GLOSSARY for A Raisin in the Sun a play by Lorraine Hansberry

Light for green minds AGNOSTIC adjective or noun, not believing in religion – as, apparently, Beneatha.

ASSIMILATION fitting in with a dominant culture. If this is seen as desirable, it is called integration ie everyone benefits because they understand each other and are treated equally. But some people, like Asagai, disapprove because it might mean that one’s own culture is pushed aside or swamped or just diluted by a major one and he wants to preserve a separate Yoruba or Nigerian culture. Good or bad? – it depends on to what extent you are telling people to behave or conform. In some ways, Asagai is too traditional or old-fashioned, for Beneatha at least.

ATHEIST someone who doesn’t believe in God.

BENEATHA’S PROPHECY about African independence bringing into power a bunch of African crooks and scoundrels is remarkably accurate – in all four of Britain’s West African colonies, Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and the Gambia, independence led to dictatorship and military takeovers and often corrupt and very destructive government.

BLACK is a short-hand term for a black American or an Afro-American and is usually an acceptable term, partly because many blacks are proud to be black as opposed to white.

BLACK POWER was a movement from the 1960s which rejected or partly rejected integration with the whites and wanted to develop and maintain an aggressively pro-black, black culture.

CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT The movement from about 1954 to 1968 to end legalised segregation and discrimination in the United States, a movement associated with Martin Luther King. It was more prominent in the 60s than the 50s and Chicago was one of its centres of activity.

COLOURED a dated term used of black people (and sometimes Indians and Asians as well) or mixed race people. Not offensive in itself but old-fashioned or slightly comic. A more modern term is “people of colour” which is meant to be polite and respectable but still seems silly.

CONSERVATIVE someone who sticks by old values and ways and who can be good (ie upholding what is valuable from the past) or stupid and unenlightened (ie not accepting necessary change in society). It depends.

EUPHEMISM, EUPHEMISTIC putting something not so pleasant into gentler or more pleasing terms.

EVANGELICAL RELIGION the term given to traditional or fundamentalist Christian religion in the United States and elsewhere. This version of Christianity believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible. Christianity is, of course, originally a Middle Eastern or white man’s religion. Asagai and Beneatha think that African traditional religions should be treated equally with Christianity.

FAGGOT a dated and offensive term for a gay or homosexual.

FEMINISM the movement which wants equal treatment for women with men, equal pay, equal opportunity and an end to all gender discrimination. Like the Civil Rights movement, feminism accelerated in the 1960s and became mainstream. Asagai’s culture is not feminist but male-dominated like almost all traditional culture.

GENDER REVOLUTION the success or triumph of feminism – which had not occurred in the late 1950s

HUMANISM, HUMANIST a person who thinks man is actually or potentially a fine being and not innately sinful or despicable. Although early humanists often still believed in God, religion tended to get pushed to one side and today many or most humanists, as it seems Beneatha, tend to be agnostic.

IDEALISM in the play is a dream or vision based on principles as yet unrealised. If you are an idealist you might be a useless dreamer (bad) or a clear-sighted visionary who is persistent and improves society (good). It depends.

INDEPENDENCE The play, written and produced in the late 1950s is a little out of date. Ghana, a British colony, had won its independence in 1957 without violence or revolution as did all French colonies in West Africa by 1958 and other British colonies like Nigeria by 1963 and the rest by the early 1960s. There was no need to chase British or French soldiers out of West Africa, they had already gone or were about to leave. At the time, anyway, Britain did not use white soldiers in West Africa but locally-recruited black ones.

INTER-RACIAL MARRIAGE This was legally forbidden in many American states in the south. Even if you were only 1/32 a black person, ie you were 31/32 a white person, you couldn’t, by law, marry a 32/32 pure white person.

KU KLUX KLAN a very unpleasant white terrorist organisation which prevented blacks asserting their federal rights in many southern American states.

NEW WORLD The New World is the Americas, North and South, as opposed to the Old World which is Europe, Asia and Africa. Usually, the New World thinks it has done everything better than the Old World.

NIGERIA Now the most populous state in Africa, Christian in the south and Islamic in the north. Nigeria gained its independence in 1963 a little later than other British colonies because it was, and is, a big, complicated federal place.

NIGGER Now, and in the fifties, an extremely offensive term, derived from the Latin for black. A hundred years earlier somewhat less so and sometimes even used by black people of other black people and themselves.

PRAGMATIC of a realistic and practical, not idealistic or romantic, way of looking at things or doing them. Usually a positive term.

RADICAL noun or adjective, means, literarily “tearing up by the roots”, of very drastic, fundamental change or someone who wants fundamental change. These days, often a negative term.

ROMANTIC not just concerned with love, but concerned with feeling or the imagination, hence idealistic, dreamy, unrealistic, and so romantic becomes a kind of opposite to pragmatic.

SATIRE making fun of something for a serious purpose. Lindner’s justification for what he is proposing is a classic example of someone, who claims not to be racially prejudiced, actually serving the cause of racial prejudice.

SLAVERY was legally abolished in the British empire basically in 1833 and in the United States in 1865 (the thirteenth amendment) ie a long time ago.

SOCIAL COMEDY the ups and downs of ordinary life, not necessarily funny for those involved in them but sometimes presented with humour or satire. A realistic view on human nature or society as it is.

TARZAN The famous but totally fantastic hero of books and films. Hollywood in America often presented Africa in an unrealistic light. Hollywood, then as now, was rarely good or accurate in presenting history or even contemporary society. Art often lies.

TRADITIONAL tradition is a word with favourable associations – normally, but traditions can be good, bad or extremely ugly. It depends. Asagai is both traditional and modern.

UNCLE TOM an African or black person who is over-deferential or forgiving or submissive to whites or white culture. In the play, an insult.

YORUBA One of the big tribes of southwest Nigeria. Other big tribes in Nigeria are the Ibo or Igbo in the southeast and the Hausa in the north. There are umpteen more.

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