Abstract illustration of the houses of Clybourne Park

A Raisin in the Sun

by Lorraine Hansberry

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Why do Ruth and Walter in A Raisin in the Sun refer to themselves as "colored"?

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The use of the word colored rather than Black was common and acceptable usage to describe Black people in 1957, the year the play was written, which is why Ruth and Walter refer to themselves that way.

The characters in A Raisin in the Sun both refer to themselves as "colored" and make general comments about "colored" people as a whole. The usage occurs at least seventeen times in the play. For example, Beneatha, an enlightened young Black woman, says the following:

The Murchisons are honest-to-God real-for-rich colored people, and the only people in the world who are more snobbish than rich white people are rich colored people.

She uses the term both to refer specifically to the Murchisons and to generalize about rich Black people. Like the others in the play, she is completely casual and unselfconscious about using this term. This suggests from context that colored was an acceptable term to describe Black people in that time period. And, in fact, if one does research into the period, it becomes clear that colored was an acceptable designation. The characters in the play also use the word Negro, which would be considered insulting today but was still proper in that period. Black had not yet come into fashion as an ethnic designation.

Terminology to describe groups, especially marginalized groups, tends to change fairly rapidly as the group itself tries to stay ahead of negative stereotypes.

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