Still I Rise: Racism and Sexism Through Maya Angelou’s Personal Experiences

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About this sample


Words: 1398 |

Page: 1|

7 min read

Published: Dec 12, 2018

Words: 1398|Page: 1|7 min read

Published: Dec 12, 2018

"Still I Rise" is a poem by African American poet, Maya Angelou, written in 1970, where she discusses racism towards African Americans and sexism towards the Black Woman. Precisely, this poem shows how Black Women from the African American society were being judged, and how they gained their power to overcome this injustice of treatment. The poem ‘Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou addresses how black women gained confidence and self-respect through the impression of white oppressors that were oppressing them. Angelou portrays this using her personal experiences and her talent in the literature to show the society of the 1970s, how hard it was to deal with racism and sexism, specifically for black women.

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‘Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou is derived from the historical context of discrimination which partially was ending in the 1920s. By the 1920s the segregation and discrimination towards African Americans were over, but the new injustice began towards Black Women. Maya Angelou is considered an activist most known for her contributions to the African American Civil Rights Movement, and is renowned for her portrayals of excellence of historically discriminated populations, in hopes of creating a movement to stop the sexism and racism towards black women. “Excellence is the best deterrent to racism or sexism” (Oprah Winfrey). This shows the dearest friend of Angelou supporting the thoughts and helping her throughout her devastating life experiences. Angelou writes this poem for the minority voices to be heard and to disclose the crime of discrimination. She uses her talent in the literature to express unfairness. This poem has a variety of literary devices, such as similes, figurative languages, and allusions which transfer the message of Angelou’s spirit and poetics “soul to readers”, In other words, telling that a soul has its purpose for every individual and you should express it.

‘Still I Rise’ portrays a deep recognition into the reality of the black female fundamental issues in the 1970s in America. “You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes” (Angelou line 21-22). Angelou’s inspirations behind her poem were brought from her past life experiences. She comes from a small town where she was segregated in the deep South area and had to keep her hopes high in order to survive the ‘racial hatred’. Her dark moments from her childhood could be seen in the poem when she says “You may trod me in the very dirt” (Angelou line 3). She suffered from discrimination, which augmented her determination in raising by her family. Hence it could be argued, but made her as a person confident but also emotionally harsh personality. These identities were evident when she asked “Does my haughtiness offend you?” (Angelou line 21) “Does my sexiness upset you?” (Angelou line 25). The power of words used here can also be considered as Angelou being feminist which according to Black Woman’s engagement with Black Power in politics, led to blazing freedom. This prompts the rise and development of women’s liberation in the 1970s. Coincidentally, she uses the power of language to empower people who are suffering in isolated silence. Her personal life experience influences her. For instance, when her parents were divorced and her being sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend gave her a complex. Her life was full of never-ending miseries. However, towards the end of her poem, she tells the audience that the severe suffering she had in her past, gave her enough power to strengthen herself and raise her voice and help the other women in society to embrace who they are. “I rise I rise I rise” (Angelou lines 41-43). This poem is a strong moral towards her enemies where she assures that no one is going to caress their actions to speak for who she is but herself. She simply embraces her greatness and of every other woman who is lenient in their faces. ‘Still I Rise’ has taught a life morally, “Do not let oppression beat you down and never let your past domination your presenter ruin your future!”

Similes are used throughout this poem and commonly in literature. Angelou grabs the attention and interest of the audience by making distinctive comparisons. Angelou portrays confidence with her humor and a positive tone in her poem, such as “’Cause I walk like I\'ve got oil wells Pumping in my living room” (Angelou 7). In the 1970s, this phrase would be considered as an absurd joke that a black woman was wealthy enough to have oil wells. Ignoring this judgment, she walks proudly keeping her head high as if she was a luxurious woman. This is a very good example of Maya Angelou on how she carries herself in public and lets others know her place in society and the equal rights she has. Another following example is “’Cause I laugh like I\'ve got gold mines” / “Diggin’ in my own backyard” (Angelou 19-20). She expresses the way she would like to laugh at her oppressors, loudly with satisfaction. Shooting with another simile is “That I dance like I\'ve got diamonds” “At the meeting of my thighs?” (Angelou 27-28). Angelou playfully shows the comparison between her pride of being a black female and the most expensive jewelry, compares her genitals to diamonds, and thus, emphasizing that she is worth it and expensive no matter her skin color or gender. Oil Wells, Diamonds, Gold Mines are symbols of wealth which at the same time symbolizes to show her dignity and fair treatment, and the respect she and black women deserve from society. Angelou throughout the poem only uses one simile to show her weakest moment when she interests our sympathy to her sadness, loneliness, and emptiness “Shoulders falling down like teardrops”, “Weakened by my soulful cries?” (Angelou 15-16). However, this weakness does not hold her back from her fight to have the same rights as everyone else. Other yet most heartful similes are “Just like moons and like suns,” (Angelou 9). “Just like hopes springing high”, (Angelou 11). “But still, like dust, I\'ll rise” (Angelou 4) “But still, like air, I’ll rise” (Angelou 24). She refers to the sun and moon, she will continue rising and learn from her failure. Like the dust, she will go high after being walked on, and like the air, she will rise strongly. For instance, we can comprehend that air refers to a sense of encouragement and the dust as the revival. These similes she uses to share her personal experiences, gave the black women in society the motivation to never give up on themselves under any condition instead stand up.

‘Still I Rise’ uses simile to draw attention by expressing complex emotions. Hence, she also uses allusions which is an essential aspect that helps to bring out the achievements from ‘Still I Rise’. Angelou uses this to show the devastating and using past she went through especially because of being black. “You may write me down in history” “With your bitter, twisted lies” (Angelou lines 1-2). She starts off with this opening verse referring to being a black woman, especially in America, being forced to receiving “special treatment” and yet not be accepted. This can also refer to the stereotypes misunderstood about her culture and it being modified generation through generation. “You may shoot me with your words”, “You may cut me with your eyes”, “You may kill me with your hatefulness” (Angelou 21-23). Angelou shows a mixture of hyperbole and allusion by using the verbs to describe the painful effects that the discrimination left them. They were treated unfairly and harmed like vulnerable humans. They were treated like nothing. In the last stanza, “Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave”, “I am the dream and the hope of the slave”. “I rise.”(Angelou 39-41) She refers to the black people, specifically women, who will rise and have a brighter tomorrow being successful because contributions are never forgotten.

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Taking everything into consideration and referring to the question in focus, Maya Angelou uses her emotions and expresses them in similes and allusions that help understand the reader the concept of the topic they are reading. With the help of her personal experiences she portrays and speaks for all minorities, especially black women in the 1970s. Regardless of race and gender, anyone who has experienced discrimination can relate to this poem in different ways. It is no more than an opinion and experience, but raising the voice helped the new society to learn from past mistakes and ingeniously create empathy.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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M. Angelou’s Poem Still I Rise: Thoughts of a Black Woman Regarding the Society She Lives In. (2022, December 03). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 21, 2024, from
“M. Angelou’s Poem Still I Rise: Thoughts of a Black Woman Regarding the Society She Lives In.” GradesFixer, 03 Dec. 2022,
M. Angelou’s Poem Still I Rise: Thoughts of a Black Woman Regarding the Society She Lives In. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 21 Jun. 2024].
M. Angelou’s Poem Still I Rise: Thoughts of a Black Woman Regarding the Society She Lives In [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Dec 03 [cited 2024 Jun 21]. Available from:
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