English Paper on The Handicap of Definition by William Raspberry

In the “Handicap of Definition”, William Raspberry discusses the problems that arise in defining what is meant by the concepts of ‘black’ and ‘white’. He explains that the narrow definition of the term ‘black’ is responsible for burdening black children with the need to prove themselves in fields of sports and entertainment, where they may not always be talented, as they believe academic and professional excellence is ‘white’ (Raspberry 98). Raspberry uses a wide range of techniques to expound his claims. The result is an excellent and authentic essay that challenges the thinking of his readers.

  1. In the five paragraphs, William Raspberry gives an overview of the challenges facing the black community.
  2. He acknowledges that economic deprivation, mean politicians, and racism are some of the challenges facing the black community.
  3. Nonetheless, he observes that the main burden facing the black community is the handicap of definition on what it means to be black (Raspberry 98).
  4. Raspberry follows this up by defining the societal meanings linked to the terms black and white.
    1. He suggests that a white person is likely to feel pride if his/her excellence in performing sports or in entertaining is termed as ‘black’.
    2. At the same time, if a professional white person is told that he/she talks, writes or reasons black, he/she is likely to be aggravated and even take legal action against the person saying so.
    3. Here, Raspberry sees the narrowness of the definition on what it means to be black.
  • Raspberry observes that the set of habits and attitudes that are necessary for facilitating success in business, academics, and non-entertainment professions are associated with whiteness.
    1. While blacks may take pride in their excellence in entertainment and sporting professions, they stand to lose from relying too much on the narrow definition of ‘black’.
    2. The only reason black youngsters excel so well in sport is that they believe they can do it better than whites, so they practice consistently until they do it right (Raspberry 99).
    3. If the same dedication was shown in academics, without associating non-academic excellence with whites and Asians, blacks stand to be empowered.
    4. Moreover, if the concepts of morality, strong families, determination, courage and love, are seen as strong black values, then the race would be empowered.
  1. Raspberry acknowledges that with a shift of attitudes, blacks could develop their reasoning in mathematics by showing enthusiasm in practice and having the belief that they can do it.
    1. To make this possible, Raspberry suggests developing positive ethnic traditions.
    2. No race is specially gifted in a particular field. Rather, assumptions are created early in the lives of youngsters, giving them the conviction that their races are only talented in particular fields (Raspberry 99).
    3. This narrow definition places the black community at a disadvantage since only a handful are truly gifted as athletes and entertainers.

Having demonstrated the problems that come with the narrow definition of what it means to be black, Raspberry suggests that children ought to be made to understand that they are intelligent and competent and that they only need to put their minds to what they seek to achieve. They ought to know that they are capable of proving themselves in the American mainstream, not just within the black subculture.



Work cited

Raspberry, William. “The Handicap of Definition.” Washington Post (1982): 97-99.