“The Heart of a Woman”

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I finished Maya Angelou’s book “The Heart of a Woman” yesterday. I picked up the book at a used book store in Big Bear. I’ve been on a mission to better understand “black culture” this year and this is the second book I’ve read. I’m focusing on autobiographies instead of histories. This one was totally different than Martin Luther King Jr’s. It’s the same time frame, the middle of the civil rights movement, but from a different perspective. I can’t put my finger on it without sounding racist, which from what I’ve read from her point of view, I cannot avoid. I guess that’s what was eye-opening to me. There were so many parts of her story that I was completely shocked by. Not in the way that they happened but in her reaction to them and the reaction of the people around her. These instances were ones that made me realize that there is a huge divide between her version of black culture and some people’s version of white culture. And there isn’t just one of each, probably several. I think that’s a huge take-a-way. There isn’t one “white” culture and one “black” culture. There are so many and to lump them all together is missing the complexity of the world we live in.

MLK’s background seemed more like mine, but with the added oppression of southern racism, the kind that separates a people physically and socially, backed by law and tradition. That in itself makes it hard for me to understand since I’ve never experienced anything like it. But I have experienced a middle class, Christian upbringing, so I can relate on that level. And I believe in the non-violent resistance and change, as he tried to use against the southern white people, like Gandhi did against the British in India.

Here’s what I wrote in my notes immediately after I finished the book.

A whirlwind of a last chapter. Fascinating woman. A different version of black America and Africa than I’ve read before. I’m not sure I really like her but I respect her point of view and her journey. She had an interesting start in life. When I picked up this book I only knew that she was black, people quoted her, she was famous, but I didn’t know why.

So different than King. She just seems ignorant of academics, lacking in a broader view of the world, angry and a bit violent. Reading her version of being black makes me see why our cultures haven’t gotten along. We are very different. And seeing it related to African culture, I can see it has more to do with that as well as the results of slavery. I’m fascinated by the whole subject. I think I’d like to read more about African history and culture.

On another note, she wrote this book in 1981. The book is mostly about how she came into her own as a member of the Civil Rights Movement. I’d say it covered about ten years of her life, from raising her son alone to starting a new life after he was on his own as an adult. It was fascinating because it is about the same stage of life I am at now, but very different circumstances. My sons are transitioning to adulthood in the next few years and I’m looking at beginning a new chapter in my own life. Outside of the specifics of her life, we are in a similar stage of life. I’m encouraged by her path and enlightened by her totally different point of view. I’m glad I came across it!