Maya Angelou is one of the most renowned and influential voices in the recent time. She is a celebrated poet, novelist, actor and filmmaker. In her early life, she experienced the brutality of racial discrimination based on the situation at the time (Goodman 21). Her experiences in life had an influence in her work as she touched on the issues of racism and sexism over the years. Her poems, in particular, have prioritized on the themes of racism and sexism to reveal some of the issues that affect the society today. This paper looks at the manifestation of the theme of racism in Maya Angelou’s poems.

 

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It emerges from her poems that despite being her being a good writer, she was discriminated against and was not given the credit she deserves all because she was black. In her poem, ‘Still I Rise’, she declares:

 

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt But still,

Like dust, I’ll rise.

 

This indicates that she did not get bothered by the challenges that she was facing but she focused on how she would be able to rise again. She says that she would rise even if the whole country or world were against her. Angelou uses the theme of racism in all her autobiographies especially in the analysis of her land. By writing her autobiographies, she attempts to fight the racial discriminations of the all the women in America (Arsenault and Freedman 15). As stated earlier, the themes of the poems revolve around the injustices found in the country and how it can be fought. Many of the experiences are a reflection of her young life. For example, she was forced to be in prison because of the racial problems (Goodman 21). In prison, her voice was limited and she could not continue fighting for the rights of the people. in the poem, ‘Alone’, she says:

 

Storm clouds are gathering

The wind is gonna blow

The race of man is suffering

And I can hear the moan,

. . . But nobody can make it out here alone (Alone, PH)

 

In the quote, she moans and cries for the pain and suffering that was faced by the black community at the hands of discrimination. During her time, America was faced with segregation of races, which made it hard for blacks to not only access education but also own property. Any attempt to fight for the freedom of the race was met with police brutality and being jailed in the process.

 

Angelou’s use of words was unique and portrayed a person who was ready to make sure the American woman had her liberation and the blacks were given their freedom from discrimination. She dedicated her life to fighting the identity crisis and the racial discrimination that were the order of the day in her land (Arsenault and Freedman, 15). For example in the poem ‘Still I Rise’, she says:

 

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

 

In the quote, she sees herself as the hope that has been lacking among the black women and accepts the gifts that she has been given from her family lineage. She intends to use these gifts in struggling for the freedom of the black community. She has been able to raise above all the identity crisis and racial discrimination in the country (Angelou, 47).

 

Her poems are one of the most useful ways through which scholars can use to track the traces of racism in the country especially in the 16th and the 19th century. She outlines her ignorance towards the challenges that are faced by those in her race (Goodman, 21). Her view of racism is cemented by the practice of slavery. In essence, her ancestors and the rest of the black community went to the Americas during the Transatlantic Slave trade that brought Africans to work as slaves (Ilham, 12). In her poems, she uses different tones of emotions that include anger, sadness, aspects of guilt and despondency and hopelessness. The hopelessness comes from the fact that slavery seemed to be one thing that was difficult to stop as new forms of slavery emerge. In the poem, “My Guilt”, she says:

 

My guilt is “slavery’s chains” too long

The clang of iron falls down the years.

This brother’s sold, this sister’s gone,

Is bitter wax, lining my ears.

My guilt made music with tears.

 

This poem makes the reader rewind the history of slavery in the America. Blacks were not to be seen as equal to the whites even if they could do the same things that the whites did. For example, they could neither access to education nor own any property (Ilham 12). Her guilt is that her ancestors died fighting for the freedom of the blacks and still there was no freedom that could be enjoyed by the black people. Despite her guilt, she is able to provide the blacks with the hope of having to achieve liberation (Angelou 49). She says that they should not give up as happiness can come even to that slave who is undergoing through a hard life (Arsenault and Freedman 15). She says that finishing work in the plantation can also be a source of happiness. In the poem “One more round”, she says:

 

There ain’t no job beneath the sun

As sweet as rest when a job’s well done.

I was born to work up my grave

However, I was not born to be a slave.

 

In the above, Angelou argues that the blacks were born to struggle and to fight for their place in the society. In her view, they should embrace this and be ready to do what it takes to fight for their rights (Angelou, 18-19.). evidently, she is encouraging the people not to give up on the struggle for their freedom as there is some light at the end of the tunnel. She tells them to have one more round of struggle and then heave it down, which means that after one round of fighting for their rights, they should have freedom as equal members of the society (Arsenault and Freedman, 15). When she was born, African-Americans were not allowed to vote in the country, which means that they did not have any representation in the political scene.

 

She also talks about the powerlessness that comes with racism in the country. Mothers were not able to protect their children from the waves of being sold into slavery (Ilham 12). The blacks had their lives at the mercy of the masters and they had to do anything they were asked to do (Angelou, 19.). This included letting the masters sell their children into slavery (Arsenault and Freedman, 15). For example, in the poem “Our Grandmother” she says:

 

“No angel I stretched protecting wings

Above the heads of her children,

Fluttering and urging the winds of reason

Into the confusion of their lives.

They sprouted like young weeds,”

 

This poem is one of the most powerless situations that faced the blacks at the time of slavery. The mothers are not shying away from surrendering the fate of their children. Failure to do that would be met by torture by the masters. The women had been denied the right to have control over their families as everyone was under the ownership of the masters. By the time she was born, discrimination had become the fabric of the society (Hill-Lubin, 176).
Conclusion

 

Maya Angelou wrote her poems in a way that depicted the pains of the black Americans. She identified herself with the struggles of women in the country due to discrimination that they faced. Women were not able to have equal chances in the society although this was a problem was mainly pronounced in the black community. What emerges is that what was happening during slavery was still happening in terms of discrimination and segregation of people based on the race. Her voice was influential in outlining the cries of the community at the hands of the brutality brought about by racial discrimination. She said that she did not worry if the world was against her but she would fight for the rights of the people and especially women who were left out in all the decision-making avenues of the society.

 

Annotated Bibliography

 

Arsenault, Raymond, and Russell Freedman. “Angelou, Maya Writer.” The Cambridge Guide to African-American History (2016): 15-32.

 

This article looks at the life of Maya Angelou and the influence that her life had on her writings. In particular, the article is more focused on her poems and the way that they reflect a major theme around racism and discrimination. This article is helpful in analyzing the development of the theme of racism in her poems and connects the same to her early life. I intend to use this article in providing evidence that the life she led had an impact on her writing career as she embarked on a process to fight for the rights of the blacks as equal citizens with equal rights with those enjoyed by the whites.

 

Angelou, Maya. “Interviews: Maya Angelou.” The Black Scholar 8.4 (1977): 44-53.

 

The focuses on the life of the author and her journey through childhood as well as the writing career. It provides insight on her struggles through prison and her voice as a black American. It also looks at the plight of women at the time and the way it contributed to her writing about the new form of slavery. This article helps the researcher in understanding the author in person and the themes that she wrote about based on her observations from the immediate environment. I intend to use this article in looking at the connection between her poems and the act of discriminating her as she was black when she was trying the raise her voice on the oppression of the blacks in a country that had for a long time been hit by racism.

 

Ilham, Ria Resky Hardianti. Racism Reflected In Maya Angelou’s Poems. Diss. Universitas Muhammadiyah Surakarta, 2015.

 

This article looks at how the author uses different stylistic devices such as symbols and diction to reveal the theme of racism in the poems. It sheds more insight on the tone of the author in writing about the plight of her own people. The article is helpful as it sheds more light on the pain that Maya had as she looked at her people being depressed. The author of the article provides a historical analysis of the life of the blacks since the slavery era to the day that Maya was writing her poems. This helps in understanding that racism today is just an extension of the oppression that was there at the time.

 

Goodman, Amy. “Maya Angelou: Still she rises.” Green Left Weekly 1011 (2014): 21-26.

 

Goodman looks at the influence of Maya Angelou in the society based on her work. It looks at her dedication in raising the voice of the African-American women and men when they had no voice. It is shown that they could be jailed for questioning the authority. Her poems are well analyzed in the context of the life today and relationship with her time. I intend to use this article in analyzing the evolution of slavery and racism in her work. The effects on the society are also identified. Her life experiences are also used to show the source of information used in writing the poems.

 

Hill-Lubin, Mildred A. “The African-American grandmother in autobiographical works by Frederick Douglass, Langston Hughes, and Maya Angelou.” The International Journal of Aging and Human Development 33.3 (1991): 173-185.

 

In this article, Hill-Lubin is comprehensive in providing information about Maya in relation to the works of other people. However, it has provided a good description of what led Maya to write her poems around the themes of sexism, racism, and discrimination. Her life history is provided, which enables the reader not only to look at her work but at it as a reflection of her life and the experiences of her immediate environment. The article is essential in understanding Maya not only in the context of the old version of racism but in the new form of oppression and segregation that prohibited any blacks from fighting for his or her rights in a country that was racially divided.

 

Works Cited

 

Arsenault, Raymond, and Russell Freedman. “Angelou, Maya Writer.” The Cambridge Guide to African-American History (2016): 15-32.

 

Angelou, Maya. “Alone.” Oh, pray my wings are gonna fit me well (1975): 18-19.

 

Angelou, Maya. “Interviews: Maya Angelou.” The Black Scholar 8.4 (1977): 44-53.

 

Ilham, Ria Resky Hardianti. Racism Reflected In Maya Angelou’s Poems. Diss. Universitas Muhammadiyah Surakarta, 2015.

 

Goodman, Amy. “Maya Angelou: Still she rises.” Green Left Weekly 1011 (2014): 21-26.

 

Hill-Lubin, Mildred A. “The African-American grandmother in autobiographical works by Frederick Douglass, Langston Hughes, and Maya Angelou.” The International Journal of Aging and Human Development 33.3 (1991): 173-185.


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