What Is “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou About?

Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” is about the humiliation that blacks have felt as a result of racism and oppression over the past centuries, calling them to stand up for themselves with pride and dignity. The speaker’s refusal to give in to the lies of history, and succeed in spite of all of the false beliefs that others have, brings a powerful message.

The imagery in the poem makes it clear that this is a work about the experiences blacks have suffered as a result of latent racism. Whether it is the “huts of history’s shame” or the “black ocean, leaping and wide,” the audience of this speaker is clear. For those who look down on strong black women for not fitting in to expected racial and gender stereotypes, the speaker asks if her “sassiness” is a cause for concern, or if her “haughtiness” is offensive? Her point of view is that she has a mission to bring “the gifts that [her] ancestors gave.” As a result, she is “the dream and the hope of the slave.” All of those who have fallen victim to the ravages of racism have become part of a legacy that demands the best in terms of dignity from today’s generation.