Leveraging Your Own Difference

August 2nd, 2010

I’ve been thinking about what our President, who is different from the norm, needs to do to be effective. Paradoxically, Obama is failing to put the racial dialogue into the background of his administration because he has failed to articulate his blackness more explicitly. The tactic of staying undercover about one’s identity, while intuitively sensible and conservative, rarely works well for trailblazer leaders. Obama is black (I know he’s biracial, but we don’t worry about “biracial” conflict, we worry about racial conflict), identifies with his blackness and everyone looking at him knows it. Remaining silent about his identity frustrates his supporters, fuels resistance from his opponents when the issue does arise, and generally confuses those who are trying to decide how they feel about him. Instead, the President should leverage his unique identity by freeing himself to talk about it, and not just when a racial “crisis” arises but as a regular habit of public communication. Normalizing his blackness will solidify this President’s supporters, neutralize some of his resistors, and persuade folks in the middle to join him as the country did in the election. And it will make him a more effective leader.

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