Friday, June 26, 2015

Supreme Court declares 'Raisin in the Sun' still very relevant

Yesterday, the Supreme Court, building on and preserving the Fair Housing Act of 1968, upheld a law that allows plaintiffs to challenge government or private policies and practices that result in discrimination, segregation, or disparate impacts in housing. The ruling focuses on the effect of housing practices, rather than the question of intent.

For those of us who teach A Raisin in the Sun, this new ruling makes clear the continued relevance of Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play. The days of overt, explicit housing discrimination, like racially restrictive covenants which kept families of color (like Hansberry’s) from owning property in certain communities, may be over, but housing segregation continues apace.

And, as the Times, citing research from a Harvard study, writes in its editorial on the ruling, housing discrimination and segregation have significant effects on future incomes and opportunities: “young children whose families had been given housing vouchers that allowed them to move to better neighborhoods were more likely to attend college – and to attend better colleges – than those who had not received the vouchers.” And these children had “significantly higher income as adults.”

Notwithstanding the complex question of what is a “better neighborhood,” this kind of future for young Travis Younger is what Lena Younger had in mind when she used her husband’s life insurance policy to buy her family a home in the white neighborhood of Clybourne Park.

Hansberry’s text needs to be read in the context of the historical and ongoing issue of housing discrimination and the consequences of housing segregation for the African-American community. Our forthcoming Using Informational Text to Teach A Raisin in the Sun (available in October and for pre-order now) offers teachers a number of texts and resources that open up these issues for students, enabling them to see why we still read and care about a text like Raisin and why this recent Supreme Court decision is so important.

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