Throughout history there have been struggles for many races and nationalities. But no struggle has been as wearisome and disregarded than that of the black woman. In her poem “Black Statue of Liberty”, Detroit born, Jessica Care Moore pays homage to our unsung heroes.
A careful analysis of the poem requires readers to observe many themes that are present throughout this work. We will discuss racial and gender stereotypes, religious conversion, empowerment (or the lack of), and self recognition. Before we begin to explore these themes we will take a brief look at characterization.
In the first stanza, Moore characterizes the black woman by describing what the statue of liberty would look like if it were black. The author gives us a clear mental image of what a strong black woman is to carry with us throughout the poem. When the author says the statue stands with “Scar on my face, thick braids in my hair/ Battle boots tied” (stanza 1 line 2-3) we get a visual of a woman who is still strong and proud after having gone through an obvious conflict. Moore makes us feel sympathetic for black women in the poem if we are not already one or already know one. Now we will take a look at the first theme presented in the poem.
The first theme presented in the poem is racial and gender stereotypes applied to black women. After being slaves for so long and humbly serving their white masters, black woman were downcast as society’s riffraff. In white communities they are typecast into the role of the “mammy” and in black communities they played the role of the welfare queen. When Moore writes “Piece by piece you shaped my body to this country/ And now that I’m here you still don’t want me” (stanza 2 lines 7-8) she enforces the idea that black women were taught that the natural beauty the possessed was not good enough in society’s eyes. This idea has led many black women to make a false attempt to “euorpoeanize” their looks, only to still not be accepted. Following resentment, we will now take a look at how religious conversion has shaped the beliefs of black women.
Many accounts of slavery gives us an overview of how religion was used to keep the slaves contempt with the idea that their sole purpose in life was to happily serve their master’s. This was a small step in the process that helped black women and men lose their identity’s. Moore speaks about how black women live in a nation that “placed a bible under my arm, after you ripped me of my faith” (stanza 3 lines 15-16), indicating that black women were taught to worship a god that they didn’t believe in. The religion that blacks(women) were used to, was forcefully replaced by Christianity. Slave owner’s would often use their own interpretation of the passages of the bible to restore peace on the plantations. Slaves were not allowed to learn to read and therefore couldn’t interpret the meanings for themselves. With an understanding of how religious conversion affected black women, we can now examine the theme of resentment as it is presented in the poem.
It is a widespread belief of black women that they are not as highly respected as they should be. Moore gives us a good view of the lack of recognition that black women have been given. When she writes “And although you don’t love her, she’ll never hate ya.” (stanza 4 line 24), we grasp the concept of the black woman turning the other cheek although she does make reference to white society taking claim to what belongs to afro-centric culture. She states that black women are ” the real symbols of liberty,” (stanza 4 line 30) and not the “same folks who enslaved us.” (stanza 4 line 31). Moore carries the theme of empowerment throughout the rest of the poem, though she covers it from many different angles. We have discussed the lack of empowerment represented through Moore’s words, now we will discuss how breaking the stereotypes placed upon black women gives them empowerment.
Black women have worked hard to shatter the toxic images of them that have been depicted by the media. Civil rights leaders have made it acceptable to do things by choice that black women had been forced to do in the past. Moore supports this idea by writing “I’m sitting at the back of the bus, cause I feel like it.” (stanza 5 line 32). She asks us to wonder “What’s a liberated woman gotta do?” (stanza 6 line 40) to get the recognition she deserves. She gives us an idea of all the empowering things that black woman do such as, ” sweep crack pipes out of school yards” (stanza 6 line 37) and “pay the rent” (stanza 6 line42) while contradicting the negative behavior black women are known for. She states that ” my children aren’t on crack and neither am I” (stanza 6 line 45). With this line alone Moore diminishes the popular preconceptions about black women. Dissecting racial and gender stereotypes, religious conversion, and empowerment leads us directly into our last theme, self-recognition.
If we follow the themes in the poem we can get a glimpse of the struggle of the black woman. In the final stanza we get a sense of self recognition from black women which is somewhat of a conclusion to their inter-personal struggle. She realizes that she doesn’t need a statue to be recognized because she is the “walking, talking surviving,breathing, beautiful/Black statue of liberty.” (stanza 7 lines 51-52). From slavery to the corporate office, black women in America have encountered racial and gender discrimination and religious conversion, but through empowerment and self-recognition have been able to stand tall and be heard. After analyzing this poem we should all have more respect and tolerance for those that are different from us. More importantly, we should all have more respect and tolerance for ourselves and those like us.
Moore, Jessica M. “Black Statue of Liberty.” The Alphabet Verses: The Gheto. Ed. Samiya Bashir. First Edition. Atlanta, GA: Moore Black Press, 2002.