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Obama As Social Model

As the inauguration approaches, I'm thinking about the broader cultural impact Barack Obama will have as president. I think this sort of thing is overrated in general -- the president's policies are vastly more important -- but it's not meaningless. For the first time in my memory, the president is a person I actually admire on a personal level (and not just, like President Clinton, somebody whose policy goals I agree with.) I'm pretty eager to see what that will be like.

Also, like a lot of people, I think the effect on the black community will be significant and long-lasting, though it's hard to tell exactly how it will play out. The Root has an article about the Inauguration as a pickup scene for buppies (black yuppies) that included this interesting aside:

According to Andrea, “we are witnessing a sociological paradigm shift where a loving black nuclear family is the new definition of cool.”

The hope for Andrea and women like her is that the crowd of eligible and educated black men in Washington this weekend “will be reminded that smart, driven, nurturing black women have always been—and will always be—the business.”

Another, perhaps surprising, side effect of the search for one’s very own Barack Obama is the actual shrinking of expectations among black women. The 44th president of the United States, after all, started his political career as a community organizer. Today he’d be making around $30,000 a year, according to

“Michelle met Barack when he was ‘low’ on the totem pole,” said Naima. “He had a studio apartment and a beat-up car, but they clearly saw the potential in each other.”

When people talk about Obama as a black male role model, they usual have in mind as a target audience young underclass males, or sometimes white racists. But it's entirely possible that Obama as a social model will have other more subtle sociological effects. I can't wait to watch it happen.

--Jonathan Chait