Who Am I?: Racial Identity In A Raisin In The Sun

1632 words - 7 pages

Growing up as a child during the 1970s in Lynwood, a predominantly African American neighborhood of South Central Los Angeles, I never realized the differences between my playmates and myself. Although my mother and I eventually moved to the suburbs, my father remained there. However, it was not until late childhood, while visiting my father on weekends, that I began to differentiate between my friends and myself. Maybe the piercing stares and turned heads at the neighborhood market led to this discovery. Or perhaps the racial epithets exchanged in anger between childhood friends made the differences obvious. But, more than anything else, I attribute my discovery to the disparaging nickname given to me. They referred to me as “Casper.” Yes, I am white¬¬––chalk white, milk white, even ghostly white. If others had not continuously pointed this out to me, I doubt I would have noticed at such an early age. Nevertheless, when you are young and searching for your identity, labels have a way of adhering to you and images become engraved upon your mind for years to come.
While this self-image endured for decades, the numerous derogatory labels applied to an entire race of African Americans are far more demeaning. According to sociologist Dr. David Pilgrim, during the era of Jim Crow (1877-1965), various “stereotypical depictions of Blacks, helped to popularize the belief that Blacks were lazy, stupid, inherently less human and unworthy of integration” (“Who Was”). Promoted and exploited by the entertainment industry, the stereotypical black “Mammy” and faithful “Tom” permeated American culture in the form of cartoons, movies, radio, television and theater, dehumanizing Blacks and ultimately providing a perverted rationale for justifying segregation (Pilgrim “Mammy”; “Tom”). So when Lorraine Hansberry’s play, A Raisin in the Sun (1959), confronted the issue of segregation through the lens of an African American family living in Chicago’s Southside, Caucasian audiences’ widespread acceptance of the Youngers, a family who was “just like any other,” appears ironic (Nemiroff 9). Contrary to public perception, Raisin sought to convey “the essence of black people’s striving and the will to defeat segregation, discrimination, and national oppression” (10). However, it did so through the use of characters that defied the predominant stereotypes and communicated to a black audience, images that promoted a sense of pride and dignity in being African American.
When A Raisin in the Sun premiered on Broadway in 1959, segregation not only occurred in the South, with its widely known and easily recognizable segregated buses, lunch counters, schools and water fountains, but it also existed in more subtle forms throughout the rest of the country. In the North, restrictive housing covenants and zoning laws enabled suburban residents to “insure that only members of acceptable social classes could settle in their privileged sanctuaries,” thereby effectively...

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