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Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun: A Ghetto Trap

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During 1959, in a growing neighborhood outside Chicago, Progress Development Corpo ration planned to sell ten to twelve new homes to blacks.When the all-white neighborhood of Deerfield discovered this, they were furious (Rosen 24).One resident, Bob Danning, explained his feelings and the feelings of his neighbors when he stated, “We’re not bigots.We don’t go around calling people names.And I don’t think we want to deny Negroes or anybody else the right to decent homes, just as good as ours.But not next door” (Rosen 16).

Lorraine Hansberry (1930–1965) analyzes northern racism, as expressed by Bob Danning, and its cruel effects in her play A Raisin in the Sun, which she claims is “specifically [about] Southside Chicago.” Many social issues of the 1950’s, including feminism, gender roles, the black family, and the pan-African movement, as well as events within Hansberry’s own life, are interweaved in this play.However, a central theme of A Raisin in the Sun reveals how racism from the housing industry, government, religious leaders, and average Americans supported the segregated housing environment of Chicago.

The setting of A Raisin in the Sun is the ghetto of Chicago, where most blacks lived.These districts consisted of overpriced, overcrowded, and poorly-maintained apartments and homes.In the ghettos, crime rates were high and public services were limited.Most blacks living in the ghetto had hopes of leaving to [go to] better suburban neighborhoods, but segregated housing kept them stuck in the ghetto.

The housing industry was the greatest cause of segregated housing in Chicago.Within the housing industry, many social scientists observed that “real estate agencies play the largest role in maintaining segregated communities.” Real estate agents made enormous profits manipulating white fears of integration and black desires to escape the ghetto, as evidenced by the lucrative practice of blockbusting.A real estate agent would encourage a black family to move to an all-white neighborhood.Housing costs within the white neighborhoods were much lower than black neighborhoods, so some black family would attempt to move, despite threats from future white neighbors.After the black family moved in, nervous whites feared their property values would crash.The real estate agent would then purchase much of whites’ houses for well below their market value, and resell them well above their market value to blacks wanting to flee the ghetto.This lucrative bait-and-switch procedure could double real estate agen cies’ profits within two years.Whites who experienced blockbusting held hard feelings towards blacks which sometimes turned violent.

Real estate agents also fostered the segregation in Chicago by developing separate housing markets for blacks and whites.In 1917 the Chicago Real Estate Board con demned the sale and rental of housing to blacks outside of city blocks contingent to the ghetto.Conditions did not change in the next half-century, and blacks interested in a home or apartment were usually shown only ghettos or transition neighborhoods.Real estate agents limited blacks’ housing options by rarely offering them housing opportunities outside the ghetto.The real estate industry literally trapped the black family in the ghetto.

The real estate industry was aided in segregating Chicago by unfair costs of living within the housing industry.Landlords charged black families high prices for low quality housing, and the average black family in the ghetto had to pay 10% more in housing taxes and fees than in a comparable white neighborhood.Higher housing costs limited blacks’ opportunities to move to bet ter neighborhoods by taking away a large portion of their income.In addition, most white landlords did not maintain their slum property, leading to poor living conditions.Many black families suffered these higher housing costs and poor living conditions within the ghetto because they could not save enough money to move to a cheaper suburban neighborhood.

A Raisin in the Sun notes that the housing industry has a racist nature because of discrepancies in housing cost within black and white communities and their separate housing locations.Walter and Ruth are stunned that Mama purchases a house in an entirely white neighborhood, because moving to a white neighborhood could put their lives at risk.Mama explains why she was unwilling to stay in the black community when 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,” also noting that the new houses built for blacks are located in their own segregated communities, “way out.”

When Ruth observes to Mama that “we’ve put enough [money] in this rat trap to pay for four houses by now,” she is not making an idle statement considering the unreasonably high costs of ghetto housing.Like most blacks in the Chicago ghetto, the Younger family lives in a “tired,” run-down, “rat trap.” Neighborhood games further reveal poverty: Travis chases and kills a rat “as big as a cat” with his friends (59).The Youngers’ house is roach-infested, and a Saturday morning chore consists of “spraying insecticide into the cracks in the walls.” Like the “rat trap” of the Youngers, living conditions for blacks in the ghetto were poor. […]

When Lorraine Hansberry was a child, her family experienced firsthand the results of a government unconcerned with blacks leaving segregation.After the Hansberrys moved into a white neighborhood, their neighbors brought a lawsuit to evict them.The local Chicago government was willing to eject the Hansberrys from their new home but Lorraine’s father, Carl Hansberry, took their case to court.With the help of the NAACP, he eventually won the right to stay, but never recovered from the emotional stress of their legal battles.

The problem of the government which held blacks in the ghetto and which the Hansberry family experienced is implied in A Raisin in the Sun.Walter plans to chop through the government’s forest of red tape to gain a liquor license by bribing a city official.He explains his reasoning to Ruth, his wife, saying, “don’t nothing happen for you in this world ’less you pay somebody off!”[…] A government where graft is common is a government slow to respond to its peoples’ needs—as was Chicago.Despite the poverty that the Younger family lives in, there is no mention of help or any sort of aid from the government, even to fumigate their house for healthier living conditions. […]

Besides the housing industry, the government, and religious leaders, personal racism on the individual level kept blacks in the Chicago ghettos.Terrified of blacks en tering their neighborhoods, whites believed that integration “endangered their turf, their community, the place they called home.” Moving to a white neighborhood could be deadly for black families.From 1944 to 1946 there were over 46 arson bombings within Chicago directed at black homes on the ghettos’ outskirts.In 1965, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) marched against segregated housing in Chicago.

In one instance, 500 black pro testers marched in a white neighborhood, Gage Park, to protest segregation.They were promptly attacked by 4000 outraged whites.Even the KKK and the American Nazi party came north to Chicago during SCLC’s open-housing movement because conditions appeared ripe for recruits.After Carl Hansberry sued to remain in his new neighborhood, “howling mobs” sur rounded the Hansberry’s house.At one point a brick hurled through their window barely missed Lorraine’s head before embedding itself in their wall.This violence, from the perspective of many whites, was unfortunate, for as long as both races remained separate, conflict was unnecessary.When integration threatened the carefully crafted white society, violence ensued.

The role of individual racism within seg regated housing in Chicago is an important focus of A Raisin in the Sun.When Ruth and Walter first hear the news that they will be moving to Clybourne Park, they are shocked.Walter looks at his mother with “hostility,” while Ruth’s stunned response is, “Clybourne Park?Mama, there ain’t no colored people living in Clybourne Park.” Walter becomes bitter as Ruth tries to ad just to the shock.They realize that their lives could be at risk from an irate vigilante if they move within a white neighborhood.

Just as individuals’ violence fought to keep Chicago segregated, violence threat ens the Younger family.Fire bombings are discussed in the play by the simplistic Mrs. Johnson.She arrives to chat, and while discussing the Younger’s upcoming move asks if Mama and Ruth have read “about them colored people that was bombed out of their place out there.” She then idiotically states, “Lord—I bet this time next month y’all’s names will have been in the papers plenty—‘NEGROES INVADE CLYBOURNE PARK—BOMBED!’”[…] She warns Mama and Ruth that “these here Chicago pecker woods is some baaaad peckerwoods,” an accurate statement of white Chicago’s gen eral hatred of integration [a peckerwood is a disparaging term for a white Southerner].

The characterization of Karl Lindner is a scathing commentary on white Northern racism on the personal level.He appears innocuous, “quiet-looking,” “middle aged,” and “a gentle man.” He explains to the Youngers that “most of the trouble [between whites and blacks] exists because people just don’t sit down and talk to each other.” He is calm, patient, and “almost sadly” warns the Youngers that they will be in physical danger if they move into Clybourne Park.However, by desiring to keep the Youngers from Clybourne Park, he is implying to them, as Mama says, “they aren’t fit to walk the earth.” Like Bob Danning, Karl Lindner says, “I want you to believe me when I tell you that race prejudice simply doesn’t enter into it.” At the end of the play, when Walter trium phantly kicks him out of the house, Karl’s true character is as weak and shallow as that of whites who openly support housing segregation.The Younger family ignores his veiled threats and concentrates on Walter, the unexpected hero.Karl’s last line is a lame, “I sure hope you people know what you’re getting into.”

The role of individual racism within segregated housing in Chicago is an important focus of A Raisin in the Sun.When Ruth and Walter first hear the news that they will be moving to Clybourne Park, they are shocked.Walter looks at his mother with “hostility,” while Ruth’s stunned response is, “Clybourne Park?Mama, there ain’t no colored people living in Clybourne Park.” Walter becomes bitter as Ruth tries to ad just to the shock.They realize that their lives could be at risk from an irate vigilante if they move within a white neighborhood.

Carl Sandburg called Chicago America’s laughing city, “proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.” Bill Berry, of Chicago’s Urban League, called Chicago “America’s largest segregated city.” A Raisin in the Sun shows through the triumph of the black spirit amidst white racism and segregation that both observations are accurate.Robert Nemiroff, in his introduction to the 1987 text, called the play “so contemporary” because of Lorraine Hansberry’s ability to tie social issues, including the rise of second wave feminism, questioning of gender roles, the difficulties of the black family, and the death of colonialism, throughout A Raisin in the Sun.However, her portrayal of Chicago’s segregated housing market is particularly poignant because of her accurate observation that Chicago’s segregated housing existed mainly because of racism within the housing industry, the government, religious leaders, and the individual American.

In Deerfield, the white community halted Progress Development Corporation’s build ing project in court.By 1962, three years from when the controversy began, Harry and David Rosen concluded, “in Deerfield, there are no Negroes next door.” A Raisin in the Sun is still a rebuke to suburban audi ences today.For most of us, there are still no Negroes next door.

Watch this 1 minute video of a person's optimistic (positive) experience living in the "Black Ghetto" also known as "The Black Belt". ALSO, comment which character from A Raisin in the Sun could relate to his story the most and why.

Review this video of what Chicago looked like in the 1940s (still similar to the 1950's) and try to listen to Kayne West's song at the same time to feel the emotion about growing up in a world that lacks representation and is desparate for change. Comment by mentioning a photo in the video that sticks out to you the most (and why), but also comment your reactions about the community back then

DMU Timestamp: April 15, 2021 22:58

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