The Struggle Within The Struggle
Our Grandmothers by Maya Angelou
AFRAM 101 AB
November 19, 2015
Intersectionality, from the start, has been heavily ignored and marginalized by the dominant narrative throughout history, may it fall under the categories of feminism, politics, and institutions. Women of color have been facing this struggle for centuries and if it wasn’t said loud and clear enough in the past, Black women of color have always been handed the shortest end of the stick.
Being a student at the University of Washington in 2015, it is still extremely prevalent that black women continue to be ignored as they face racism and sexism. As a result of the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Liberation Movement, the Black Feminist Movement gained momentum in 1974 and emerged as a defense mechanism against the social, sexual, and racial oppression black women faced in the Black Liberation Movement and the patriarchal system of the Black community (Charleswell).
As a Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies (GWSS) major, one of the readings I had been assigned to read was Our Grandmothers written by Maya Angelou. This poem was published in 1990 a part of the book I Shall Not Be Moved, Maya Angelou’s fifth volume of poetry. The poem focuses on the experience of black women overcoming enslavement and women of all races overcoming oppression. Angelou’s poem speaks volume on black feminism because the 90’s was arguably the most racially charged decade since the 1960’s due to the flagrant disrespect and discrimination that was displayed by the white majority to people of color (Townsley).
Our Grandmothers signify the obstacles that mothers and grandmothers had to overcome. Though Angelou speaks of struggles, she also celebrates and emphasizes on the strength of women. By telling the story of a slave mother running away with her children to a present-day woman standing “before the abortion clinic, confounded by the lack of choices. In the Welfare line, reduced to the pity of handouts”, she displays the resilience of each woman through her powerful words “I shall not be moved” (Angelou).
Maya Angelou was a mother, professor, civil rights activist, author, poet, and one of the most influential voices of our time. She worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X to fight for the rights of the black community. “She has written 36 books” (Bibliography) and is best known for her series of seven autobiographies that focus on her childhood, early adulthood, and personal experiences. Maya Angelou is one of the several great black feminist of our time. She recently passed away on May 28, 2014 at the age of 86.
Angelou was raped by her mother’s boyfriend at a very young age, and at the age of 7, Angelou went silent for nearly 6 years because she had convinced herself that her voice had killed him (Moore). Her story spoke and continues to speak so loudly to those affected by sexual assault in the comfort of their own homes. Her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings spoke about her experience of sexual assault, and “Angelou’s work allowed her to touch the lives of girls pushing through the rite of passage of becoming a woman of color in a country that defined beauty by something other than their own reflection” (Moore)
As I’ve said before, women of color, more specifically, black women have fundamentally struggle the most throughout history. Society has perpetuated a system where black women are extremely marginalized. As mentioned in different lecture, during the slavery era, women continued to combine paid work and family responsibilities and 15% of women were sexually exploited with majority male force or physical violence. (Pittman).
So why does this all matter? Black feminism continues to be extremely relevant in today’s it is clear that white women were and are the beneficiary of the feminist movements. Society wants to talk about how women need to come together and clap and fight for women’s rights but then become silence in the face of radicalized state violence against females. White women want to talk about the wage gap between men and women but don’t want to talk about how much less Black women make, and honest to God, no matter how many times women of color, specifically black women have stood up for themselves the culture and society has always disregarded and invalidate their voices. Don’t even get me started on culture appropriation.
Maya Angelou’s poem, Our Grandmothers, though not a popular choice of reading but highly acclaimed piece, represent black feminism through the lenses of black women fighting for their lives and rights. From the beginning, Black women have been fighting for what white feminist are fighting for today but instead of making it intersectional, or rather shining the light on people of color, they make it about themselves after benefiting from an anglocentric world. Black feminism has been adequately addressing intersectionality and patriarchy for years, and for that, they need to be recognized and change needs to be implemented. Against all odds, they “shall not be moved” (Angelou).
- “Bibliography.” Caged Bird Legacy. Caged Bird Legacy, n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.
- Angelou, Maya. “Our Grandmothers.” I Shall Not Be Moved. New York: Random House, 1990. N. pag. Print.
- Charleswell, Cherise. “Herstory: The Origins and Continued Relevancy of Black Feminist Thought in the United States I The Hampton Institute.” Herstory: The Origins and Continued Relevancy of Black Feminist Thought in the United States I The Hampton Institute. The Hampton Institute, 27 Feb. 2014. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.
- Moore, Jessica Care. “Maya Angelou, the Feminist.” EBONY. Ebony Magazine, 29 May 2014. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.
- Pittman, LaShawnDa. “African Americans & Reconstruction Era.” AFRAM 101. University of Washington, Seattle. 19 Nov. 2015. Lecture.
- Pittman, LaShawnDa. “Reproductive Exploitation and Child Mortality.” AFRAM 101. University of Washington, Seattle. 19 Nov. 2015. Lecture.
- Townsley, Claire. “Townsley Race and Racism.” Townsley Race and Racism. N.p., 24 May 2011. Web. 18 Nov. 2015.