Injustice of Racism in i Know why the Caged Bird Sings

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Updated: Apr 11, 2022
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Race, gender, and socio-economic status all impact our lives and the development of our identities. No matter what race you are, you feel the tensions of being different from someone else. Society makes us think a certain way that can either break us or make us. In the book “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” Maya, an African American woman, goes through hardships that have broke her, but made her stronger and the woman she is today. During the period this book took place, there was a strict racial caste system relegated blacks in the south to the position of second-class citizens.

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Lynching was present and the only people that had to worry about this danger was blacks. Segregation became more of a reality. This influences the culture, attitudes, mind-sets of the black population. Only at the age of 5 or 6, Maya struggled with her looks. She felt ugly and awkward. Maya said that they all will be surprised when her true self emerges. To her, the perfect look was being a beautiful, blonde, white girl. She has already looked at beauty as the color of one’s skin.

Of course, Maya was not the only one. Racism drowned the society with images of how a beautiful woman should look like. Maya faced many discriminations. When Maya developed a toothache, they went to see Dr. Lincoln, a white dentist. When they arrived, Dr. Lincoln refused to treat her and said he’d “rather stick his hand in a dog’s mouth than in Maya’s black mouth.” Constantly getting ridiculed and turned down because her skin tone, this showed how much her skin color would affect her life. When she met Big Bailey, she described him as someone who wore tight clothes made of wool and his English was better than her school principal. Big Bailey represented middle-class status. This shows Maya maybe you had to look, talk, and act like a white person to succeed in life. Of course, this just added to her list of why she wished she was white. Even though racism was all around Maya, she saw her grandmother rise above it. At a young age, she was sent to her grandmother to take care of her. In chapter 5, Maya talks about three white girls who approached Momma and mocked her stance and gestures. Maya was filled with rage. Momma addresses the girls with respect, showing her maturity and self-respect.

These girls may have been above her on the social ladder, but Momma is better and stronger than they were. Maya said that Momma won that battle because she didn’t stoop to their level. This is just one example that shows how Momma has affected Maya’s life and how people treated others who were below them. There were ways to keep the black communities hope and strength. There was a symbolic meaning behind the boxing match between Joe Louis, a black man, and a white challenger. For the black community, Joe’s victory is an empowering repudiation of the stereotypes of black people. Louis held the hopes of the black community, simply because it was hard to advance as an African American. Discrimination doesn’t stop at race. Maya was a black woman in a society that did not accept her. As she moves along her teenage years, she quests for the position on the streetcar, and wins that position. She was the first black person to drive the streetcar. “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” (Ch 34). This was a quote from Maya that simply states that black women have strength of character because of what they had to go through to get to where they want to be.

Being a woman in this world is hard. Maya was young when she was molested by Mr. Freeman. As a child, she didn’t understand what was happening, and it’s hard to stick up for yourself at such a young age. No one deserves to feel that type of pain. Girls today still deal with this humility. When she faced with challenges like these, books gave her a place of peace. With that being said, she stated that all the heroes in her books were men, making her wish that she could be male. Even a place of escape made her feel like she wasn’t good enough. Maya’s hardships have made her to the person she is today. Even though society had stood against her time and time again, she took a stand and made a difference. She came a long way from being raped, to being the first black person to drive a streetcar. Just like Joe Louis, she became an idol to many and gave the black community hope. 

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Injustice of Racism in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. (2022, Apr 11). Retrieved from