A few nights ago on the eve of my daughter turning six months old, I did something I’ve only managed to accomplish a handful of times since her birth. I finished an entire book. Not a parenting book either, but Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I felt compelled to read it after catching an interview Jon Stewart did with Tavis Smiley talking about his mentoring relationship with Maya Angelou, just a few days after the murder of Walter Scott.
Reading books and consuming media in general post-baby are limited to occasional and unpredictable moments. I do read myself to sleep, which most nights only takes about five minutes after crawling into bed, but many times Angelou’s words shook me wide awake and demanded my attention:
My race groaned. It was our people falling. It was another lynching, yet another Black man hanging on a tree. One more woman ambushed and raped. A Black boy whipped and maimed. It was hounds on the trail of a man running through slimy swamps. It was a white woman slapping her maid for being forgetful… If Joe lost we were back in slavery and beyond help. It would all be true, the accusations that we were lower types of human beings. Only a little higher than the apes.¹
All of these years later her words continue to speak truth and wisdom to the atrocities of systemic racial oppression and a broken law enforcement system that plague our country. She was talking about a boxing match, but could she not have easily been speaking about Walter Scott or Freddie Gray or any number of black men dying in the hands of police?
I have been replaying the words of Audre Lorde in my head over and over again: “Your silence will not protect you.” I am a privileged white woman who is often guilty of silence and complicity, often fearing my voice will only prove harmful rather than helpful. I do not know how our country goes about dismantling the systems of racial oppression. But I will continue to lift up the voices and efforts of those who do.
1. Angelou, Maya (2009-04-15). I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (p. 146). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.