The Evolution and Expressions of Racism
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I really like the mentioned quote, “a historian tells you what happened, a novelist tells you what it felt like”. I agree that Maya Angelou’s memoir allows readers to understand a period in history from the point of view of a young black woman. Through her everyday experiences, as readers we see how afraid black people were of the white community. This concept was especially magnified for me through the instance in which Willie was hidden under vegetables in order to keep from being found and used as a scapegoat for an alleged crime which he had no part in. Of course the discrepancies and lack of equal treatment toward black people has been widely spoken about, however I think Maya Angelou’s personal experience allows for a concept to be more than a statistic or a general occurrence. Personally, I find that personal experiences offer a better understanding of the political and social climate in America and ask for less from the readers. By that I mean, through reading an account of an individual’s life, we are able to materialize our own feelings and thoughts about events and thus, have stronger emotions than those we have when reading statements meant to persuade. I think in a memoir, we also see private thoughts such as Maya Angelou’s want to be a young white girl instead because that was her concept of everything “right”. Certainly, this section is able to show how internalized the feelings of self-hate are among the black community because of all the discrimination they face. It’s extremely disheartening to read a young black girl call her skin color an “ugly dream” and prefer to be a different skin color because it affords a better life.
– Simran Sharda
Thank you! I agree with you that nothing like a well-written memoir can capture an era, and I’m glad in our literary world today there’s such a tendency towards it.
You are very right in saying that a historian tells you what happened and a novelist tells you what it felt like. That is also what made this memoir that much more valuable because the other works we have gone over described more of what was happening in the authors’ contemporary society but Maya Angelou’s memoir is much more personal and shows readers the real effect of racism and prejudice on individuals, instead of just focusing on more interpersonal facts and generalizing for a majority. I also feel that Maya Angelou’s memoir specifically has more value as a personal account than other works because she was not just sheltered to a single community; she had exposure to a variety of communities and was able to describe her different experiences in each one.
Thank you! it’s true about her approach to being comprehensive while staying true to the personal. it becomes more and more manifest in following volumes.
I’m glad you brought up the want of Maya Angelou, as a young black girl, to be a young white woman, that passage reminded me of Whoopi Goldberg’s one woman show in 1985, she did character work, and one of her characters was a tween-age black girl, with a fascination with blonde hair, she used a white shirt to swish her hair and stuff, this reinforcement of the ideal, this reinforcement of the internalized marginalization, racism. it was interesting to re-read Caged Bird, to look at it with a different lens, the lens of protest, the lens of life behind me, the lens of possibility before us. And Ms. Angelou’s, as you pointed out, prose, her attention to those details, those beautiful phrases, some which left me tongue tied.
Thank you! her prose is truly marvelous.
I tried to find a video of this and couldn’t, do you know of one? I love Whoopi Goldberg.
When kids are young and they are told they could wish for whatever they want on their birthday, or they are given an assignment in school asking what they want to be when they grow up, their imagination doesn’t limit their skin color. If they are told white is better than its only logical that they would want to be white. I think more kids go through this that would like to admit. I do remember having these thoughts in elementary school. I’ve even written a song about it. We have to teach our kids about how great it is to be black or whatever culture they come from. To appreciate the struggle and make change, not to wish you could switch sides.
Since it’s not usual that we read about how slavery affects a child at such a young age (because we usually read books that narrate in adults’ point of view), it is appealing (lack of a better word) to see a child’s side of the story. The effects of tragic events on her are definitely negative, and her childhood is definitely worse than most of the kids like her back in the time (born in the south as a black American, parents abandoned her, and bullied by others all together is way too much for a kid to handle).
this is a great point! I should have mentioned that it is a special book not only because it’s written by a woman but also because it’s about childhood, the formative years, of which we have very few personal accounts in literature.
As a child, Maya constantly hears from others that she is ugly. She has kinky hair and dark skin, and she is large for her age. Bailey, on the other hand, is a small, graceful, and attractive child. Whenever somebody remarks on Maya’s ugly appearance, Bailey makes sure to avenge his sister by insulting the offending party. Maya considers Bailey the most important person in her world.
Thank you! the siblings dynamic is indeed an understudied aspect of this book. would be a good topic for a paper.
While reading the first part of the book I was struck by Maya’s perception of the white community due to segregation at the time. From the reading, I perceived that Maya grew up in a segregated part of the country even before arriving in Stampede. I thought it was interesting the way she describes and compares the white people and the black people. Maya goes to the white area of Stampede and noticed at first that white people are “weird”, they do not have the same sense of community that the black people do. Moreover, Maya considered it strange that no one stopped to engage in conversation with her and Bailey, since she used to live in a community that everyone knows each other. In the following chapters go into even more details with this comparison, comparing Momma’s frugal lifestyle to the materialist one of the whites. Maya is totally oblivious about the economy disparity.
At last, another episode that caught my attention is the behavior of the sheriff and the way he addressed the KKK as “the boys”. Does he really believe that is doing a good deed in warning Uncle Willie and isn’t the law supposed to protect an innocent black man?
Question: Are the memos for Sula due the 6/27 or 6/29? Sorry I am little confused about the due dates.
Thank you! I also find the story of how segregation was actually perceived by a child incredibly informative and touching. one of the best moments in the book.
I feel that this book/story is probably one of the most essential to understanding the complete black story. Maya Angelou is the most famous black women maybe besides Oprah. At the point that this story came out, there were some black voices speaking on the inequality. However, all the voices that people heard were from men. In order to get people to understand the totality of the black plight, we must have the story of the black woman. Especially the point of view of a young black girl that we still rarely see in the media as much as we should today.
Thank you! that’s very true, and her presence and voice has been incredibly influential. though in terms of fame, since unfortunately people don’t read books as much as they used to, I keep encountering the fact the many people don’t quite know her anymore. Black women like Beyonce and Michelle Obama are in the spotlight in such a way that authors can no longer be.
Maya speaks in the first person about the pain of growing up in the South. She described the “pain” as “a knife at the edge of her throat, threatening her life”. While she tried to describe the world she saw, she also tried to restore her feelings, instead of correcting her childhood thoughts with her adult morals and values. That is to say, she tried to restore her childhood, even avoiding topics that others would never discuss, such as being raped as a child. This authenticity really touched me a lot.
In addition to being black, Maya is also a woman. This made the unequal treatment she suffered add gender discrimination to the racial discrimination. In the rights movement, women’s rights often give way to race. Does this mean that among blacks, women are suffering more but the benefits are ignored?
Thank you! I think the gender power gap is reproduced in every community, no matter what race they are. So yes, I suspect on average Black women have suffered more from the plight of Black people than Black men.
As you explained, a novelist tells us what the history felt like, but I don’t think people today can understand or feel the actual mental torture that people like Angelou went through. In today’s modern society, most people can’t even handle a negative comment online about themselves made by some anonymous person, whereas Angelou was often publicly insulted by others because of being overweight. At least today, everyone can fight back, but for Angelou, she was simply helpless.
That is so true. I personally hate nothing more than social media feuds, which are often over the least important matters in the world.
When reading “Why the caged bird sings” I was disappointed as to how relatable it still is during this time. Whether it was the fact that she was deemed ugly due to the fact she looked more black. The subtle tension the uncle and mom feel for their family’s safety considering the precautions they take. And what I found most significant was when the mother was being mocked by a bunch of white children, yet did “nothing” to defend herself. The same experience but different terms. Her Afrocentric features being rejected is now under the guise of just being a preference. Precautions taken when leaving the house is a routine for many blacks but foreign to whites. Incidents such as when the mother was mocked is supposed to be taken as a joke or you’re just sensitive. Very little progress has genuinely been made in America when it comes to accepting what is different.
Thank you! the relatability of our readings seems to be the sad, recurrent motif of this class.
You’re right, I was thinking about the relatability of it too. It got me down. When I read the part about Mamma being harassed by those white girls I was reminded about how POC have to submit to racist cops. They have to be quiet and just go with it. Like Momma, they are taught not to defend themselves at the moment because it will play into cops’ “dangerous black man” narrative – as if skin color is somehow a weapon. Standing up for yourself can risk their lives, and it would have risked Momma’s too.
I really enjoyed reading Maya Angelous memoir because it offered a unique take on segregation, and as mentioned by you and previous posts, by a young Maya Angelou. I’ve mostly always read about key figures during this period of time as adults but never from a child’s viewpoint. Angelou’s anger is also very clearly shown because in one section, whenever the white children would come to her store she would just pinch some of them, out of anger.
Trauma and loneliness, the combination of blacks everywhere during every time period. My’s pain was almost a bore to read. However, after digesting what was happening and her recollection, I gained an entire lifetime of respect for this woman and what she endured. Trauma causes one to never forget no matter how painstaking it is to re-imagine the details to put it in words. I had to remind myself, for chapters 1-5, Maya was no older than 6 years old. When I reread the work, it was unimaginable how naïve I was to think a writer, who easily transported me to her childhood, was a “bore”.
I want to emphasize the pain and loneliness she endured, as she frequently stated her and Bailey were during their time in Stamps. Her love for her brother is the most adorable relationship, a real bond. I would love to get Baileys’ perspective on this time and how he made life seem so carefree. I really admire that trait for some, to not get overly emotionally, or to easily suppress it. I’m sure he was hurting deeply, especially with the nasty whippings he got.
As you mentioned in your video lecture, this is one of the first books written during this time from a woman’s point of view. I really appreciated getting a female perspective. There are similarities between Angelou’s story and the previous texts we have been reading. Although, there are also a lot of differences between what a man goes through and what a woman does. Even when they share the same struggle of being black in America.
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