So, quite by accident, I ended up reading two memoirs this year. Last spring I read Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson and now I'm reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou.
I picked them both as part of my diversity reading challenge. Caged Bird was published in 1969, when no one even batted an eye at the use of the word Negro. I had heard of it, but never really knew it was a memoir. Obviously, reams and reams have been written about it and my opinion hardly matters, but something has struck me about the book (and I'm not completely finished reading).
As with Brown Girl Dreaming, there's a sense of drifting as a young child from grandparent to parent, back to grandparent. Maya's story starts in the 1930's and 40's. Jacqueline's story is from the 1960's and 70's, but there's still the same upended life on the move, from place to place to place. Maya's description of parents she really doesn't know and finally meeting them is especially heart wrenching to me. I can't imagine how hard it was on those children to be shipped around. We think grandparents raising children is a new phenomenon, but obviously it's not. It will continue for as long as we refuse to educate children about sex and how to care for and protect themselves before they need to know.
Much has been made of the early rape and the later sexual experimentation in the book, but it is an honest, thoughtful portrayal of real life for these children. To ignore that is to ignore reality. Deny that it happens if you'd like, but that doesn't change the fact that these things go on. The social outcome won't change until we can all have open, honest discussions about sex with our children in preparation for adulthood. I applaud Angelou for having the bravery to be so honest in a world where so many are still kidding themselves.