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Letter: Review missed 'Raisin' relevence

Published 9:04 am, Thursday, October 25, 2012
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Geary Danihy and I did not see the same play when we attended the current production of "Raisin in the Sun" at the Westport Country Playhouse. ("Powerful lessons overshadow `Raisin' production," Oct. 19.)

Our perspectives differ. He is white, male, under 55, a beneficiary of white privilege, a system of unasked for but accepted opportunities and benefits enjoyed by those who appear white in the United States. I am an African American female, a senior citizen, wary of unconscious biases that those privileged whites feel free to exercise.

I know the world inhabited by the family in "Raisin," the Youngers, from the inside out. The Westport News critic sees it from the outside in and, from his Olympian and privileged stance, judges it no longer relevant. He has the luxury of ignoring a few inconvenient facts.

For three generations my family has fought to live in the best neighborhoods we could afford so as to have access to education, safety, property appreciation. Whites with comparable incomes and earning power take this access for granted. And, yes, we fought to move to Westport.

According to the 2010 census, Connecticut is the second most residentially segregated state in the nation. The African American population of Westport is 1.2 percent. Apparently the struggle of the Younger family in 1959 Chicago has not yet been solved in Westport, Conn.

The wealth of African American families in the United States is one-tenth that of white families of comparable backgrounds. Since a large percentage of a family's wealth comes from the value of their home, housing segregation impacts the resources available to successive generations. The Younger's struggle is now the struggle of my adult daughters and their children in 2012.

De facto segregation is not dead, but we lack the ability to discuss it. At a teachers' workshop funded by the Playhouse, a Staples High School English teacher confessed that she had difficulty teaching"Raisin" because her students do not acknowledge the existence of racial issues. Westport schools employ one African American teacher and no administrators. It is no surprise that Westport students live in the bubble of white privilege. The review of "Raisin" perpetuates it.

Danihy might consider the relevance of tensions developed in the first act to 2012 issues: Women's health, conflicting values in intergenerational immigrant families, the centrality of father-son relationships.

He might also consider the audience's reaction. During the two performances I attended, they sniffled and wiped their eyes as the house lights came up. If the essential function of drama is first to move you emotionally and second to raise questions that transcend the immediacy of that experience, "Raisin" is a success.

So "What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?" Danihy's review does Raisin an injustice by marginalizing its drama and social commentary. Justice would be better served by inviting Westporters to see a play about a black family that asks questions relevant to us all. Please, ignore one man's myopic misunderstanding of a theatrical masterpiece.

Judith A. Hamer

Redding