Maya Angelou's Take on Racial Discrimination

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In ‘I know why the caged bird sings,' Maya Angelou explores various themes that reflect her real life situation. One of the most outstanding themes is racism. Maya was born and bred in a highly racist society that was largely divided between whites and blacks. This shaped her early life and young adulthood. ‘I know why the caged bird sings,' presents a vivid autobiography of her experiences. In fact, the title is a metaphor describing her desire to escape from her confines, just like a bird struggles to escape from its cage. In addition, by comparing her situation to a singing yet caged bird, she eludes to her positive and determined personality. In ‘I know why the caged bird sings,' Angelou approaches racism from various angles: segregation, displacement and resistance.

Racism and Segregation

At a very young age, Maya has to confront various situations that perpetuated racism and segregation. For instance, she believed that blond hair was beautiful. In her visions, she deceptively thought that she was a fat black girl who was trapped in a nightmare. In her childhood, she never came across a white person and did not believe that white people existed. As she got older, Maya witnessed more overt and highly personal incidences of racism. For instance, during her eighth-grade graduation, a white speaker delivered a condescending and racist speech. In her first job, her white boss insisted on calling her Mary since Maya was not a popular name among White Americans. However, the most outrageous event occurred when a dentist refused to treat her merely because she was black.

The African American athletes’ triumph in the Joe Louis World Championship boxing match revealed the black community’s desperate hope for vindication. Clearly, there were very few celebrated African American heroes. These harsh realities confined Maya’s world, and she had to strive so as to surmount them.

Maya’s Debilitating Displacement
Between the ages of three and sixteen, Maya had...
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