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Maya Angelou's poetry "Still I Rise" and Danez Smith's poem "Not an elegy for Mike Brown" all address the thorny problem of racial inequality in the United States. The poets of the two pieces are particularly concerned that African Americans are subjected to unjust treatment because of their race. Racism seems to be a problem that has plagued American society since the days of slavery. Angelou's poem was written in 1978, shortly after the civil rights movement ended, while Smith's piece was published in 2014, in response to the killing of a young African American teenager named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Apparently, the same issues pointed out by Maya Angelou manifest several decades later. Thus, the two poems effectively talk about the racial problem that some people choose to ignore in the American society. Both poets are African Americans, allowing them to speak from the first-person point of view with conviction. While the tone of Angelou is hopeful and confident, the poem by Smith suggest a tone of desperation and bitterness, probably because of the different context in which the poems were written.
The poem by Angelou discusses the issues of racism in general and stresses on the resilience of the black people. The poet looks at the historical negative perception the African Americans have endured over a decades and offers a consolation of hope. The first line of the poem reads, _x0093_You may write me down in history,_x0094_ (Angelou 1) implying the general historical injustices perpetrated against the blacks such as slavery and the suppression of the civil rights movement by the American government. However, the poem insists that despite all that happens against the black people, they will rise like the dust or air. The poet makes it clear that they will not bow down in despair because they have _x0093_hopes springing high_x0094_ (Angelou 11).
On the other hand, Smith sounds bitter and vengeful because he was referring a specific act of racial injustice. As the title points out, the poem laments the killing of Mike Brown by a white police officer. Smith asks _x0093_isn_x0092_t that what being black is about?_x0094_ referring to the mourning of innocent victims of police brutality (6). He is angered by the fact that African Americans have for many years suffered under the hands of white racists. That is the reason he points out at the beginning that he is sick of writing the poem. Smith compares the killing of Mike Brown to the Trojan war (12-13). The incident of a white girl being kidnapped triggered one of the biggest war in human history. He feels the same should be the case when an innocent African American teenager is killed by a white police officer. Despite the fact that he feels the urge to burn down the city or demand for war, he acknowledges the fact that things have changed since the Trojan war, and war is not justified.
Nonetheless, the two poets agree that the African Americans have faced historical injustices in the form of racism. Even though they were written in different periods, they both make the world know that racism exist in the society, and the blacks are victims. Angelou connects the past and the present by pointing to the issue of slavery and insisting the discrimination continues. Smith does also insinuate the long-term suffering of the black race and calls for the world to react to the death of the innocent African American. In as such, the two poems effectively use poetic techniques to protest about a real social problem that needs to the addressed by the authorities. McCall agrees that poetry has always been effective in commenting about controversial social issues.
Apparently, the two approaches of the poems reveal the different ways the African Americans can handle the issue of racism. Angelou seem to have accepted the fact that the blacks will always be discriminated against, so, the best option is to develop a higher attitude than the racist. She talks about the African Americans laughing like they have got gold mines or walking like they have got oil wells because their happiness is not dictated by what goes around them. On the contrary, Smith seems to be advocating for protests to fight for the rights of blacks. Even if he agrees that war is not the path to take, Smith is happy with the protests as he writes _x0093_look at what the lord has made above Missouri, sweet smoke_x0094_ (27-28).
Without a doubt, the use of poetry gives artists the freedom to comment on controversial issues in the society. Both Angelou and Smith are poets that believe they can use their works to comment on the social ills of the society. A plain comment on the issue of racism can easily be construed as inciting and derogatory. However, poetry enjoys the artistic advantage of cleverly packaging the message in way the artists can never be blamed on the manner the piece is interpreted. According to McCall, poetry is an effective way of teaching young people about cultural diversity (173). Young people can identify with the packaging of the poem and can take time to discuss the message through critical analysis. Bonilla and Rosa also explain that the use of online arts was an effective way of communicating displeasure with the authorities because of the shooting of Mike Brown (5). For example, the poem by Smith formed part of the _x0093_digital protest_x0094_ since it was performed and uploaded on YouTube for people to listen.
In conclusion, the analysis reveals the two poems suggest different approaches to the issue of racism against the African Americans. Angelou calls for resilience, while Smith calls for protests. The differences are attributable to the contexts of the two poems. Angelou wrote her poem to send the message of hope to the African Americans after a long civil rights movement that yielded little in the quest for equal rights in the United States. On the other hand, Smith wrote his poem when the Ferguson riots were still fresh in his mind. He was infuriated by the killing of unarmed Mike Brown by a white police officer. However, the poems stand as some of the many that speak against social injustices. The common people may not have a legal platform to articulate their views on controversial issues such as racism in the United States. Poetry gives people the chance to communicate their message to a wide global audience. More so, the fact that poetry is not direct gives the audience the freedom to analyze and derive distinct meanings from the texts.
Angelou, Maya. "Still I Rise". Poets.Org, 1978, https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/still-i-rise.
Bonilla, Yarimar, and Jonathan Rosa. "# Ferguson: Digital protest, hashtag ethnography, and the racial politics of social media in the United States." American Ethnologist 42.1 (2015): 4-17.
McCall, Ava L. "Using poetry in social studies classes to teach about cultural diversity and social justice." The Social Studies 95.4 (2004): 172-176.
Smith, Danez. "Not an Elegy for Mike Brown". Poets.Org, 2014, https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/not-elegy-mike-brown.
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