Written by: Steven-Emmanuel Martinez
Don’t be fooled by these obituaries, flat articles, and impassive tweets that illustrate Maya Angelou as a goddess, a saint, saint-like, or some idol. Maya Angelou is not a saint. Immodest as she was, though, I believe she would scoff at the notion of being called a warrior or a goddess. Any illustration of her as a perfect woman destroys her legacy and everything she stood for.
Most people — those who are too lazy to read her memoirs, too dejected to listen to her poetry, and too bored to watch her speeches — have only been introduced to the “saintly” Maya Angelou. Instead of realizing her complexity, I fear that the things that made her great are being lost through softened eulogies. In order to really understand who Maya Angelou was, you would have to understand the tenets of her imperfections and the nuances of her limitations and how that, in turn, influenced her convictions. Let me be clear: you will never know the depth of Maya Angelou without reading her memoirs, poetry, and listening to her. You will never know what she was about, what she encouraged or stimulated by reading faux tributes from people who never studied her. Her life was a class, a history course even.
In the midst of our fragmented, fractured, and, at times, broken African diaspora, this former sex worker-madam-pimp was a national- level intervention. She inspired African Americans to think beyond the limits of the metaphysical or cultural binary. And she challenged a generation of men and women to look at their race not as a disability or as a deficiency, but as a gift from God. Our race, as she articulated in her writing, is a tribute from our ancestors, a treasure that’s so good that people would enslave us for it.
Obsessed with Maya Angelou, I’ve often quoted her in speeches and academic presentations, watched and listened to her interviews and lectures obsessively on YouTube, and shared the sweetness of her words and stories with friends and family. Even with the blighted personal history she faced as an African American woman, she helped introduce African Americans to the goodness and treasures of America.