Maya Angelou and Social Media

By Anna Fishman, Albion College

“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”

The title of Maya Angelou’s 1969 autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings reflects the idea that a trapped “bird” still has hope and therefore still “sings.” The “bird” represents oppressed African Americans during the Jim Crow era still being hopeful of a better tomorrow even when they were “caged” from parts of society. Today African Americans are still isolated from sections of society and are still “singing” of freedom from oppression. They are “singing” of this freedom by being activist in the Black Lives Matter Movement and posting on social media sites.

Maya Angelou, 1969
Maya Angelou, 1969

In her books, Angelou reflects on her childhood memories, provides hope to oppressed African Americans, illuminates the ways they were isolated from parts of society, inspires others to tell their own stories, and acts as a voice of resistance against inequality. By writing her books she was “singing” of the hope of being free from the oppression of racism and segregation. Her “singing” was a way to be a voice of resistance, providing an example for others to speak for themselves. In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou talked about how the African American and white schools had unequal playground and science equipment (142-153) [1]. In the above example, she is being a voice resisting discrimination in the schools by revealing the truth about racism in the education system. Publishing this book gave hope of a better tomorrow to African Americans.

Black Lives Matter Movement

In the Black Lives Matter Movement the meaning of the bird singing against oppression is still significant, especially now in the time of police brutality. Just like Angelou, people in the Black Lives Matter Movement are “singing” of freedom from oppression. However, instead of “singing” by writing books they are “singing” by posting on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter and telling stories of police brutality to others. For example, Martese Johnson, who was a victim of police violence while being on a college campus “shared his experience with the Boston University community as a Black Lives Matter movement activist” [2]. By sharing his story with other college students, he is a voice of resistance against police violence. He inspires others to tell their own stories of police injustice and encourages others to join the movement so future generations will not have to experience what he experienced.

 
An example of a news organization using social media is NBC News. They used Facebook to post a video of the background information of the Black Lives Matter Movement. In this video they mention the major injustices that had an impact on the Black Lives Matter Movement and the use of the words Black Lives Matter. The caption above the video says “Black Lives Matter is a movement created as a reaction to police violence and has since reached new levels” [3] (NBC News) NBC News: Long Story Short – Black Lives Matter Movement. By NBC news posting this on Facebook it displays that even news stations want to be a voice of resistance by informing people of what the movement really is and bringing public awareness to the movement. This encourages others to discuss the movement and join it.

Tamir Rice BLM
Not only did Black Lives Matter activists use Facebook to get their message across; they also used Twitter. One example from Twitter is “Black Lives Matter co-founder speaks in Little Rock #black . . .” (@tamirrice_agent) [4]. This example demonstrates one way people on Twitter are “singing” of racial injustices by posting when a Black Lives Matter rally is. By doing this they are informing others of the movement and the steps they are taking to end police violence.

Rochester BLM
Another one is a tweet that says “ ‘Whose lives matter?’….‘Our lives!’ Downtown Rochester. #roc #blacklivesmatter #black” (@BLACKlife585)[5]. The above quote is referring to a video of a Black Lives Matter Rally in Rochester where they shouted this. This video is below the above quote. This Tweet shows that the Black Lives Matter Movement is “singing” by showing the public that African American lives do matter even when they do not matter to policemen. It also shows them “singing” of the ways they are fighting for racial justice.

Singer Prince stands at forefront of Black Lives Matter movement
Singer Prince stood at forefront of Black Lives Matter movement

A third example from Twitter is “Prince stood on the Grammy’s stage w/ an afro & declared that #BlackLivesMatter to 25 million + people” (@akacharleswade)[6]. The last example display that people are “singing” of racial injustices by being a voice of resistance on Twitter. They are “singing” by posting the courageous acts by Black Lives Matter activists. By posting when Black Lives Matter events are, the courageous acts previously done, and the steps they have already taken, they are bringing public attention to the movement, being voices of resistance, encouraging others to join the movement and informing others of the movement’s purpose.

 
Angelou inspired other people to be a voice of resistance against racial discrimination by writing her book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings which is a metaphor comparing current and past oppressed African Americans with a caged bird who still “sings” of being free. Activists in the Black Lives Matter Project inspire other people who have social media sites to use these to be voices of resistance toward police injustices to African Americans. Both Angelou and the participants of the Black Lives Matter Movement can inspire future generations to be voices of resistance by “singing” for racial equality. Maya Angelou and the Black Lives Matter Movement are voices of resistance by sharing their stories, informing others, and inspiring others to take action against racial injustices.

Further information on Maya Angelou provided by the Poetry Foundation

 

 

 

[1] Angelou, Maya (1969). I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. New York: Random House

[2] Goncharova, Anna (February 19, 2016). “Black Lives Matter activist emphasizes unity, social media in panel.” The Daily Free Press – The Independent Weekly Student Newspaper at Boston University. http://dailyfreepress.com/2016/02/19/black-lives-matter-activist-emphasizes-unity-social-media-panel/

[3] NBC News. (April 12, 2016). Long Story Short-#BlackLivesMatter: A Look into the Movement’s History. http://www.nbcnews.com/feature/long-story-short/video/-blacklivesmatter-a-look-into-the-movement-s-history-664196163852

[4] @tammirrice_agent. (April 16, 2016). Black Lives Matter co-founder speaks in Little Rock #black http://dragplus.com/post/id/34607275 (https://mobile.twitter.com/tamirrice_agent/status/721298603331948544)

[5] @BLACKlife585. (April 14, 2016). “Whose lives matter?”….”Our lives!” Downtown Rochester. #roc #blacklivesmatter #black pic.twitter.com/9X14OFDiis (https://mobile.twitter.com/BLACKlife585/status/720760974664417280)

[6] @akacharleswade. (April 21, 2016). Prince stood on the Grammy’s stage w/ an afro & declared that #BlackLivesMatter to 25 million + people. (https://twitter.com/akacharleswade/status/723301752758513665)

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