Maya Angelou and The Hidden Past

The world was saddened by the demise of Maya Angelou a few months ago. She was a great leader, a brilliant teacher and above all, a wonderful soul who had so many stories and life’s lessons to share with us. Admit it. We actually learn about people more when they are gone. Their good and bad deeds would turn into topics to discuss for the next few days.

Maya Angelou was no exception. She passed away at the age of 86, leaving behind her glorious life as a legacy. The media did a commendable job in highlighting her achievements but what amazes me is the fact that the media glorified the ‘good stuff’ of her life, the ‘past’ that we would be proud to talk about, the stories that would earn her more ‘respect’ and the talents she had that left the entire world amazed.

What about the past that made her into who she was until the day she died? What about the ‘least glorified’ stories of her life? The untold mistakes that made her stronger and wiser?

I’m not very sure how many of you had actually read Maya’s books. I came to know that she was one of the most successful non-fiction writers after her death. (Shame on me on not knowing this earlier! I know. I will be buying those books soon! *excited* ) Maya Angelou had a very challenging life. She was raped, she was a prostitute, she smoked pot and took drugs. Throughout her life, she was a strong advocate for the underprivileged people. She stood against racism, sexism and other ugly forms of discrimination. In an interview with her, she had explained what it actually feels to be doing something that may be wrong in the society’s point of view.

I agree that she had lived life to the fullest and nobody would have preferred talking about her as a prostitute in the wake of her death but ignoring her past as a sex worker, a night club dancer and a madam for lesbian prostitutes simplifies her legacy. This issue was debated by Aya De Leon on Huffington Post. Maya never felt intimidated by her past. She chose to embrace her past, forgive herself and learn from the mistakes. There are lessons she learned from the journey of her life. Her past defined her life and herself.

Her past itself also advocates for prostitutes, lesbians, gays and feminists. Unfortunately, the media did not discuss her struggles as much as they embraced and celebrated her achievements and this is actually an issue that we should address. When someone is walking out of their ‘not-so-nice’ past, turning over a new leaf and looking forward to living a meaningful life, why do we choose to encourage them to erase their history?

Failure leads to success and success is celebrated but nobody values failure. We are living in a society that is highly judgemental. We are expected to find the route to success without failing because people don’t accept mistakes. As soon as we know someone has erred in their life, we quickly judge them, label them, degrade them and undermine their quality of life.

One of Maya Angelou’s autobiographies, “Gather Together In My Name” revealed her life as a sex worker.

“I sat thinking about the spent day. The faces, bodies and smells of the tricks made an unending paisley pattern in my mind. Except for the Tamiroffish first customer, the others had no individual characteristics. The strong Lysol washing water stung my eyes and a film of vapor coated my adenoids. I had expected the loud screams of total orgasmic release and felt terribly inadequate when the men had finished with grunts and yanked up their pants without thanks.”

I must say that we hesitate to accept women’s past as compared to men. This double standard has been around in our society for a long time. As a result, women erase the black marks in their lives and avoid being discriminated.

Do you celebrate your past without prejudice and let people know who you are for real or do you think it is necessary to safeguard your darkest secret in order to allow the society to let you live life peacefully?

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3 thoughts on “Maya Angelou and The Hidden Past

  1. This was a great, informative post. I didn’t know about Maya’s past either. You bring up a very good point about keeping our pasts hidden so as not to be judged. I’ve safeguarded my past for an entire lifetime. When my memoir is published (hopefully soon) it’ll all be out there–and I feel an unbelievable freedom from the burden of keeping secrets.

    • Wow! !! It looks like a lot of people dont really know about her past that much. Im glad to know that I actually wrote this post. I’m writing a non-fiction book as well and I must say that it feels liberating to let all those secrets out so that people dont judge us anymore

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