In 1959 much of the United States, including Chicago, remained de facto segregated, meaning that racial segregation persisted in education, employment, and housing even though the Supreme Court had overturned segregation that was established by law as unconstitutional. Set in de facto segregated Chicago, Hansberry’s play draws on stories from the author’s own life, such as her family’s experience with housing discrimination in 1930s Chicago. After moving to a house in an all-white neighborhood, Hansberry’s family endured legal battles and physical threats not unlike the “bombs” that Walter, Ruth, and Mrs. Johnson reference in the play. Despite the suggestion by Karl Lindner that “race prejudice simply doesn't enter into” Clybourne Park’s offer to buy back the Youngers’ home, he hints at the very real dangers that accompany the family’s decision to relocate to a white neighborhood.
Certain characters in the play, such as George Murchison, address persistent racial discrimination by directing their efforts toward assimilation, whereby one integrates into the mainstream of society. Beneatha, declaring that she “hate[s] assimilationist Negroes,” condemns George as “ashamed of his heritage” when he initially scoffs at her close-cut, “natural” hair. George retorts that the “heritage” in which Beneatha takes such pride is “nothing but a bunch of raggedy-assed spirituals and some grass huts!” With this argument, Hansberry gives voice to the varied opinions of African-American thinkers, such as Booker T. Washington (who argued in favor of gradual assimilation of African Americans) and Marcus Garvey (who championed pride in African heritage and called for African Americans to return to Africa).
In the same vein as Garvey, Hansberry explores the idea of Africa as a home for African Americans, a view most clearly articulated by Joseph Asagai, a Nigerian student. Following the loss of Walter’s investment Asagai suggests that a disheartened Beneatha “come home with me . . . to Africa.” Asagai’s suggestion that Beneatha move to Nigeria with him to explore her African roots reflected the surge in African studies that gained momentum in the late 1950s. While Beneatha shows genuine interest in her African heritage, she does not answer Asagai’s proposal within the context of the play, hinting that she may not go so far as to think of Africa as her “home.”
Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation ThemeTracker
Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation Quotes in A Raisin in the Sun
That is just what is wrong with the colored women in this world . . . Don’t understand about building their men up and making ‘em feel like they somebody. Like they can do something.
Asagai: You wear it well . . . very well . . . mutilated hair and all.
Beneatha: My hair – what’s wrong with my hair?
Asagai: Were you born with it like that?
Beneatha: No . . . of course not.
Mama: Oh – So now it’s life. Money is life. Once upon a time freedom used to be life – now it’s money. I guess the world really do change . . .
Walter: No – it was always money, Mama. We just didn’t know about it.
Mama: No . . . something has changed. You something new, boy. In my time we was worried about not being lynched and getting to the North if we could and how to stay alive and still have a pinch of dignity too . . .
Oh, dear, dear, dear! Here we go! A lecture on the African past! On our Great West African Heritage! In one second we will hear all about the great Ashanti empires; the great Songhay civilizations; and the great sculpture of Bénin – and then some poetry in the Bantu – and the whole monologue will end with the word heritage! Let’s face it, baby, your heritage is nothing but a bunch of raggedy-assed spirituals and some grass huts!
I say I been wrong, son. That I been doing to you what the rest of the world been doing to you. Walter – what you ain’t never understood is that I ain’t got nothing, don’t own nothing, ain’t never really wanted nothing that wasn’t for you. . . . There ain’t nothing worth holding on to, money, dreams, nothing else – if it means – if it means it’s going to destroy my boy. . . . I’m telling you to be the head of this family from now on like you supposed to be.
But you’ve got to admit that a man, right or wrong, has the right to want to have a neighborhood he lives in a certain kind of way. And at the moment the overwhelming majority of our people out there feel that people get along better, take more of a common interest in the life of the community, when they share a common background. I want you to believe me when I tell you that race prejudice simply doesn’t enter into it. It is a matter of the people of Clybourne Park believing, rightly or wrongly, as I say, that for the happiness of all concerned that our Negro families are happier when they live in their own communities.
Independence and then what? What about all the crooks and thieves and just plain idiots who will come into power and steal and plunder the same as before – only now they will be black and do it in the name of the new Independence – WHAT ABOUT THEM?!
Don’t you see that they will be young men and women – not British soldiers then, but my own black countrymen – to step out of the shadows some evening and slit my then useless throat? Don’t you see they have always been there . . . that they will always be. And that such a thing as my own death will be an advance?
Talking ‘bout life, Mama. . . . Mama, you know it’s all divided up. Life is. Sure enough. Between the takers and the “tooken.” I’ve figured it out finally. Yeah. Some of us always getting “tooken.”
Son – I come from five generations of people who was slaves and sharecroppers – but ain’t nobody in my family never let nobody pay ‘em no money that was a way of telling us we wasn’t fit to walk the earth. We ain’t never been that poor. We ain’t never been that – dead inside.
Have you cried for that boy today? I don’t mean for yourself and for the family ‘cause we lost the money. I mean for him: what he been through and what it done to him. Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most? When they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well then, you ain’t through learning – because that ain’t the time at all. It’s when he’s at his lowest and can’t believe in hisself ‘cause the world done whipped him so!
And we have decided to move into our house because my father – my father – he earned it for us brick by brick. We don’t want to make no trouble for nobody or fight no causes, and we will try to be good neighbors. And that’s all we got to say about that. We don’t want your money.