Hope and the post-racial : high school students of color and the Obama American era




Smith, William Louis

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Drawing on critical race theory, racial formation theory and the extant literature on the so-called post-racial turn in American life, this research explored the broad question of how young people of color make sense of issues of race and equity in the era of the first Black president. Using a case study design, as well as elements of visual research methods and narrative inquiry, I examined how a group of high school students of color at a predominantly White high school have learned about race and Obama, considering both formal school curricula and out-of school sources. I also sought to understand what significance the students placed on president Obama’s election, including their views on racial progress in the U.S. and their beliefs in the plausibility of a post-racial American era. Through the collection and analysis of interview, classroom observation, and artifact data, my findings suggest that schools can be unfriendly spaces for learning about these topics, but students pick up rich, though scattered, information through out-of-school sources such as family, community, and media. Additionally, students exhibited contradictory beliefs about race in America, with experiences of racial marginalization at school juxtaposed with measured optimism about racial progress in the U.S. Students also expressed personal inspiration in having a Black president and a willingness to hold multiple, competing narratives about race, Barack Obama, and their own lived experiences. These findings suggest a need for history and social studies teachers to provide formal curricular spaces for open discussion about race and President Obama to allow students to discuss and extend their multiple Obama narratives. Researchers must also consider the hybridized racial stories of both students of color and of the 44th president.



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