Fighting Charges of Assimilation in Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun and The Cosby Show
The critical reception of The Cosby Show, an enormously popular television sitcom in the 1980's, roughly paralleled that of A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry's highly acclaimed play of the 1950's. Both the television series and the play helped change the way Blacks are portrayed in the entertainment media. But despite being initially greeted with critical praise, both subsequently fell under heavy scrutiny by many critics for being too assimilationist. However, in both cases, the charges of assimilation may perhaps be too harsh. A Raisin in the Sun, a drama of a middle-class family in Chicago, should not be regarded as a wholehearted endorsement of black assimilation into "white society. " Instead, the play offers a rather realistic view of the complexity of struggles that involves this issue. The Cosby Show, a comedy series about a successful upper-middle-class black family in New York, must also not be viewed as an endorsement of black assimilation into "white society." Instead, the sitcom dealt with universal family issues and posited traditional family values and morals. But most importantly of all, both tried to do away with the prevailing negative black stereotypes in order to promote more positive and realistic representations.
The claim that A Raisin in the Sun expresses the idea of black assimilation can be somewhat justified. Walter Lee Younger and George Murchison openly and consciously admit that desire for the white lifestyle. George has willingly denounced his race rather than uplifted it and is the epitome of a black man that has fully assimilated into the White mainstream. Walter, on the other hand, is on the outside looking in. He yearns for what he mistakenly believes is the American Dream. The idea of owning and operating his own liquor store is (understandably) more appealing than his current profession as a chauffeur. He longs for the socioeconomic advantages of the affluent people and assimilates to their ideas. As Darwin Turner explains, Walter "typifies the upward-moving American male. He honors ruthless capitalism "(4). However, all of this is not to say that Hansberry's play condones or endorses this kind of attitude or ideal. Nor is it accurate to assume that the play is against such assimilationist goals. Instead, A Raisin in the Sun remains decidedly and deliberately ambiguous in any sort of moral judgment.
The 1950's was a decade in which black literature emphasized the issue of integration. Black writers also consciously stressed the similarities between Blacks and Whites. Hansberry believed that blacks and Whites had similar character traits and values, as A Raisin in the Sun demonstrates. However, Hansberry "assumed a consciously ambivalent stance in regard to social integration" (Turner, 4). The Youngers did not want to move into a white community merely out of a desire to live...