Chicago’s Southside, like many other Northern cities, housed many African Americans in the 1950s. The housing was poor quality and racism was prevalent. Lorraine Hansberry, playwright for A Raisin in the Sun, paints a vivid picture of life in a gloomy city where the struggle of poverty and equality are real. Though the experience of one family, the play A Raisin in the Sun accurately depicts the historical record of African-Americans’ lives in the 1950s of the racist relationship between blacks and whites and the fragmentation of black families.
One effect of racism on the Youngers’ lives in money. When walter was speaking to Mama he said, “…I pass the cool, quiet-looking restaurants where them white boys are sitting back talking ’bout things…sitting there turning deals worth millions of dollars…sometimes I see guys don’t look much older than me–” (Hansberry 74). This shows the gap between the incomes of white citizens and black citizens. The wealth among Americans is not equally distributed and whites combined have on average more wealth than blacks combined (Surowiecki 39). This was because whites were given more opportunities to succeed than blacks during this time period. That’s why in the play the Walter family supports each other to try and overcome diversity. Another example is when Mama says, “…Once upon a time freedom used to be life–now it’s money. I guess the world really do change…” (Hansberry 74). The need for money has took priority in the lives of those who need it. For the most part it was poor African Americans like the Walter family (Reisman 2). The thirst for money in able to give his family a better life is changing Walter.
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Jobs are another racial effect issue on the Youngers’ lives. Walter says, ” –I have worked as a chauffeur most of my life–and my wife here, she does domestic work in people’s kitchen. So does my mother.” (Hansberry 147). The unemployment rate for blacks was twice as much as the unemployment rate for whites meaning that only few jobs were available to blacks. These jobs weren’t at all good paying jobs, so the combined income of the family fulfilled their very basic needs (Surowiecki 39). In the text Beneatha says, “And forgive me for ever wanting to be anything at all! (Pursuing him on her knees across the floor) FORGIVE ME, FORGIVE ME, FORGIVE ME!” (Hansberry 37). During this time period it was uncommon for African Americans, let alone a black woman, to become a doctor because of the cost of medical school and traditions (Silverman 571). Women were expected to stay at home and do domestic work. Overall, the racial tension experienced by the Youngers limited their ability to search for jobs.
Furthermore, the type of Housing available to the Youngers demonstrate the effects of racism. For example, the text says, “…a bedroom which is shared by Mama and her daughter, Beneatha…a second room (which in the beginning of the life of this apartment was probably a breakfast room) which serves as a bedroom for Walter and his wife, Ruth.” (Hansberry 24). This depicts the conditions that most black lived in the northern cities. Partly because of their low income, the poor quality of the projects was the only housing available to them (Murray 277). Also in the text Lindner says, “…as I say, that for the happiness of all concerned that our Negro families are happier when they live in their own communities.” (Hansberry 118). This gives an example of how many white Americans didn’t want to co-exist with
blacks in communities. Therefore, black housing was typically separated and the quality downgraded from those of white houses (Murray 277). In brief, racial tension between blacks and whites resulted in African Americans being stuck in the projects and white Americans living in the Suburbs.
Moreover, and effect that racism has on the Youngers is Unity. In the text, Beneatha says, “There is simply no blasted God–there is only man and it is he who makes miracles! (Mama absorbs the speech… and slaps her[Beneatha]powerfully across the face.”(Hansberry 51). During this time period there was much stress put on black families by society, so family bonding through a common identity was a way of relief from the burdens of society (Dexter 100). When Beneatha states she doesn’t believe in God, she was breaking one of the family traditions and was casting away principles that Mama and Big Walter believed in. Furthermore, Asagai says, “…there is only one large circle that we march in, around and around, each of us with our own little picture in front of us–“(Hansberry 134). Beneatha feels as if everyone is tunnel visioned on their own worries and fate has it like that. Even though society was separate between white and blacks, blacks should bond together and help each other out (Dexter 100). In short, the Youngers are being broken apart by anger triggered by a racist society.
Finally, racism has a long living effect on the self-esteem of the Youngers. The text says, “Sometimes you just got to know when to give up some things and hold on to what you got.” (Hansberry 130). When going through troubled times effects on people’s mental state can be depression, anxiety, or lack of motivation (Kwate). In the play, Mama is convinced that her family will never move into a good neighborhood. Another example is when Mama says, ” 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…” (Hansberry 142). The author of A Raisin in the Sun, Hansberry, uses Mama to inspire the family to progress with their lives and remember the old reason of survival. Some people will crack under the pressure of hard times and others will hold on to their values to help build up those around them (Murray 291).
In Simpler terms, money, jobs, housing, unity, and self-esteem are the effects of racism on the Youngers’ lives. The Jim Crow Laws defined African-American life in the mid 1900s. Those laws passed represented inequality between blacks and white Americans and the supressment of African Americans’ liberties. In all this time, the segregation of African Americans has not helped to better racial tensions but has grown them. Let people now promote a new era in which people are not discriminated because of the color of their skin. Let people enact equal policies that gives everyone a chance at the American Dream.
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