Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Still I Rise

Certain media commentators have recently made an issue of the fact that some time ago, I tweeted Maya Angelou’s poem Still I Rise.


They seem not to have the slightest appreciation of the nature of social media, the role of literature in society or indeed the character of the author who has incited their censorial righteousness.


In an incredible leap of imagination they have deemed my tweet insensitive.


This, because in their own fevered minds they have contrived a link between my tweet and other unrelated issues.


In this case it is the fact that some political opponents of Sinn Féin have made spurious allegations of a ‘republican cover-up’ of rape.


But in their zeal to propagate a vile smear against me and against Sinn Fein, these modern-day McCarthyites in the media have merely exposed their own ignorance and frightening intolerance.


Maya Angelou, who died last May, was an award-winning feminist author and poet, best known for her acclaimed memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which made literary history as the first non-fiction best-seller by an African-American woman.


Another of Angelou’s most famous works, On the Pulse of Morning, was recited at US President Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1993.


Martin Luther King Jr., a close friend of Angelou's, was assassinated on her birthday in 1968. Angelou stopped celebrating her birthday for years afterwards, and sent flowers to King's widow, Coretta Scott King, for more than 30 years, until Coretta's death in 2006.


US President Barack Obama called Maya Angelou "a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman” adding that she "had the ability to remind us that we are all God's children; that we all have something to offer”.


Maya Angelou experienced much hardship and suffering in her life.


Growing up as an African American woman in Arkansas, she experienced racial discrimination.


She was also the victim of rape at a very young age. 


Deeply traumatised by this and the subsequent killing of the man responsible, Maya Angelou stopped talking and spent years as a virtual mute.


Still I Rise shares its title with a 1976 play by Maya Angelou, and refers to the indomitable spirit of Black people, despite the catalogue of injustices inflicted on them.


It is about hope and a belief that people can overcome injustice.


It was at the centre of an advertising campaign for the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), a US philanthropic organisation that funds scholarships for black students.


As well as being a proud statement on behalf of Black people, Still I Rise, is a strong and positive representation of women.


Those who, in their ignorance, have criticised my tweeting of the poem have objected in particular to certain lines which are a defiant assertion by Maya Angelou of female sexuality.


That this powerful assertion comes from a woman whose feminism was born of her own experiences at the hands of a racist, patriarchal society is entirely lost on these witless commentators.


In recent years we have seen almost all of the major institutions of Irish life – the Church, politics, the banking system, the Gardai, subjected to intense re-evaluation.


This has generally followed scandals that exposed the previous overbearing power of these institutions.


The Irish media has yet to be subjected to any serious public scrutiny.


With a few honourable exceptions they failed to seriously investigate or report on what was happening in the North during the years of conflict. In fact the Independent Group campaigned against the Peace Process and vilified John Hume for his role in it.


In relation to the economic crash, sections of the media at best failed to question the political and economic status quo which led to it.


At worst it was complicit in the problems which caused it, particularly in relation to inflating the property bubble.


Indeed, in light of the collapse of other institutions, the media’s role and influence has arguably increased.


The arrogance of certain media commentators certainly has.


They now dispense absolute bias disguised as moral truths and a deep intolerance of anyone who incurs their displeasure. Much like the Bishops of old.


For some time that has meant Sinn Féin and myself in particular.


However, like all authoritarians, their arrogance eventually gets the better of them.

Recent weeks have witnessed some journalists come as close as it is possible to be, to saying that when it comes to republicans, due process and the rule of law do not matter.


Journalists now trawling through my twitter account and seeking to dictate what poems I should or should not tweet brings us ever closer to the territory of book burnings.


I can guess what Maya Angelou would have said.


Here is her poem:



Still I Rise


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.


Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.


Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.


Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries?


Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t you take it awful hard

‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own backyard.


You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.


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?


Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise


I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise


Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise


Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.



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