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Racism in Angelous I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Racism in Angelou’s “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” Maya Angelou, the current poet laureate of the United States, has become for many people an exemplary role model. She read an original poem at the inauguration of President Clinton; she has also appeared on the television show “Touched by an Angel,” and there read another poem of her own composition; she lectures widely, inspiring young people to aim high in life. Yet this is an unlikely beginning for a woman who, by the age of thirty, had been San Francisco’s first black streetcar conductor; an unmarried mother; the madam of a San Diego brothel; a prostitute, a showgirl, and an actress (Lichtler, 861927397.html). Her book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings argues persuasively that what made Angelou’s pursuit of her exceptionally high potential so unconventional -- as well as so inspiring -- was the racism that seemed determined to keep her down.In her book, an autobiography, Angelou paints a vivid picture of a poor black girl who, with her brother Bailey, was sent to live with their grandmother in Arkansas while her mother, an entertainer, pursued a much faster life in California. The little girl, called Ritie (short for Marguerite; “Maya” was her brother’s name for her), had the peculiar experience of growing up in a black community whose rules were laid down by white people Maya hardly ever saw. As a website on Angelou’s life and works observes, “White people were more than strangers -- they were from another planet. And yet, even unseen, they ruled” (“Discussion,” caged.html)Consequently, she experienced racism in no uncertain terms. In Chapter 17, Angelou describes how her brother Bailey stayed out late one night, long after the curfew blacks had to observe in order to avoid being lynched by white supremacists. Bailey wasn’t caught by the whites, but he was caught by his Uncle Willie, ...

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