Win or Lose, How Will We Cope?

A top psychiatrist counsels us on managing the stress of history.

Getty Images/Aurora Creative

In the two years since Sen. Barack Obama announced his bid for the presidency, black Americans have been on an emotional roller coaster. Only recently have many of us allowed ourselves to envision what once seemed impossible: A U.S. president who is a person of color. With Obama leading in national pre-election polls, the suspense has become nearly unbearable.

Even deeper at the center of our current anxiety are at least two questions that carry all the complexity of black Americans' history in this country: What will it mean personally to us if he wins? And how will it affect the future of African Americans?

Win or lose, how will we cope?

Since more than 37 million Americans are of African descent, there cannot possibly be a blanket, one-stop-shopping prescription for how to cope on the day after Nov. 4, and in the days after that. But there is a saving grace: Whether or not Obama wins the White House, his historic campaign presents a unique opportunity for a fresh commitment from all Americans, in particular from black Americans, to look at our nation, and our personal role in civic life, through a new lens.

On the Day After—should he win the presidency—there will be a sense of wonderment, excitement, exhaustion and disbelief. And in the days after that, once the afterglow has subsided, we will confront a world that is somehow different ... but also not so different. This is when each individual will begin assessing his or her role: Will the old way of doing things still work? Or has Barack Obama provided each of us an opportunity to remake our own self-image?

Despite some claims to the contrary, Obama has never forgotten that he is African American. He has said he intends to create economic and educational opportunities that benefit all Americans who have been struggling during the past eight years of the federal government's neglectful domestic funding and policies; and that blacks, and other ethnic minorities, especially, have been "hit hardest" by the recent economic turmoil. And, as he told Michael Cottman of, he intends to make the issue of fathers participating in their families a going concern. "I am going to stay on them about that," he said, referring to black men.

Those comments fall under what has come to be known as the tired and supposedly controversial "black personal responsibility debate." The more productive tack for all black Americans—as we contemplate a new way of looking at ourselves and our opportunities in the wake of Obama's historic candidacy—is to consider the hard facts of our lives that require our immediate attention:

1. Homicide is the No. 1 cause of death for black men between the ages of 15 and 29.

2. Fewer than two out of six black children are born into two-parent households.

3. The high school dropout rate for blacks in many urban areas exceeds 50 percent.