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Black women in America have struggled tirelessly through history to receive the recognition they deserve. One of these women is Jessica Care Moore, author of Black Statue of Liberty. Moore is a world renowned poet, publisher, activist, musician, playwright, and actress. Born and raised in Detroit, Moore exposed herself to writing opportunities through school newspaper and television network jobs. As a way of coping with her father‘s death, she read poetry and got involved in the growing poetry scene of the 1980‘s. She wrote and performed many pieces, including Black Statue of Liberty, which uses a multitude of poetic elements to discuss the issues that black women have faced through America‘s history. Black women constantly battled and still battle: gender, racial, religious, and cultural stereotypes that lead to discrimination, hatred, and ostracization. Yet, they often do not get the recognition they deserve for the way they handle these issues. The battle between black women and society is too often an easily disregarded struggle. Thus, Moore wrote this poem to empower and pay homage to black people, and in particular, black women, and the struggles they have faced, and still face today.
With a tone of power, Moore begins the poem with a vivid image of strength and pride: “I stand still above an island, fist straight in the air/Scar on my face, thick braids in my hair/Battle boots tied, red blood in the tears I‘ve cried.” (1-3). This imagery clearly depicts a woman’s courage despite the racial conflict that she has suffered. The image of a scar on her face and red blood tears leads into a theme of conflict, when she says that tourists “…trip on their shoe string lies” (Moore 6). These tourists come from all over the world to see the statue of liberty, yet, do not know or care about the dark history behind America’s symbol of “liberty”.
America’s violent history of slavery will always haunt its citizens. Moore discusses this by stating “Piece by piece they shipped my body to this country/Now that I’m here, your people don’t want me./I’m a symbol of freedom, but I’m still not free/I suffer from class, race and gender inequality” (7-10). Humans were brought over to America against their will – broken and hurt. America stands for liberty, and yet, this is the exact opposite of that. After slaves were freed under the eyes of the law, they were seen as a symbol of freedom, but they were and are still not completely free. They were not wanted if they did not serve the purpose of slavery. So white people forced them to face a different set of issues. Black people are still not free from the same societal constrictions, racism, stereotypes, and discrimination that they faced over a hundred years ago. This caused black men and women to face issues such as “class, race, and gender inequality” (Moore 10).
Moore goes on to write about the way religion was used in a plantation setting: “You placed a bible under my arm, after you ripped me of my faith/And made me pray to a fictional imposter” (15-16). The diction choice shows something being ripped away from a person, which demonstrates quite violent imagery. This diction is necessary to portray a harsh feeling of a painful idea. Black people‘s faiths were something they could hold on tight to in trying times. In the trying times of slavery, the one thing that could help them cope was violently ripped away from them, and replaced with something fake. White people stripped black people of their own religions to force them to worship a god that they did not believe in. This was done in order to keep slaves in line on plantations. Slave masters would manipulate Bible passages’ interpretations and keep slaves from learning how to read in order to make sure that they could control what their slaves thought was true. The Bible is therefore a symbol of both the stripping of slaves’ original faiths, as well as the manipulation of a forced religion. The next lines read: “So, if you were trying to maintain liberty/Too late, you just lost her” (Moore 17-18). Moore uses these lines to explain the fact that America cannot maintain its status as a symbol of liberty when it comes from a history of such a lack of liberty.
Influential black women writers have been essential in the making of America. Moore names “Assata Shakur Barbara Jordan Nikki Giovanni and Angela Davis./These are the real symbols of liberty/’Cause that stone faced French woman ain’t gonna save us./The same folks who enslaved us” (30-33). These black women have liberated black people with their writings, and are therefore, the true symbols of liberty. As opposed to our Statue of Liberty, which was given to the United States as a gift from France. The Statue of Liberty is a highly valued symbol of liberty. So the irony is that both countries involved in its symbolism is involved in slavery – the exact opposite of liberty. The Statue of Liberty is not a true symbol of liberty to black people because it actually symbolizes the enslavement of humans in America and France’s past. The true representation of liberty is black women. Through their myriad of works, they have empowered and liberated more humans than the Statue of Liberty. This is where the theme of empowerment begins.
Moore makes sure that black women get the recognition they deserve, starting with self-recognition. She states that “I wear a crown of knowledge, ‘cause I’m a conscious queen (11). She is conscious about the importance of liberation, self-recognition, as well as empowerment. This is why “I am America’s true statue of liberty” (Moore 14). A black woman conscious of such important values are America’s true symbols of liberty. Through the understanding of liberty, self-recognition, and empowerment, black women may be liberated from America‘s false ideas of liberty and empower themselves and others to surpass society’s constraints. Moore writes more about empowerment by stating “I’m sitting at the back of the bus, cause I feel like it” (34). Civil Rights leaders have empowered black people to do what they want rather than what they are forced to do. This has liberated black people, and especially black women from societal constraints such as racial and gender stereotyping, racism, and discrimination.
Although black people have been free under the eyes of the law for quite some time, they are yet to be mentally free. Through empowerment and self-recognition, Moore is liberating others: “I’m taking all my people back home, and breaking them mentally free./ I am the walking, talking, breathing, beautiful statue of liberty.” (37-38). Moore is liberating and empowering herself and black women, which is why the title of her poem is Black Statue of Liberty.
Black women take care of so many aspects of life, from taking care of their homes, loved ones, and children, to liberating and empowering others. They constantly work hard, and they deserve recognition for their great effort: “I sweep crack pipes out of school yards/I nurture my man when times are hard. So, where the hell’s my statue?” (Moore 39-41). Yet, often times black women do not get the recognition they deserve. This is why Moore then states “What’s the liberated woman gotta do?” (42). A liberated woman recognizes the empowering actions she does and the potential she holds. She works hard to empower: “Every month I pay rent./Put my silhouette on a stamp/I’m not a ho, slut or tramp./ My children aren’t on crack, and neither am I./ I want to see the words, “Go, strong Black woman,” ( Moore 44-48). Here, Moore gives some examples of things black women do, while refuting negative stereotypes at the same time.
Women are capable of such great things: “I can bake cookies, bear babies, preside over resolutions” (Moore 46). Not only do black women empower others, but they empower themselves as well, “My aura is unafraid./ So, no statue in the big apple can mess with me. I am the walking, talking, surviving, breathing, beautiful/ Black Statue of Liberty” (Moore 49-52). They recognize the power they hold, and empower themselves do great and be great. This is the last theme of poem: self-recognition. Moore realizes that she does not need a statue to symbolize the hard work she does. She is the great Statue of Liberty, who stands for empowerment and liberation of herself and others.
Black people have suffered greatly through America’s history, which makes our Statue of Liberty quite meaningless to those who suffered through slavery. However, it is not slavery or societal circumstances and issues they face that define black people, or more specifically, black women. It is their hard work, self-recognition, empowerment, and liberation of themselves and others that make them great. Moore essentially wants black women to not let issues define them, be proud of the battle scars they bear, and be their own symbol of strength, liberation, and empowerment.
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