THE NATION CLASSROOM
American History as It Happened
RACE RELATIONS and CIVIL RIGHTS
MODULE EIGHT: 1991-Present
STUDENT PRACTICE ACTIVITY TWO
Carefully re-read Document Five, “Obama Elected” by Melissa Harris-Lacewell, and answer the following questions.
1. How does Harris-Lacewell feel about Obama being elected? Why does she feel this way? Cite text evidence. The author is elated, thankful, and encouraged by Obama’s election, which is implied when she writes about his victory as the moment when African-Americans finally became “the solution instead of the problem.” She additionally feels this way because she, too, is African American—made clear by the pronouns she uses, such as “our lives” and “we are citizens.”
2. What does the author mean by the “double consciousness”? That term, originated by early 20th century black American author W.E.B. Du Bois, refers to two identities felt by African-Americans—one as an American citizen, the other as a black person. In their ‘black’ identity, African-Americans are led to see themselves as they are seen by white Americans—aware of their ‘otherness’ and conscious of the many ways that their group has been mistreated, devalued, and suffered inequalities. The article contends that Obama’s victory has temporarily healed this split in consciousness.
3. What examples of this “double consciousness” does Harris-Lacewell cite? The author presents pairs of experiences, and in each case contrasts the first with the second: “To be a citizen in a democracy is to be not only the ruled but also the ruler, to not only submit to law but to craft it, to not only die for your country but to live fully in it.” In each pair, the first cited experience is one of submission, while the second is more empowering and positive.
4. Why does the author repeat the phrase “We the people” throughout the excerpt? Harris-Lacewell repeats that phrase in a poetic manner, thereby emphasizing African Americans’ rightful place in the American story—the idea that they, too, have struggled, fought for the United States, and deserve to be treated as equal citizens. Those three famous words open the Preamble to the US Constitution: “We the People of the United States…” The author deploys repetition to deepen readers’ understanding that African-Americans, despite the racism and mistreatment they have endured from slavery through the present, have overcome these hardships through “nonviolent struggle” against injustice, and that now—with the election of the first black US president—they must be seen as full-fledged members of the American nation