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Image: Barack and Michelle Obama, inaugural ball
Mark Wilson  /  EPA file
Obama has touched a nerve among black women in particular, who consider him an IBM (Ideal Black Man) — educated, eloquent, tall, attractive, family oriented, ambitious and down to earth.
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updated 6/17/2009 4:37:55 PM ET 2009-06-17T20:37:55

Monica Weeks has met many men, but at age 51 she says she still hasn't found her "Barack."

Among Weeks and her friends, President Barack Obama's name has become shorthand for a black man with integrity, character and spirituality, one who loves and values his wife and makes his family a priority — in other words, the kind of man that many black women had despaired of finding.

Weeks said probably every single woman she knows is looking for her "Barack."

"He absolutely makes me think it's attainable," said Weeks, a divorced mom in Somerset, N.J. "For women who are older and seeking a man, I think we can look at him and say, 'All is not lost.'"

The story is the same elsewhere among black women, who say the new code word for Prince Charming has become so commonplace that they have been asked "Have you found your Barack?" or told others "I'm looking for my Barack."

Obama's sex appeal hasn't hurt — what other president would get high marks in a swimsuit competition? But he has touched a nerve among black women in particular, who consider him an IBM (Ideal Black Man) — educated, eloquent, tall, attractive, family oriented, ambitious and down to earth.

A good man is hard to find
For years, single black women have been commiserating about the perceived shortage of eligible black men. It's laughed about in movies ("Waiting to Exhale") and backed up with statistics: The May unemployment rate for black men was 16.8 percent for those ages 20 and older, compared to a national rate of 9.8 percent for all adult men. Black women outnumber black men almost 2-to-1 on college campuses. Most black babies are born to unwed mothers.

"There are a large number of African-American women who have largely given up on finding a mate," said Sheri Parks, associate professor of American studies at the University of Maryland. "Their men are not there."

Renee Breeden didn't have much hope she would find a life partner after dealing with what she called "extremely selfish" black men. At one point, the 35-year-old divorced mom had stopped dating black men altogether. Slideshow: The first daughters

But watching the Obamas has renewed her faith that she can have a loving relationship with a black man.

"There's no denying the love between them, and it made me feel like 'Wow, there's still hope for me,'" said Breeden, an administrative assistant and online radio talk show host in New York. "There is still someone who is going look at me and see my value."

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It's Obama's relationship with first lady Michelle Obama that makes him especially appealing.

For black women, it's significant that Obama has a black wife and values her education and professional aspirations. Black men are more likely to marry outside of their race than black women, according to the U.S. Census.

To be sure, there are plenty of famous, attractive black men to dream about, but people don't know as much about Denzel Washington's relationship with his wife, for example.

These days, there's little people don't know about the Obamas, said Marc Lamont Hill, associate professor of education at Columbia University. The first couple's relationship has been on public display with romantic date nights and charming interview banter.

"Having access to that much of a person endears you to that person," he said.

And while women were taken with Presidents Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy, neither would have made a particularly good husband, said Rich Hanley, director of graduate journalism at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn.

Men: ‘We can’t all be Barack’
Experts caution against over-romanticizing the Obama marriage. Journalist Richard Wolffe writes in "Renegade" that Michelle Obama "hated the failed race for Congress in 2000, and their marriage was strained by the time their youngest daughter, Sasha, was born a year later."

If women of any race are expecting to find a Barack, they're bound to be disappointed, said Audrey B. Chapman, a black marriage therapist in Washington, D.C. She thinks many black women are too picky.

Some single black men are hoping Michelle Obama changes that. When the first lady met her husband, he was broke, funny looking and a bit nerdy, said Chris Otiko, 40, a divorced podiatrist in Riverside, Calif., who said when he was a broke medical student black women wouldn't go out with him. Slideshow: The long road to the White House

He said he hasn't seen any changes in the dating scene yet but is hopeful that Michelle Obama "will enlighten our African-American women to give guys like me a chance."

But black men may also have a hard time meeting raised expectations, he added.

Many black women are realistic and know that an Obama-esque man is out of reach, simply because of the numbers, Parks said.

"I think they are enjoying watching the Obamas," she said. "But I don't know many African-American women who have therefore jumped to the conclusion that there are lots more like him out there."

Evita Broughton, 27, a single black woman in Marietta, Ga., who works in public relations, said she has heard a lot of men say, "We can't all be Barack. Don't put that burden on us."

Her response: "It's not about you being Barack. It's about you being the best man you can be."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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