During the course of the presidential campaign the media sporadically asked young blacks what effect the Obama candidacy had on their aspirations. Similar interviews were broadcast on Inauguration Day.
The responses were fairly uniform: The Obama candidacy/presidency revealed that blacks could achieve anything. New horizons had been opened.
That’s no small thing. The example of a black president likely will have the psychological effect of broadening the scope of possibilities for many black kids. Whether that translates into an appreciable improvement in the achievement levels of those kids, however, is another matter.
Unless President Obama successfully addresses at least the three following impediments to achievement, it’ll be difficult to translate mere aspiration into results:
Fatherless kids. 70% of black kids live in single parent homes. There are black neighborhoods where the level approaches 100%.
The comparative achievement levels of kids from single-parent homes is well-documented. Obama touched on the issue last year but he’s fighting powerful cultural forces that continue to weaken marriage and show no signs of abating.
Bad schools. A few years ago, the Thernstrom’s review of the NAEP scores of high school students showed that only 25% of black 17 year olds read as well as the average white 17 year old. Nearly 90% of black 17 year olds score below the average white 17 year old in math. More than 90% of back 17 year olds score below the average white 17 year old in science. The average black high school graduate has the academic proficiency of the average white 8th grader. And the gap appears to be widening.
Again, some of this is attributable to the single parent phenomenon, but the abysmal state of predominately black schools is a significant contributing factor. The educational bureaucracy and the teachers’ unions are powerful Democratic constituencies. Will Obama challenge them?
The grievance/victimhood industry. The industry took a major hit with the election of President Obama, but it’s not out of business. Indeed, some signs point to the reinvigoration of those inclined to count by race. Clearly, the election of the nation’s first black president is a signal event. Nonetheless, it’s a measure of the corrosive effect of the grievance/victimhood culture that after having two black secretaries of state, scores of black mayors and congressmen, several black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and black dominance of popular culture with ubiquitous figures such as Oprah, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Tiger Woods, Will Smith, etc, some black kids still see barriers all around them.
The grievance/victimhood industry drives much of Obama’s base. He must confront them.
The election of a black president is a wonderful thing for black kids–all kids. But it won’t erase the profound impediments that remain.