Last Updated on December 15, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 348
“Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou is written from the perspective of a Black woman who knows herself deeply and who bravely shakes her fist at misogyny and racism. In the poem, the speaker insists on claiming her space in a world that consistently seeks to destroy her and what she represents. The poem has a mischievous and mocking tone, exemplified when the speaker boldly questions why racists and misogynists fear her strength.
This mocking tone is especially obvious when the speaker asks her oppressors rhetorical questions—for example, “Does my sassiness upset you?”—to which she clearly knows the answer. The speaker confronts her oppressors about their racist perspectives when she questions why they want her to be “broken” and “trod . . . in the very dirt.” Proud of her “haughtiness,” the speaker seems to taunt her oppressors, almost daring them to try to hurt her because she knows that they will fail.
Additionally, the speaker acknowledges all the forces aimed to weigh her down and counters these forces by listing her strengths. In particular, the speaker addresses the ways in which confident Black women are seen as a threat. For example, she questions why her “sexiness,” “haughtiness,” and “sassiness” offend the listener. The speaker refuses to tone down her confidence to appease the insecurities of men, and she teases the reader by saying not to “take it awful hard” that she cannot be harmed by oppression. Rather, she owns her feminine confidence and believes that it is to her advantage, likening it to riches and jewels.
The poem weaves in references to slavery and the ways in which white supremacy has continued to try to force Black people to remain in positions of subservience. The speaker refuses to allow this to happen; instead, she promises to continue to rebel against racist perspectives. She declares herself to be a living, breathing example of the dreams of her ancestors who were enslaved, forced into labor, and physically destroyed for the profit of white people. In this poem, the speaker laughs in the face of white supremacy and declares herself free.