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Racial Identity and Cultural Success, Essay Example

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Essay

A strong sense of identity and pride is important for the success of a culture. Racism and prejudice are factors which have impeded African Americans from developing a positive self-image and have stunted their growth as a culture. Some feel that the best solution is for African Americans is to develop in separation from other cultures; this is supported byW.E.B. Dubois in his essay,The Conservation of Races. Others feel that African Americans will not only be able to develop a strong identity, but also attain higher achievements if they are able to integrate with other races. While Lorraine Hansberry agrees with Dubois on many levels,the success of the main characters in A Raisin in the Sun is established when they moveinto a white neighborhood.The purpose of this paper is to explore racial separation and integration in allowing African Americans to establish identity and pride.

In AConservation of Races, Dubois explores the exact meaning of race. He acknowledges physiological differences, such as pigmentation and bone structure, but realizes that physical variations are only temporarily relevant. Races are better defined through “spiritual” and “psychical” aspects.A culture’s identity is established by “first, their race identity and common blood; secondly, and more important, a common history, common laws and religion, similar habits of thought and a conscious striving together for certain ideals of life” (Dubois 1091). The English, Teutons, and Japanese are successful because they have a strong cultural identity and sense of pride. Dubois expresses concern that African Americans are not reaching their full potential for achievement because they have not yet established a strong racial and cultural identity.  In 1897, African Americans were stereotyped negatively by whites and as a result, believed these stereotypes to be true. This belief allowed for the tolerance of immoral behavior which would ultimately prevent success.

To realize their full potential, Dubois felt that African Americans must separate themselves from other races so they can flourish without judgment, comparison, or prejudice. “For the development of Negro genius, of Negro literature and art, of Negro spirit, only Negros bound and welded together, Negros inspired by one vast ideal, can work out in its fullness the great message we have for humanity” (Dubois 1090).Once African Americans are able to better define themselves in a positive manner, they will have the opportunity to make their own contributions to society as a whole.

Like Dubois, Hansberry supports the necessity for African Americans to establish themselves as a culture in order to reach their full potential. Throughout her play, she explores the struggle of African Americans on whether segregation or integration is better for achieving success. Because the political climate in the 1950’s was different than that of 1897, Hansberry’s characters found success by integration into a white neighborhood.

A Raisin in the Sun depicts the Younger family struggling with their personal and racial identities. They live in a predominantly African American neighborhood and their apartment is crowded and described as a “rat trap”. The Youngers are so concerned with finances that it is difficult for them to spiritually develop. Even Beneatha, who is preparing for medical school, struggles with her identity as a young African American woman.

Lena is worried that her family is headed in a negative direction, which prompts her to use her late husband’s life insurance money to buy a house for her family. Her son Walter Lee, is consumed with money and wants to invest in a liquor store. His pregnant wife Ruth is considering an abortion due to financial troubles; Walter Lee neither attempts to dissuade her or offer reassurance. Lena’s daughter Beneatha is expressing atheistic beliefs and states that she may choose not to marry. In order to save her family, Lena buys a house in Clybourne Park, a white neighborhood. By remaining segregated, the Younger family will most likely continue on a downward spiral and never develop personal pride in their identity as African Americans.

However, the Youngers also receive negative messages about moving into a white area.  Their neighbor, Mrs. Johnson, threatens that they will get bombed and fall victim to violence if they move to Clybourne Park. The Youngers even receive a bribe to not move into their new house. After Walter Lee’s poor investment in a liquor store fails,Hansberry tricks the reader into thinking that the Younger family will give into fear, accept the bribe, and remain in their current situation.

Walter Lee describes in his speech to Mr. Lindner, the representative from Clybourne Park, that the Youngers are proud of themselves, their heritage, and their culture.

“[W]e come from people who had a lot of pride, I mean – we are very proud people. And that’s my sister over there and she’s going to be a doctor – and we are very proud… And we have all thought about your offer….   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… We don’t want your money” (Hansberry 925-6).

The Younger family has established a strong identity and they are ready to move onto the next level. Success is achieved even though safety and prosperity are not guaranteed. If the Younger family had remained segregated in their neighborhood, they may have never realized their potential.

The two authors’different solutions in resolving the problems associated with developing a strong racial identity may be due to the eras in which they lived.The Conservation of Races was written in 1897; while African Americans were struggling with racial identity and discrimination when Hansberry wrote her play in 1959, the political climate had changed. Integration was a much more viable option in the mid-twentieth century. While segregation may have been the best option in 1897, Hansberry’s attitude reflects that African Americans will find greater success by incorporating themselves with other cultures. By doing this, identity will naturally be established and greater opportunities for advancement will be available.

Work Cited

Dubois, W.E.B.. “A Conservation of Races.” Trans. Array1087-97. Print.

Hansberry, Lorraine. “A Raisin in the Sun.” Trans. Array840-928. Prin

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