By Sherry Buffington, Ph.D.
During his run for United States President, the world looked on in awe as Barack Obama energized the nation with “yes we can” promises for changing America. He came across as powerful, charismatic and determined to make a difference. The nation, indeed much of the world, believed him and, based on his body language, he believed himself. The people saw his passion and sincerity and it gave them hope that someone had finally come along that might actually make some significant changes in the broken and largely corrupt federal political system.
Once in the White House, the Obama that emerged as president seemed unsure, indecisive and uncommitted. His reticence caused the nation to question his leadership abilities and, in the 2010 elections, cost him the House majority he had for two years, but which he failed to use effectively, and several seats in the Senate. In 2014 he also lost the senate majority.
From 2012 to 2014 he faced stonewalling on a grand scale. I suspect he watches the news like the rest of us. He knows what everyone thinks. He knows what the experts and savvy political advisors recommend. He knows that if he continues to lead as he has, he will essentially be an effete, lame duck president for the rest of his presidency. Consciously this is probably gut wrenching. Subconsciously it doesn’t matter one little bit. What Obama wants to do and knows he should do are not what drives his choices and behaviors.
There is probably no one on earth that would like to see Obama lead differently more than Obama himself. But what he wants consciously is not what determines his decisions and actions. Like the rest of us, what determines his decisions and actions is his subconscious mind’s insistence on keeping him aligned with his conceptual self.
I have been working with people at a subconscious level for twenty-three years and have come to understand the power of the subconscious mind to get us any result it believes is in our best interest and to prevent us from doing anything that it sees as incongruent with conceptual survival—conceptual survival—not physical survival.
The reason people can eat, drink, drug and lifestyle themselves to death and even commit suicide is because such acts (though harmful to the physical body) validate, confirm and align with the conceptual self. We smugly believe that we consciously make choices and control our outcomes, but that is the case only when what we consciously choose aligns with the subconscious conceptual self. When conscious desires do not align, all the will power on earth won’t change our behaviors.
So what concept of self explains Obama’s shift from dynamo to dilatory? During the Presidential campaign it was “us against them.” Obama’s supporters became his surrogate family and triggered his concept of champion. And it was the champion that we all saw. It was real. It was genuine. But it was largely dependent on the environment he was in at the time. It was the champion that could see injustice and wanted to fight for it that compelled Obama as a junior senator to seek election in the first place. So where did the concept of champion come from?
Imagine a little boy not quite white and not quite black being rejected or teased or picked on by those who fit nicely into white or black stereotypes. Then imagine a loving mother or grandmother advising the boy to just ignore the nasty remarks and act nice to avoid trouble. The boy listens and learns to compromise rather than fight. It serves him well through school. It keeps him out of trouble. To his family he is a champion for enduring all the nastiness and maintaining his cool and they let him know how proud they are of him. His self-concept formed around the behaviors that worked for him. As long as he is identified with “family” his self-concept of champion is triggered and that’s how he behaves.
But then he becomes President of the United States. Once in the White House the dynamic shifts. Now, rather than having a “home with my family” dynamic such as he had with his supporters, he is back at “school” where he has to deal with peers who disapprove of him and bullies who assert their superiority. In this environment the old messages from mother and/or grandmother in relation to dealing with hostile peers start replaying. We can pretty much deduce what messages his mother and grandmother gave him to help him deal with the bullies by examining the patterns he now displays. “Ignore their nasty remarks. Be nice and try to get along.” And that is exactly what he does even though these behaviors are not serving him well as an adult and certainly not President of the United States.
To understand this dynamic and the conceptual self it feeds, it helps to step into Obama’s shoes and back into his past. Imagine growing up in America in the sixties as a mixed race child. You may recall that this was a very turbulent time for minorities and although Obama is half white, he looks more like his black father and was likely treated as blacks were being treated at the time. Imagine being in a world so turbulent that your mother fears for your safety and sends you away at age ten to live with your grandparents.
Now imagine what it must be like to be a child that looks black, but who is raised by a white mother and grandmother; who sees movies where the white prince wins the white princess; where almost every man in powerful positions is white; where you play with white GI Joes. Would you be sure where you fit into society?
President Obama makes it very clear that he struggled with this as a young man. In describing how he struggled to reconcile social perceptions of his multiracial heritage with his own sense of self, he says, "I began to notice there was nobody like me in the Sears, Roebuck Christmas catalog...and that Santa was a white man. I went to the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror with all my senses and limbs seemingly intact, looking the way I had always looked, and wondered if something was wrong with me."
In every age children that are “different” must endure the disapproving looks, the taunting and the thoughtlessness of inconsiderate people who are bent on separating themselves from those they see as different. Ignorant adults have passed their prejudices on to their children for centuries. How do you suppose being a mixed race child having to endure the disapproving looks, teasing and taunting of thoughtless children and ignorant adults might affect your self-concept?
This was surely the case when Obama was a child and is, unfortunately, still so today. As a white person myself, I am sad to say that it is very likely that the people who teased Obama or looked down on him were (and are) white. In the United States, that is usually the case where a multiracial individual is concerned. The reason most multiracial race children eventually identify with the minority race is because the minority race is more likely to accept them.
As a psychologist and sociologist, I have studied people for decades. I have been especially interested in success factors and have spent many years studying what leads to success and what prevents it. I have found the concepts the general population adheres to through stereotypes to be a major factor in limiting the successes of females and minorities. Stereotypes are generalities about groups of people that are frequently accepted without question. They are usually wrong or only minimally correct, but that doesn’t keep them from persisting to the detriment of most people.
Stereotypes lead children (and adults) to assume that there is one right way to be and give them permission to reject anyone who fails to fit the accepted mold. The most insidious of the stereotypes are those of gender and race. Most people are completely unaware that these stereotypes control their opinions and behaviors to the extent that they do.
Even though there are laws that supposedly grant equal rights to all citizens, there is a persistent and insidious message that implies white, and specifically white male, superiority. These messages get repeated thousands of times a day in thousands of ways. They are so common that most people aren’t even aware of them or their impact.
Even as a psychologist that studies the effects of stereotypes, I completely missed how powerfully they affect us all and how under the radar they are for most people until recently. About six months ago, I attended a three-day marketing summit that had been organized and was led by a Russian born woman. There were ten presenters at the summit all of which had been invited by the woman. For two and a half days, I sat in the audience as oblivious to what was right there in front of my face as everyone else in the audience.
On the last half of the third day, the woman had all the presenters gather up on the stage for a question and answer session. That’s when it struck me. There sitting on the stage were eight white men and two women, one of which was the organizer. I looked at the audience, which was composed of about 75% women, 20% minority males and only about 5% white males, and realized that the mix of the speakers was in no way representative of the audience.
I have observed the white male advantage in government and big business for years, but they are slow to move so I just assumed the advantage persisted due to that factor. But here was a cutting edge event put together by a woman and here it still was. I sat there looking and those eight white men, none of whom were especially remarkable, and wondered what in the world was going on.
As I pondered this anomaly, the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” came to mind and I realized that women and minorities are still unconsciously doing exactly that—consenting to buy into the persistent messages that keep telling them they are inferior to white men. Even though there are laws designed to create greater equality, the message and mindset of equality are still not there. White males still have the advantage.
I have heard white men bemoan some of the equal rights programs designed to give women and minorities a more level playing field because they mistakenly believe it creates a disadvantage for them. What they don’t realize is that they have the most powerful advantage on earth—mindset.
The stereotypes are alive and well today and they give white males a clear psychological advantage. White males begin unconsciously claiming their right to be powerful as little boys. They don’t know they are doing this any more than women and minorities know that they are still unconsciously giving up their power. Self-concept begins early in childhood with the toys and clothes available to boys versus those available to girls, through the messages being constantly pumped out by advertisers, and even through the cartoons kids watch. Even today, in our supposedly more enlightened world, boys’ toys promote power and adventure where girls’ toys are primarily domestically inclined. Boys’ clothes are rugged and built for action. Girl’s clothes are mostly built for attractiveness.
Then there’s the race stereotype. I didn’t realize how insidious this was until I started looking for photos for PowerPoint presentations. I looked through thousands of royalty free photographs looking for a minority business executive and couldn’t find one. I put the term “minority business people” in the search box and the pictures that came up were almost exclusively non-leadership roles such as construction workers, technicians, nurses, etc. I see the same thing in television commercials. Those depicted as high powered or wealthy are almost always white males.
To know how prevalent and effective the message that white males are superior still is, take a look at the top speakers in the nation. Eighty percent are white males. Look at the heads of most corporations. Again, eighty percent are white males. Look at the mix of doctors, lawyers and other high-powered professionals. They are white males by a considerable majority. Look at the House and the Senate. They too are populated with white males by a very large majority. This is especially true in the Republican Party.
That brings us back to President Obama. Though he probably doesn’t realize it, his inability to deal with the Republicans effectively began back when he was a child. The Republicans’ opinion of Obama and his capacity to lead effectively began back in childhood as well. Though Republicans claim that race has nothing to do with their behaviors and attitudes (and they might even believe that at a conscious level), an examination of the facts tells a different story. No other president in history has ever been treated with such disrespect. No other president has been called a liar by a senator in a formal White House gathering. No other president, Democrat or Republican, has ever been so completely rejected and stonewalled by the mostly white Republican Party.
No matter what those in power would like to believe, the subconscious mind runs the show. And when subconscious messages get triggered, everyone behaves accordingly even when they would consciously prefer to behave another way.
Faced once again with peers who have chosen to act like bullies, Obama is still hearing “be nice” and just as he did when confronted as a child, he is still holding back and compromising to keep the peace.
Obama doesn’t fit the white-male-in-power stereotype. That fact worked to his advantage during the election when people, sick and tired of more of the same old thing in Washington, wanted something different. It's working against him in the White House mostly because the Republican senators and congressmen decided right up front to make Obama's presidency so difficult that he would be a one-term president. We can look at their behaviors and think that they are being mean and petty, and perhaps they are, but mostly they are acting like the child they were when they adopted their view of tmeselves in relation to everyone else. These mostly white men banded together to stonewall a mixed-race president because they too are victims of their upbringing.
Just as Obama learned to comply as a child, the white men learned as children that they have a right to be powerful and perhaps even superior. They claimed that right early on and all of society keeps telling them they are right. Most likely they are not conscious of that fact, but they don’t have to be for the world to experience the effect.
Don’t all of the shenanigans we observe in the House and the Senate smack of grade school rivalries? Well, to a far greater extent than many realize or would like to admit, that is pretty much what they are. The “kids” are still fighting to maintain conceptual stasis. And there is a lot more to all the opposition than meets the eye, even to those who are right in the middle of it all.
The unconscious assumption that white males are superior adversely affects females and minorities far beyond what most people realize and no amount of legislation will change that. What has to change is awareness and mindset. In the presence of a group of white males asserting their power, both females and minorities of both sexes tend to acquiesce. We can assume that is at least in part why Republican women and minorities in the House and Senate are sticking with the white male majority on every decision.
As a rule, white males in power have no concept of the fact that not everyone grew up with the same beneficial mental messages they were blessed with. They just automatically assume that everyone had the same advantages and everyone has the same powerful mindset. This assumption is why, in spite of all the polls that express public support for extending unemployment benefits, eliminating the tax cuts to the richest 3% of the population and allowing gays to marry and serve openly in the military, the mostly white male Republicans reject these measures as senseless. It isn’t that they are cruel or heartless. They just don’t understand that not everyone has the great advantage of a powerful mindset. They really do believe that anyone can do what their wealthy white male friends and supporters do if they put their mind to it. They have no idea that their advantage as white males, and the disadvantage of everyone else, began in childhood and still drives behaviors and outcomes on a very large scale.
President Obama probably has no idea that his decisions and actions are being driven by childhood programs and concepts either, but unless he figures it out and changes the internal messages, he may continue to be ineffective in every area except championing those he sees as less privileged. If that occurs, it will take a huge toll on him psychologically and on his ability to get anything done, and we will all pay the price.
Interestingly, self-concept can shift in an instant; and when it shifts, everything shifts with it. Old behaviors fall away and those aligned with conscious desires automatically and effortlessly develop. It doesn’t happen through conscious will though. Self-concept has to be changed at a subconscious level. I have seen it happen thousands of times. Occasionally, a significant emotional event will trigger a subconscious l change. Mostly though, such changes occur by design and require a really effective intervention.
I developed a process I call Rapidly Accelerated Mind Patterning (RAMP) that works at a subconscious level and it is about as close to 100% effective at aligning subconscious programs with conscious desires as anything can be. I have been using this process to help people overcome fears and phobias, eliminate blocks, and change all kinds of non-beneficial behaviors since 1992. Since I developed this method, I have seen changes that seem miraculous occur in the space of an hour and, once made, the changes appear to be permanent. I have not seen an exception to this in the longitudinal studies I have conducted.
I have no doubt that the RAMP process could help President Obama let go of the childhhod messages that hold him back, step into his power and reclaim the champion so many saw during his campaign. On behalf of our country, I sure would love it if he asked me to prove it. Mr. President?