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Racism And Prejudice In I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

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“Wouldn’t they be surprised when one day I woke out of my black ugly dream, and my real hair, which was long and blonde, would take the place of the kinky mass that Momma wouldn’t let me straighten?” (4)

A theme in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is Angelou’s identity struggle as a black female. During this time in the country, colorism and a European standard taught that having black features was not only bad, but made a person ugly. In this quote, Angelou believes and internalizes those standards and puts herself down for not fitting that image. Angelou wished that she could change her identity and become a white female because she felt that she and others could only accept her as beautiful if she was white.

I chose this passage because I had the same identity issue as a black female. There was a time when I prayed my lips would eventually thin and my hair would lose its curls. Colorism affected the way I looked at myself, but also the way I looked other black people. I felt ashamed that my skin tone wasn’t fair, but rejoiced that I wasn’t dark-skinned. Learning to love my black features was a journey and I can strongly relate to what Angelou went through.

“It was awful to be Negro and have no control over my life. It was brutal to be young and already trained to sit quietly and listen to charges brought against my color with no chance of defense.” (12)

Racism and prejudice are recurring themes in the novel. Angelou described her feelings of always being a suspect based on her race. Blacks were not only unjustly accused of many crimes and being abhorrent but were not given the fair chance of defense. Black did not have a voice which gave Angelou and many other blacks that sad feeling of hopelessness.

I chose this quote because I find it upsetting to think of the feeling of hopelessness that Angelou felt. A black person could lose their life after even attempting to defend themselves. Unfair rules controlled the lives of blacks and their ancestors before them. This history of hopelessness and oppression triggers an emotional response in me because absolutely no one deserves to ever feel a feeling of inferiority.

“If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unnecessary insult.” (20)

This quote comes at the opening of the autobiography and alludes to the life of young Angelou. During this time, being black and a female in the south equaled a life of hardships because of the south ‘s highly racist and sexist culture. This quote means that at birth Angelou was already assigned struggle, but when she became aware of this struggle her life would become even more difficult. Angelou’s hardships were one of the main themes in the novel.

I picked this quote because I agree with its message. “What you don’t know can’t hurt you” supports this quote well. If a person unknowingly has a cancerous tumour he surely is being hurt, but if the tumor is left undetected worry and fear are not added to equation. A person can be treated unfairly without realizing it, it ‘ll hurt them, but maybe not emotionally scar them.

“It ‘s another to the body, and it looks like Louis is going down. ‘ My race groaned. It was our people falling.” (49)

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Angelou further delves into what it means to be and what it’s like to be black during this time. Since black people were not accepted as equals and as capable individuals the black community often placed their hope and the communities worth in accomplished black individuals. In this part of the novel, Angelou and her black neighbors listen to a broadcast of a Joe Louis fight. Blacks were not viewed as capable of being successful as whites in boxing and pretty much every other profession. Louis had to prove whites wrong and be successful.

I relate to this quote greatly. I find myself looking to influential black figures for inspiration and proof that black people can succeed and overcome. I remember watching Gabby Douglas at her first olympics and hoping that she was successful to bring hope and encourage the black community. To have a black figure that beats the odd is something I hold close to my heart and why I enjoyed this quote.

“Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with shades of deeper meaning.” (82)

A theme in the novel was Angelou discovering her love for literature. This quote highlights turning point in the novel and Angelou’s life. Discovering the power of literature began a positive step in Angelou’s life. Angelou’s love for literature became a substantial part of her identity which influenced her to become a highly memorable author.

I find this quote very meaningful not only because it’s a high point in the novel but because one of the most beautiful discoveries I ever made was my love for poetry. The power of words is something I’ll never comprehend. A seemingly simple parable can have a million lessons behind it. A short haiku can perfectly describe the beauty of nature. The combination of meaning and words is an invaluable and timeless art form.

“As I ate she began the first of what we later called “my lessons in living.” She said that I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and even more intelligent than college professors.” (84)

At this point in the novel, Mrs. Flowers — a mentor to Angelou — is shaping Angelou into a wise and nonjudgmental young woman. Angelou’s journey to maturity and growth is one of the main messages in this autobiography. Angelou is taught the important lesson on not judging a person ‘s intelligence based on their level of education and to never accept ignorance as okay. As the book progresses, Angelou applies this learned lesson in many situations.

I chose this quote because I feel this lesson isn’t learned by many. There are many examples of people who spread intelligent messages and were immensely successful with little education. Steve Jobs created on of the most successful companies without a college degree on the list of his accomplishments. Not having a formal education doesn’t always create a future of failure and unintelligence.

“In order to be profoundly dishonest, a person must have one of two qualities: either he is unscrupulously ambitious, or he is unswervingly egocentric. He must believe his ends to be served all things and people can justifiably be shifted about, or that he is the center not only of his own world but of the worlds which others inhabit.” (101)

As Angelou grows throughout the novel she not only looks at the qualities of herself, but the characteristics of others. Angelou questions what makes a dishonest person because of various people that she had come into contact with. To find herself, Angelou questioned the world around her and her place in it.

I chose this quote because I found Angelou’s analysis of dishonest people particularly sophisticated. I believe her conclusion which also makes it much harder for a liar to ruin my day. A person is dishonest because they have problems not the person being lied to.

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Racism And Prejudice In I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. (2022, March 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 8, 2023, from
“Racism And Prejudice In I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.” Edubirdie, 17 Mar. 2022,
Racism And Prejudice In I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 8 Jun. 2023].
Racism And Prejudice In I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Mar 17 [cited 2023 Jun 8]. Available from:
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