Deconstructing Common’s Take on The Obama Effect


Blogger Obsidian, over at The Obsidian Files, posted his latest missive  entitled, “What Message Does Barack Obama Send To Black Men & Boys?”

This post explores the impact Obama’s historic presidency has had on all Americans, most importantly, Black Men, who supported him in record numbers. 

After I read his post, which was very good, by the way, I decided to focus in on the below statement: 

 But in the end, it all worked. Barack Hussein Obama, Jr., took the Oath of Office on Jan 20, 2009. It was hailed as a watershed moment in US political history; we had finally done what many thought was the impossible-moreover, his very compelling story, said loud and clear-especially to Black Men and boys-that they could be whatever they wanted to be, if they but played by the rules and worked hard. Reams of such articles and blogposts and Tweets and Facebook messages went out. Rapper/actor Common suggested that the “Obama Effect” would take hold of young Black Men in particular, making a seachange in their outlook and behavior. This latter point was huge in the American public mind-after all, Black Male problems were seen not so much as matters requiring fixes and/or adjustments of public policy, but rather as flaws of the spirit, lapses in judgment and poor decision making. 

 Very interesting.  

So the essence of this quote perhaps implies that Barack Obama’s election and his subsequent first term in office would signal to Black men that they could potentially be rewarded for exercising good judgment, doing the right things, i.e., going to school, being a responsible citizen, making the right choices, and playing by the rules. The reward, in effect, boils down to being accepted by the mainstream, i.e., White America. Which, in effect, would ideally result in access to those opportunities that have been historically closed to them.
 
Yeah, right.
 
That’s a lot to consider, given America’s history and poor track record in this regards.  It’s like attempting to erase a blackboard covered in chalk with a pencil eraser, before the teacher catches you in the act. Virtually impossible.
 
So in an effort to better understand the meaning behind the term “The Obama Effect,” I did a quick and dirty Google search, which not only revealed that many people had a different take on what Obama’s historic feat meant for Blacks and Whites alike, but may of these same people wanted to see the same end, that Obama’s election would somehow magically change the status quo.  
 
Wishful thinking?  Perhaps.
 
So I went back to Obsidian’s post, and clicked on a link that took me to an interview CNN did with Common, a rapper from my hometown, Chicago.  Great, now I can get to the essence of what Common meant when he said what he said he believed Obama’s presidency would change the attitudes of Black men. So now we’re getting somewhere. 
 
As I read the CNN post, I began to understand that Common was essentially suggesting that Obama’s election would have a profound influence on hip-hop artists, and that there would be some trickle-down effect to Black men and boys, and the community at large. 
 
As I read further, I discovered that Common expounded on several key points to further elucidate his premise.  Let’s take a look:
 
1.  He asserts that Hip-Hop would become less preoccupied with those behaviors that have come to negatively define Hip-Hop.  So we’re talking about less bling, less misogyny, etc., etc. As a result, rappers would feel compelled to create more positive and upbeat work, inspiring communities to move away from those “vices that plagued” them for so long.
2. Hip-Hop artists would assert their independence from record labels by taking greater control over the creative process.
 
Now.  I’m not asserting that I have the ability to read Common’s mind. I may be way off with my takeaways from the interview.  If I am, please jump in and tell me what you took away from the post. 
 
With that said, I have to ask.  Was Common on point with what he said?  Or was he speaking in a vacuum? 
 
I humbly submit that Common, although he obviously meant well, missed the mark.  Here’s what I think:  Rappers never claimed to be role models, and to imply that they would clean up their acts and become positive role models for other Black men by virtue of a Black man becoming President seems a bit of a stretch.  
 
Here’s another important consideration.  For the most part, when rappers become successful, they move away from the very communities that they claim to be so loyal to.  So how is this all supposed to happen, Common?  Osmosis?  Telepathy? 
 
Furthermore, I believe that Obama’s presidency is symbolic to Black men for way more reasons than what Common touches on.  How Obama impacts Hip-Hop culture is only a small slice of the bigger pie for Black men.  Contrary to popular beliefs held by the mainstream, Black men want jobs.  They want to provide for their families.  They want respect.  They want dignity.  They want the right to determine and chart their own destiny.  They want to be treated like men.  And they are tired of being misunderstood and judged unfairly. 
 
Certain subgenres of Hip-Hop, I would argue, have not helped at all in this regard.
 
And to be honest, they will continue to want these things, even after Obama leaves office.  Despite what hip-hop tells them.  Despite what the mainstream clings to in their minds. 
 
Now, the larger question out of all of this is, have we realized any of what Common said, two years later? Has Hip-Hop evolved into a more conscious form of expression?  Where is this influx of more conscious, community-minded messages?  I don’t know.  I haven’t seen them.  Maybe you have. 
 
Being a GenXer and having been raised on a steady diet of rap and Hip-Hop since I was a kid, I would say that the golden age of the conscious rapper as I remember it is over.  Don’t get me wrong.  There are conscious rappers out there, and I try to support them when and however I can.  But the pendulum shifted well before Barack Obama came to office, and the only way the pendulum will shift back is if conscious rap is rewarded in the same ways gangsta rap is rewarded.  No one wants to live hand to mouth, Common. So when conscious rap begins to be financially viable for young Black men who aspire to be rap artists, then, well, things will shift.  When more conscious rap gets played on the radio, things will shift. 
 
But until that time, I will wait.  In the meantime, Obama needs to address the pressing concerns of Black men from all walks of life, because when he does, he will begin to lift our entire society out of the mess that it is in.  If Black men continue to be unemployed at disproportionate rates than the mainstream, America will continue to suffer. 
 
This window of opportunity is quickly closing.  Time is running out. 
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