Angelou And Baldwin: Prejudice
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People have always had a problem with difference. Throughout history minority groups have been subjected to incredible prejudice and discrimination. Although discrimination affects all types of people, the African American population has had a particularly difficult time in their fight for equality. Writers have devoted many essays to trying to change this prejudice. Throughout the development of their essays, Maya Angelou in “Graduation” and James Baldwin in “If Black Language isnt a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?” show that their struggles have shaped them into people of character and integrity through an important lesson that is taught to them about self worth.
Facing the reality of prejudice in a society that insists on equality was a difficult task for Maya Angelou. In the essay “Graduation” is her account of her graduation from a racially segregated high school. “Separate but equal” school systems allowed the Caucasian students to attend one school, and the African Americans to attend another; they were never equal. While the black school offered a less quality education, Maya Angelou was able to grasp more knowledge through her struggle, than even the speaker that evening. In Donleavys speech he explained that “The white kids were going to have chance to become Galileos and Madame Curies and Edisons and Gauguins, and our boys (the girls werent even in on it) would try to be Jesse Owenses and Joe Louises”(37). The message of the speech destroys the graduation until the brave words of Henry Reed, Angelous friend. Henrys speech entitled “To Be or Not to Be” was given after Donleavys speech. Maya Angelou at hearing this title in her piece says “Hadnt he heard the whitefolks? We couldnt be, so the question was a waste of time”(39). As Henry begins to speak, Maya Angelou continues to believe that “There was no nobler in the mind for Negroes because the world didnt think we had minds, and they let us know it”(39). At this point in her life Maya Angelou was faced with discrimination from the world, and was struggling to realize how wrong what Donleavy had said was.
In listening to the speech she begins to have an epiphany. She says in her essay “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul”(39). The struggles that Maya Angelou was faced with forced her to realize who she really was, and come to understand and grow as a person. “I had been able to stretch myself tall and trembling and say, I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death”(40). In listening to a speech to reassure her class of the future, she realize much more than many people do in a lifetime; there is no shame in any race, and although society tries to attack differences, growth occurs when a person fights back. “I was no longer simply a member of the proud graduating class of 1940; I was a proud member of the wonderful, beautiful Negro race”(40). In conquering her troubles she becomes a person of character and integrity through learning an important life lesson.
James Baldwin discovers the same lesson as Maya Angelou in his essay “If Black English Isnt a Language, then Tell Me, What Is?.” He is also living through a time in history while equality among blacks and whites was very low. The language of the black population often distinguished them from the rest of society and had become a popular way to show the ignorance of the African American race. However, unknowingly the white population was proving the ignorance of themselves, but continuing to discriminate. “We, the blacks, are in trouble, certainly, but we are not inacticulate because we are not compelled to defend a morality that we know to be a lie”(624). James Baldwins