What Does 'Post Racial' Mean, Anyway?

In this activity, students in the middle and upper grades will explore whether Obama's selection as the president of the United States marks a new era in America, one where race doesn't matter.
Grade Level


Students will:

  • Explore where they personally stand on a post-election continuum, spanning from euphoria to despair
  • Read and discuss an article immediately following the election and a later article reporting election backlash
  • Define and explore the meaning of "post-racial"
Essential Questions


On Wednesday, November 5, 2008, the media reported a nation wrapped in the euphoria of electing its first black president. The event was widely hailed as the beginning of a "post-racial" America – a country where race no longer matters, where racism no longer exists. Yet, within ten days, the media's attention turned to a racially charged backlash against the coming Obama presidency.

In this lesson, students probe the meaning of the term "post-racial," and explore the role race played in their own feelings about the election.



Before beginning the activity, copy the news articles for students, prepare slips of paper, write directions for warm-up and draw or label the article comparison chart on the board.

Warm-up: When students come into class, refer them to directions written on the board (or in a photocopied handout):


Obama as President —Where do you stand?

Mark two slips of paper using a scale of 1-10 with 1 being despair and 10 being euphoria, write the number that reflected your attitude about President-elect Obama on the day after the election. On the second slip, record your current attitude about President-elect Obama. Place slips in two groups, one for the day after the election and one for today.

Have students read the two articles by New York Times writer Jesse Washington, listed in "Time and Materials," above.

Divide the class into small groups to analyze and discuss the articles — one published the day after the election; the other published 10 days later. Students should read through the text, highlighting key words, phrases and concepts in the text that provide insight into the mood of people as reflected in the article. Students will record their groups' key words or phrases on the columns on the board. As a whole class, students will share key concepts and some of their own thoughts about the two articles.

After reviewing the word/phrase lists, students will compare and contrast the two articles:

  • What was the political climate reflected in the articles?
  • Do the articles reflect a shift in attitudes about race? If so, how did those shifts come about?
  • Where do the articles show race as an influence in our society? Where do the articles show evidence of a "post-racial" culture?
  • In which column would you place yourself ... euphoria, despair or somewhere in the middle? Why?
  • Are people your age more "post-racial" than other generations? What arguments can you make to support either position?

Following the discussion, conduct a brainstorming session with students. Ask them to provide definitions for the term "post-racial." If possible, cluster their answers into a small number of definitions. Ask students to make notes on the definition.

For homework, ask students to reflect on the strips they completed as a warm-up to the lesson. Ask students to write an essay on their own decision-making process in selecting a candidate to support – through the lens of the definitions of "post-racial" created by their class. In what ways are their feelings about the election "post-racial" and in what ways are they not?


Extension Activity

For follow-up, ask students to compose a formal letter to President-elect Obama offering suggestions for building unity. Students should use the comments posed by their classmates to refine their ideas.

In future classes, provide time for students to find news articles, blog posts and multimedia items related to America's attitudes about race and the presidency. In their journals, have students record the headline or title, date published and a brief summary. Students may present updates to the class on methods used by President-elect Obama and the media to influence racial tension and unity.

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