Maya Angelou’s And Still I Rise is one of the most essential, mesmerizing, and empowering poetry collections of our time; and it’s never been more relevant than it is today. The book focuses on themes of adversity — both racism and sexism — and the resiliency of Black people in a world historically cruel and inhuman. In particular, the title poem emphasizes the inherent strength that comes with facing constant racial injustice; and the power in rising up time and time again after you’ve been knocked down.
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
One woman all too familiar with being criticized for her Blackness, her womanhood, and her Black womanhood is none other than rap queen Nicki Minaj. During A&E’s Shining A Light: A Concert for Progress on Race in America, the rapper and all-around goddess chose to recite Angelou’s “Still I Rise” — and her delivery has us reeling.
At first, Minaj is almost shy in reading the poem, but quickly finds her voice, and the results are absolutely stunning. When she gets to the lines, “Does my sexiness upset you? / Does it come as a surprise / That I dance like I’ve got diamonds / At the meeting of my thighs?”, the audience erupts into applause.
Minaj has never been shy about owning who she is, and, in particular, has always openly embraced her sexuality. This has come with a fair share of criticism, and the rapper is constantly policed for her body and self-expression because it “strays” from outdated, narrow ideals.
It’s obvious that Minaj is an incredibly hardworking and talented woman, something that critics have constantly torn down because she does not suit their ideas of what a hardworking and talented woman should look like. Rather than let these criticisms get to her, however, Minaj instead uses them to push herself harder, to overcome, and to prove them wrong. There is no shame in loving who you are — and there’s even more power in it when the world is constantly telling you that you have no reason to. Reading Angelou’s poem during Shining a Light was the perfect way for Minaj to express that.
Check it out for yourself below, and Shining a Light tonight at 8pm EST on A&E. Changing how we treat race in America has never been more important than it is today, and we think this reading is a pretty powerful way to get the conversation started.
(Image via YouTube.)