Race

By Bella Danisi, Michael Safara, and Brooke Stanford

Have you ever thought about how race and racism have two different meanings? Adl.org provides a definition for race which “Refers to the categories into which society places individuals on the basis of physical characteristics (such as skin color, hair type, facial form and eye shape). Though many believe that race is determined by biology, it is now widely accepted that this classification system was in fact created for social and political reasons. There are actually more genetic and biological differences within the racial groups defined by society than between different groups.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term “race” in 1735 was introduced as and understood to be “systems of classification: any of the (putative) major groupings of mankind, usually defined in terms of distinct physical features or shared ethnicity, and sometimes (more controversially) considered to encompass common biological or genetic characteristics”. Throughout the years, race has had many different definitions and understandings but today, it is understood to be a classification of genetic characteristics.

Racism is when someone believes their “race” is superior to others. According to Dictionary.com, racism is “a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.” Merriam-Webster.com definition of racism is, “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” In addition, oxforddictionaries.com has their own interpretation, “Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.” Racial oppression has been institutionalized into everyday customs. History has presented minorities and groups of different ethnic backgrounds with inferior statuses because of the inequalities that had been established by those with social power. These same discriminations and inequalities exist today. Examples of inequality are present within government organizations, schools, courts of law, etc. This mentality is passed down generations creating an ongoing cycle of judgement. It’s important to have it be apart of literature because it awakens us. It allows us to see how harmful racism is and the impact it has on others lives. Race is an important term and topic when we analyze literary texts. Many books thematize the lived experiences of race.

In Lorraine Hansberry’s play, A Raisin in the Sun, the Younger family, a poor African American family living in Chicago’s South Side, has a chance to escape poverty with the help of a $10,000 check earned by the late Mr. Younger. It is up to the small, but growing family, to choose what to do with the money, and what will benefit all members of the family. the Younger family faces many racial based problems when they are trying to improve their living situation by moving to a “white” neighborhood. During this period of time, the Younger family is faced with harsh racism and segregation issues and this makes it difficult for them to live and improve their lives.

Throughout the play, the Younger family faces obstacles due to the color of their skin. Hansberry explores how the Youngers’ race influences their lives, creates conflicts, and hinders the characters from completing their goals.  For example, when Mama, the head of the household, is searching for new possible homes to move her and her family into, she states “them houses they put up for colored in them areas way out all seem to cost twice as much as other houses. I did the best I could” (Hansberry, 93). Through this depiction of their struggles to move into a nice home, Hansberry critiques the historical practice of redlining. Hansberry gives the play the setting of “somewhere between World War II and the present,” highlighting the continuous relevance of difficulty for African Americans to move into decently priced homes in safe communities. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the legal definition of redlining is “the illegal practice of refusing to offer credit or insurance in a particular community on a discriminatory basis (as because of the race or ethnicity of its residents)” (Merriam-Webster). In “The Case for Reparations”, Ta-Nehisi Coates shows how serious and drastic redlining was through an interactive map displaying redlining in Chicago in the late 1930’s through the 1960’s. For community members, specifically those of minorities based on racial and ethnic groups, finding a decently priced home in a decently safe neighborhood was nearly impossible to find. Based on the demographics of a certain area, largely the South Side of Chicago, banks were refusing mortgage offers and investments. According to Coates, “In Chicago and across the country, whites looking to achieve the American dream could rely on a legitimate credit system backed by the government. Blacks were herded into the sights of unscrupulous lenders who took them for money and for sport.”

Hansberry’s play also thematizes the real life violence experienced by African Americans in 1959. Another character, Mrs. Johnson, a neighbor to the Youngers, states “you mean you ain’t read ’bout them colored people that was bombed out their place out there?” (100).  It has not and is not uncommon for black people to be discriminated against solely due to the color of their skin, even if it is to the extent of resorting to violence. In the introduction of A Raisin in the Sun, Hansberry’s literary executor, Robert Nemiroff, also discusses real life examples of discriminatory violence. Nemiroff writes “we learned of a 1972 City Commissioner of Human Rights Report, citing eleven cases in the last eighteen months in which minority-owned homes had been set afire or vandalized, a church had been bombed, and a school bus had been attacked”-in New York City!)”, which shows attention to the severity of these actions (xii).  Hansberry uses Mrs. Johnson to help bring to light the dangers of moving to a new location, especially Clybourne Park, which is home to exclusively white families. According to Coates, “Chicago whites employed every measure, from “restrictive covenants” to bombings, to keep their neighborhoods segregated” (Coates, The Atlantic).

Through the character Mr. Lindner, Hansberry critiques white supremacy and the ways white families organized to try and keep their neighborhoods white. Mr. Lindner, a white man that is a member of Clybourne Park’s “welcoming committee”, is introduced in the second act of the play. It should be noted, that Hansberry uses the term “welcoming committee” sarcastically, as Mr. Lindner is not there to welcome the family to the neighborhood, rather to try and convince them to not move to Clybourne Park. Upon first meeting Mr. Lindner, the audience may be convinced that he has a kind and welcoming persona, however his true intentions are quickly brought to light. In many instances, Mr. Lindner refers to the white community of Clybourne Park as “our people”, and the Youngers and the rest of the black community as “you people”. For example, Mr. Lindner states “our association is prepared, through the collective effort of our people, to buy the house from you at a financial gain to your family” (118). Mr. Lindner represents the white people, not just of Clybourne Park, a fictional place, but real communities of exclusively white people. Mr. Lindner also states “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” (118). Though Mr. Lindner prefaces the statement by saying it has nothing to do with race, it very clearly does, and due to the discriminatory feelings that the members of Clybourne Park have, a conflict has begun before the Youngers have moved in.

Citizen by Claudia Rankine gives us multiple examples of how racist Americans can be. In addition to critiquing blatant forms of racial discrimination like police brutality against African Americans, Rankine highlights how acts of interpersonal racism can often be unintentional. We may say we’re not “racist” but we’ve become brainwashed to stereotypes it can be hard to not hold it against others. Citizen really focuses on how blind we have become to moments of racism; and makes us really think about how our actions affect others. Citizen is an american lyric, a lyric is “(of poetry) having the form and musical quality of a song, and especially the character of a songlike outpouring of the poet’s own thoughts and feelings, as distinguished from epic and dramatic poetry.” (dictionary.com) By writing in this style we are being challenged to think deeper and hear the truth. She is making an obvious point that racism in America is still thriving.  According to Rankine, “‘Poetry allows us into the realm of feeling, and it’s the one place where you can say ‘I feel bad,’ she says. In poetry, ‘feeling is as important as perception and description.’’’ (rpi.org) It is important to reflect on our behaviors and how we treat people, which this book allows us to do.

Microaggressions are common within this book. Dr. Derald Wing Sue from Psychology Today explains what a microaggression exactly means, “The everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based on marginalized group membership” Rankine gives over a dozen incidents where microaggressions occur due to race. One example of it is, “At the end of a brief phone conversation, you tell the manager you are speaking with that you will come by his office to sign the form. When you arrive and announce yourself, he blurts out, I didn’t know you were black! I didn’t mean to say that, he then says” (44) The manager was out of line for what he had said. There was no reason for him to point out the color of her complexion. It makes you wonder if he had picked up that she was black on the phone, maybe it would’ve changed how he treated her.

In Rankine’s Citizen, we focus on the racism in tennis with Serena Williams. Tennis is often known as a “white” sport but Serena Williams is pure talent and is constantly proving this statement wrong. The amount of titles she has is unheard of but the amount of racism she has been faced with is questionable and unfair. There have been calls that have bee absurd and wrong because she is of color and if we think, would this happening to a white tennis player with such great talent as Serena William? The answer is no and it is unjust for race to be playing such a big factor in tennis and in America. Race is an issue throughout the world and here in our own backyard. All throughout literature we see race playing many factors and it is an issue we must overcome together in American Culture. Rankine sees Serena Williams as a hero for her commitment to tennis even though she is faced with racism on the court. For the whole of Serena’s career, she has continuously faced bad calls that have taken away wins for her. The first time you realize her fight against the tennis community is described, “In 2004 Alves was excused from officiating any more matches on the final day of the US Open after she made five bad calls against Serena in her quarterfinal matchup against fellow American Jennifer Capriati.” (26). Rankine makes it clear that the game is against her because she is black. It’s rare to see someone of color succeed at tennis which is typically a “white” sport. She proves racists wrong over and over again with her talent and resilience. Although she has to struggle through tough situations, she fights back and is willing to risk it all. She is one of the best tennis players to this day but that achievement is denied by some due to the color of her skin.

Reading and writing about race can help readers educate themselves and further understand the injustices that minorities have gone through and continue to go through. Works of literature such as Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Rankine’s Citizen, can both be tools to recognize racial discrimination and how people of different races are treated. Each work display characters who take pride in their race, discriminate against other races, and how each group of people navigate dealing with their own and other races. These books explore racism in America and how detrimental it is to society. After reading these books, people should learn from the mistakes previously made and better ourselves to live accepting and equal lives amongst all people.

Works Cited

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. “The Case for Reparations.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 22 June 2018, www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/.

Frassica, Matt. “Claudia Rankine’s ‘Citizen’ Shows What Racism Really Feels Like.” Public Radio International, 17 Aug. 2017, www.pri.org/stories/2017-08-17/claudia-rankine-s-citizen-shows-what-racism-really-feels.

Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun; Robert Nemiroff, New York: Vintage Books, 1994.

“Race.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/browse/race.

“Race.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/race.

“Race.” Oxford English Dictionary , Oxford English Dictionary ,

www.ibproxy.cortland.edu:2267/view/Entry/157031?rskey=5HiSmJ&result=6&isAdvanced=false#eid

Rankine, Claudia. Citizen: an American Lyric. Penguin, 2015.

“Redlining Legal Definition.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/legal/redlining.

Glossary of Education Terms. adl.org.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Real Life

[This found poem is written in white font on a black background, as a metaphor that just because things may seem dark and deceitful at first glance, the truth can still be found]

For my found poem, I took an example from my personal life that evoked anger and confusion, as well as sadness. Social media can be a positive thing, or a negative thing, depending on who is using it and for what purpose. A trend that is fairly new to Instagram, is the creation of fake Instagram accounts, or “Finstagrams”. Usually these accounts are private accounts that users make, where they can go to rant, post funny or maybe inappropriate photographs and captions that they otherwise wouldn’t want to be on their normal, public Instagram profile. This specific example comes from the Finstagram account that belongs to my former best friend. Normally, posts about consuming alcohol, rants about school, or funny captions that may not make sense to post on her normal profile is what made up this account. However, after a bit of a hard time in our friendship, she turned to this fake Instagram to vent, rather than to me. 

            While this post is something that I can now laugh at and roll my eyes over, to some, posts as such are not as easy to get over. Cyberbullying is defined as “bullying that takes place over digital devices such as cell phones, computers, and tablets, which includes, but is not limited to, SMS and text message, social media, forum, online gaming, any other app that allows people to view, participate and share content” by the National Crime Prevention Center. Cyberbullying is still a strong form of bullying, considered to be a growing problem, and when students are asked to indicate which social media platforms they experienced cyberbullying on, 42% of students chose Instagram. 

            I chose this caption, that was full of hurtful lies and deceit, put on the internet for anyone to see, because it helped portray my feelings towards the situation as well. While it was untruthful from her side, an attempt for me to look like a villain and her to look like a victim, in reality, it was the other way around. That’s how cyberbullying works; lies and rumors and targeting occurs to make others feel inferior. Luckily, I was able to recognize that while for my former best friend, these words were fleeting and fake, for me, I could personally relate to many of the things she said. While this is a very personal example, I am willing to share it, to draw attention to a bigger picture; posting hurtful and deceitful posts on any social media platform is a serious offense and ultimately not worth it. 

The Opposition to Oppression: Beneatha’s Protests

In Act II, Scene i, of A Raisin in the Sun, the audience is truly introduced to just how meaningful the opposition that Beneatha has towards oppression is, through herthrough her studying to be a doctor, regardless of what others think/say, her performance of a Nigerian folk dance, wearing the Nigerian robes that Asagai gave her, and when she cuts her hair to take a stance for her African heritage. Though initially, everyone is shocked and confused, Ruth and George both eventually show appreciation and understanding towards the sudden course of action.In many instances throughout the scene, Beneatha is heard to be fighting the idea of assimilation, or the desire to join or become one with white culture. The way she speaks of George in comparison to Asagai is an example of this; when speaking about George she states “the only people in the world who are more snobbish than rich white people are rich colored people”, meanwhile when she speaks about Asagai she fawns over how accomplished and intellectual he is. However while talking about either of these two young men, Beneatha stays true to herself, claiming she wants more than just one feeling toward a man, which helps further portray her independent personality. 

In today’s media, and within the last five years especially, there have been many instances of standing up for what people truly believe in, rather than what society is telling them to be. One of the movements or trends that has been happening in the recent years is the “free the nipple movement”, where woman are going against the idea of having to wear a bra to make others feel comfortable, when women themselves are making themselves uncomfortable. Of course this goes farther than not wearing a bra, on a much bigger scale, citizens from other countries are fighting their governments when they think a law or course of action is unjust and unfair and should be changed. The use of striking is a popular way of getting one’s point across. Like Beneatha changing her hairstyle as a form to express her true self and celebrate her heritage, people around the globe are also acting out in peaceful protests, and while they are not always well received, the point is still made. 

One of the most recent examples of opposition in the media has effected millions and millions of people; the longest government shutdown in the course of United States history. The shutdown happened after President Trump and the U.S. Senate failed to negotiate on the budget for 2019, including the infamous wall that President Trump has gone on record to plan to build on the U.S. border. It is important to keep in mind, however that this was not the first time that a form of protest will happen to make a stance, nor will it be the last.  

Question #1: Choose one other character in A Raisin in the Sun who has shown opposition. What have they been opposing, how have they shown opposition and what are the reactions they’ve received from other characters? 

Question #2: How else does A Raisin in the Sunrelate to current events happening in the world or events that have happened in the past five or so years? (This could be an event that has happened specifically in your life if you feel comfortable to share!) 




Introduction: Brooke S(tanford)

Hey there everyone, my name is Brooke, and I am an Adolescent Education major with a focus in English! I am from Milford, NY, which is a small (and I mean small) town between Cooperstown, and Oneonta. A few fun facts about me are that I also did the Disney College Program from January to August of 2018 and that I am currently working on my own poetry book that I hopefully get published one day. Nice to meet you all!