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Still ‘We’ Rise…

Once, a philosopher had said that culture encompasses phenomena that get transmitted through social learning in different societies, being a central concept in Anthropology. Though it is often equated with silt that is not carried on with the flowing current of events that is termed Life, it remains an umbrella term integrating the social behavioural patterns and norms found in societies, as well as in knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, customs, capabilities, and habits of the individuals. It can also be said that Politics determines how the Identity of a Nation would be built by extracting something from that immeasurable treasure. The US’ decision to create a series of coins, starting with featuring poet, memoirist, and Civil Rights activist Maya Angelou (April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014), has proved that politics of the world’s oldest Democracy has not lost its vigour, in spite of facing various problems. It may be noted that Angelou would be the first African-American woman to be featured on a coin. Without denying the nation’s conflict-ridden past, the US Administration has shown the courage to draw inspiration from it for the future.

Maya Angelou is one of the faces of the long struggle of Blacks for Civil Rights and Human Dignity in the US. Her verses still enthuse and enthrall many to stand up for their rights, irrespective of the immediate consequences, and to face insults and injuries. Former US President Barack Obama had released a statement on the death of the acclaimed poet, whom he hailed as “one of the brightest lights of our time“. Angelou wrote: “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.” (Still I Rise) Through this poem, she expressed her fighting spirit with élan. Angelou was one of the first African-Americans to start working as a director, producer and actor in Hollywood in the 1970s.

Maya Angelou

Amidst enormous opposition to US politics, society, and culture, a coloured lady constantly struggled to establish her self, her talent and her excellence. Her portrait in the Quarter Coin would certainly convey her struggle to everyone, making the past a part of Culture. Each and every nation has a history of inequality, oppression, and deprivation. However, recognising those personalities, who had fought against the social evils and opened new horizons for their countrymen by ignoring the existing social norms, is actually an attempt to create a new Culture that rejects the past violence and discrimination.

The US Mint already released a coin featuring Angelou’s likeness into circulation in the second week of January 2022, as the coin was created as part of the American Women Quarters Programme. Through this programme, a series of 25-cent special-edition coins honouring American women will be minted over the next four years. Other women to be honoured by the programme include Chinese-American film star Anna May Wong, astronaut Sally Ride, American Cherokee activist Wilma Mankiller, and suffragist Nina Otero-Warren.

This diversity is also a part of US tradition or a mainstream culture determined by social influences. Unfortunately, it is often overlooked. The State has just reminded it, once again. Many states use the portrait of a particular personality in their currency, for example, Mahatma Gandhi in India, Mao Zedong in China, and Nelson Mandela in South Africa, among others. The practice of honouring a memorable person or event by issuing a stamp is more common in some countries. Unfortunately, the practice of sending letters to near and dear ones, and the use of currency notes and coins are declining. Now, states have to think about other resources through which it would be easier to inform the new generation about cultural aspects of a nation.

Still I Rise
By Maya Angelou

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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