A Summary of William Raspberry’s “The Handicap of Definition”

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“The Handicap of Definition” by William Raspberry delves into the stereotype associated with being Black, highlighting the impact it has on African Americans. Raspberry draws upon various beliefs that contribute to the definition of being Black, often comparing this identity to that of whites and other ethnicities. As an example, Raspberry touches upon basketball, stating that when a basketball fan comments that Boston Celtics’ Larry Bird plays “black,” it is meant as a compliment, which Bird likely accepts (543). Raspberry further underscores the concept by saying that if a white broadcaster is told they speak “black,” they would eagerly enroll in diction lessons (543). Additionally, Raspberry explores the perception among children that hard work and diligent study are traits typically associated with whiteness (543). He also mentions how saving today in order to achieve future goals is considered “white” (543). Throughout his essay, Raspberry utilizes numerous such comparisons.

In his discussion, Raspberry highlights the diverse range of habits exhibited by various ethnic groups. He candidly admits that African American youths excel in basketball, primarily due to their conviction in their ability to improve and their continuous practice to prove themselves right (543). Raspberry underscores the significance of cultivating positive ethnic customs (544). He recounts the perception that Jews possess an inherent aptitude for communication (544). Similarly, people assume that Chinese individuals possess an innate talent for mathematical reasoning (544). Raspberry expresses concern that we are perpetuating a cycle of failure among young African Americans (544).

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In his essay, Raspberry concludes by referring to blacks in the work force. He states that many assumptions made by blacks do not contribute to their career success, except for a few things. In the same essay, Raspberry explains the need to teach our kids how to succeed in American mainstream society, not just in black subculture. Finally, Raspberry emphasizes the importance of making our children understand their intelligence and competence, and their ability to accomplish anything.

William Raspberry’s article “The Handicap of Definition” focuses on the stereotype surrounding the identity of being Black. Raspberry highlights the various beliefs that have negatively impacted African Americans’ understanding of what it means to be Black. By comparing Blacks to Whites and other ethnic groups, Raspberry sheds light on the misconceptions associated with their identity. To illustrate his point, Raspberry employs the example of basketball. He cites an instance where being described as “playing black” is meant as a compliment towards Boston Celtics’ Larry Bird, indicating the skewed perceptions ingrained in society (543).

In his essay, Raspberry highlights the idea that a white broadcaster would readily enroll in diction lessons upon being told that he talks black (543). Raspberry discusses how some children associate diligent study and hard work with whiteness (543). He further explains that saving money in the present for future aspirations is also considered white (543). Throughout the essay, Raspberry utilizes various similar comparisons.

Raspberry discusses the various habits exhibited by different ethnic groups, highlighting how black youngsters excel in basketball due to their constant practice and belief in their ability to succeed (543). He stresses the significance of cultivating positive ethnic traditions (544). Raspberry shares that there is a common belief among people that Jews possess an inherent talent for communication (544). Similarly, it is assumed that individuals of Chinese descent are naturally gifted in mathematical reasoning (544). Raspberry expresses concerns about the perpetuation of failure among young black individuals (544).

Raspberry’s essay highlights that certain assumptions made by blacks do not effectively enhance their career success, with only a few exceptions. He emphasizes the need to educate our children on succeeding within the American mainstream rather than solely focusing on the black subculture. Raspberry underscores the significance of instilling in our children the belief that they are intelligent and capable individuals who have the potential to achieve anything they desire.

Work Cited

  1. Raspberry, William. “The Handicap of Definition.” Washington Post 1982. RPT. In The Macmillian Reader 5th ed.
  2. Judith Nadell, John Langan, and Linda McMeniman. Boston: Allen and Bacon, 1999. 542-544.

Cite this page

A Summary of William Raspberry’s “The Handicap of Definition”. (2018, Jun 27). Retrieved from


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