great for you to handle, do not suffer in silence. Seek the help of a mental health professional.
In closing, our new president speaks… Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.
BARACK OBAMA, speech, Feb. 5, 2008
Dr. Gloria Morrow is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Upland, Ca. She is the author of The Things that Make Men Cry, Suffer in Silence No More, and Keeping it Real! 7 Steps Toward a Healthier You. If you have comments or questions, Dr. Gloria would love to hear from you.