A Raisin in the Sun
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
When I was younger, around 6 or 7, I used to enjoy putting grapes on the heater and watching them scorch into raisins. When the weather was hot enough, I would put them out in the sunlight and anticipate the same effect. I honestly believed I had made a groundbreaking discovery. I knew how to make raisins!
From there I would enjoy eating my own created raisins, and any other raisins I encountered. Fast forward into the present day, 15 years later, and I realize: I am still obsessed with grapes, but I no longer eat raisins. I cannot remember the last time I even saw a raisin, both within my home and any other location I have been. The scorching process no longer appeals to me. I can no longer bear to witness a beautiful grape in its prime be roasted by heat and sunlight into a deformed object that we call raisins and enjoy as a snack. You see, people don’t consider what the grape has to go through to become the raisin that they savor so much.
Thus is the plight of African-Americans.
When Langston Hughes wrote the poem “Harlem,” commonly known as “Dream Deferred,” in 1951, he was reflecting on the limitations of the “American Dream” for African-Americans during the time period. I’ve read this poem before, but reading it recently took me back further than the 1950s. It took me to the beginning, the 15th century, when Africans were plucked like beautiful grapes from their homeland and shipped to America. Here, these Africans were scorched through slavery: hard, vigorous labor with no mercy offered, in order to produce beautiful economic growth. (It is no secret that the American economy was dependent on enslaved African labor for over 300 years. Or maybe it is…)
These Africans in America became the raisins: sweet and satisfying for the purpose, but rather deformed and unpleasant looking in comparison to the smooth round nature of grapes. These are the raisins that America has been built upon for centuries. We call America a great nation, and in many ways it is, but what do we do with the scorched grapes that have become raisins? Do we keep them in more heat and sunlight through systemic racism, infrastructural violence, and police brutality? What is the portion of the African American people who have been scorched into raisins and discarded by those who created them? When they have been systematically denied the sweetness that lies within them, the sweetness that they have been forced to use in building a foreign land? When they have been permanently cut off from their ancestral grape vines of their various African countries? What does their American Dream look like? Grapes can become raisins, but raisins can never be turned back into grapes.
When you keep a raisin in the sun for too long, it gets harder and harder and harder.
After a while it may lose its sweetness.
After a while it may no longer be pleasurable as a snack.
Then people start to resent it.
Then people start to find ways to get rid of it.
Then it becomes a problem.
Then it explodes.
America has scorched its grapes.
At least let them be sweet as raisins.
Take the raisins out of the sun, and let their sweetness survive.
Or be ready to clean up the explosion.