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Racism and Slavery in" I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings"

Maya Angelou's triumphant journey through slavery in the South.
by

Cassidy Oberfeld

on 11 March 2011

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Transcript of Racism and Slavery in" I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings"

Maya Angelou's Triumphant Journey Through Racism and Segregation "In Stamps the segregation was so complete that most Black children didn't really, absolutely know what whites looked like." -Maya Angelou She believed that if she wasn't a young white girl, she wasn't beautiful.

Maya fell in love with reading, but felt guilty when she read William Shakespeare because he was white.

Momma believed that it wasn't safe for blacks to talk to whites. African American's Mind Set "Pick A Bail Of Cotton!" When Maya was younger, Momma used to get up at 4 o'clock in the morning to feed the optomistic cotton-farmers luch. By then end of the day they came back tired and without enough pay to even begin to support their families. Maya gets her first job working for Mrs.Cullinan at the age of 10. At this point in time, Maya experiences her first personal run-in with discrimination. Instead of taking the time to learn her name, Mrs.Cullinan continuously calls her Mary, in order to assert herself over Maya. Mrs. Cullian 8th Grade Graduation During Maya's 8th grade graduation, a white speaker by the name of Mr. Edward Donleavy addressed the auditorium of families. He talked about the academic and technological improvements to numerous white schools. When he addressed the all black schools, however, he could only comment on their athletic accomplishments. In his own, undermining way, Mr. Donleavy was belittling all of the African American families in that 8th grade graduation, dampering what was supposed to be a joyous event. Maya's tooth became severely rotted and needed treatment from a professional as soon as possible. Momma decided to bring her to a dentist that she had done buisness with recently, thinking this would give her some leeway to get Maya an emergency appointment. When Maya arrived, she was informed that the dentist would rather "put his hand in a dog's mouth" than hers. The Toothache The climax of racism comes on Bailey's walk back home one day. He encounters a rotting black man's body in the street, along with a group of white men, thoroughly amused at the site of the body. The men forced Bailey to help load the body into a truck attempt to cover up the murder. Bailey's Run-in with Racism Maya was raised to believe that whites were completely superior to blacks. Maya's Positive Influences Although Maya was constantly surrounded by hate, feuding and negativity, she found ways to pull through and make something inspirational out of herself. Literature really helped her, as well as the presence of people around her trying to make a difference.
When Maya was younger, she recalls a monumental boxing match taking place. Joe Louis, the defending champion, wasn't just fighting for his title, but for the protection and justification of blacks everywhere. When Joe Louis won the fight, he gave blacks everywhere hope.
One day, when Maya and Momma were working in the shop, three white girls were approaching. Maya went inside, and Momma faced the girls alone. They were taunting and mocking Momma, but Momma never gave them the satisfaction of a response. In the end, Maya observed that Momma had ultimately won that "battle". Maya used and embraced these positive influences on her life in a time of hatred by proving the World wrong and becoming the first black street car driver. She rose up against the odds, and decided to make something of herself. Throughout the entire novel, Maya dealt with social injustices based on her skin color both directly and indirectly. The progression of the acts was coupled with Maya's increasing maturity and abilitly to handle the situations that were thrown at her head-on. Racism and segregation played a vital part in her childhood, growing up in Stamps, Arkansas. Racism was all around Maya, and yet, she was able to deal with this hate and move on with her life for the better. Maya's Overall Experience "My race groaned. It was our people falling. It was another lynching, yet another Black man hanging on a tree. One more woman ambushed and raped. . . . This might be the end of the world. If Joe lost we were back in slavery and beyond help. It would all be true, the accusations that we were lower types of human beings. Only a little higher than the ape"-Maya Angelou "Bailey was talking so fast he forgot to stutter, he forgot to scratch his head and clean his fingernails with his teeth. He was away in a mystery, locked in the enigma that young Southern Black boys start to unravel, start to try to unravel, from seven years old to death. The humorless puzzle of inequality and hate."-Maya Angelou When the U.S. enters World War II, provincial black migrants flow into the city, working side by side with illiterate whites in the defense industry. The black workers replace the Japanese, who have been unjustly interned by the U.S. government in camps. Maya notes that no one ever speaks about the Japanese displacement. The black community unconsciously pays little attention to the Japanese because blacks focus on advancing themselves in the face of white prejudice..!


The constant displacement in wartime San Francisco makes Maya feel at home for the first time in her life. Upon her entrance into school, she automatically gets promoted a grade and later transfers to a white school where she is one of only three black students. The white students appear aggressive and better educated. When she is fourteen, Maya receives a scholarship to the California Labor School where she studies dance and drama. Black Women

Maya decides to take a semester off from school in order to find work. For weeks, she persists in trying to get a job as a streetcar conductor despite racist hiring policies. She finally succeeds in becoming the first black person to work on the San Francisco streetcars.

"American black women, she says, must not only face the common problems associated with adolescence, but also racism and sexism. Therefore, it does not surprise her that black women who survive these conflicts possess strong characters." "The Black female is assaulted in her tender years by all those common forces of nature at the same time that she is caught in the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power. The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence."Maya Angelou
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