Maya Angelou and Racism Essay

Total Length: 2149 words ( 7 double-spaced pages)

Total Sources: 5

Page 1 of 7

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.

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….....

Show More ⇣

     Open the full completed essay and source list


     Order a one-of-a-kind custom essay on this topic

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.

sample essay writing service

Cite This Resource:

Latest APA Format (6th edition)

Copy Reference
"Maya Angelou And Racism" (2017, April 20) Retrieved February 24, 2021, from

Latest MLA Format (8th edition)

Copy Reference
"Maya Angelou And Racism" 20 April 2017. Web.24 February. 2021. <>

Latest Chicago Format (16th edition)

Copy Reference
"Maya Angelou And Racism", 20 April 2017, Accessed.24 February. 2021,