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A Raisin in the Sun

by Lorraine Hansberry
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Assimilationist

In A Raisin in the Sun, why does Beneatha say that she is not an assimilationist and what does she mean?

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Beneatha says she is not an assimilationist while she is talking with Joseph Asagai, a Nigerian exchange student. Arriving at her home, he brings her "the colorful robes of a Nigerian woman" and mentions he must instruct her on how to wear them. Asagai observes that her processed hair does not go well with the outfit and says she has "mutilated hair." This upsets her, and she attempts to explain that because it is "crinkly" it is hard to manage.

Asagai then teases her about looking for her identity, a comment she had made when they first met, and compares her profile to the “Queen of the Nile.” He asks what seems to be a rhetorical question about her hair: "But what does it matter? Assimilationism is so popular in your country."

To this, Beneatha declares, "I am not an assimilationist!"

How she understands and uses the term is expanded on in act 2, scene 1, when she and George are about to leave the house for the theater. Beneatha is not only wearing Asagai’s gifted Yoruba outfit, she has cut her processed hair off into a natural hairstyle. George does not like the African clothes and makes fun of her, and then is shocked and dismayed when she reveals her newly acquired natural hairstyle. Arguing with George, she declares, "I hate assimilationist Negroes!" When her mother asks what the word means, George accuses her of calling them "Uncle Toms."

Angry, Beneatha explains that what bothers her is that a person "is willing to give up his own culture and submerge himself completely in the dominant, and in this case oppressive culture!" George rejects not only this characterization of him but apparently all black people's interest in African heritage.

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Beneatha says that she is not an assimilationist in Act II Scene 1.  At the beginning of the scene, Beneatha is wearing the Nigerian traditional garb that Joseph Asagai has given her as a gift, and she is dancing to traditional music.  When George arrives to take her out on a date, Beneatha gets into an argument with him about his upper class values which she deems as "assimilationist."  By this, Beneatha means that she thinks that George has lost touch with his ancestral African roots and that he has conformed to American societal standards (here she implies that these standards are racially bound and based on "white" culture).  Beneatha thinks that she is more well-rounded person because she claims to understand her heritage.

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