“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.”
Those are the words of famed American poet Maya Angelou, which were featured in a tweet sent Wednesday night by US Rep. Ilhan Omar responding to a racist chant by Trump supporters — “send her back.”
What is ‘Still I Rise’?
Omar’s tweet comes from the famed poem “Still I Rise,” published in 1978 by Maya Angelou. The poem has long been a rallying call for black people around the world.
Nelson Mandela recited the poem at his presidential inauguration in 1994.
Angelou’s prose chronicles the hate and diminishment black people have faced in the US, with lines like “Did you want to see me broken? Bowed head and lowered eyes?” and “Out of the huts of history’s shame, I rise, Up from a past that’s rooted in pain, I rise.”
It ends with those words repeating — “I rise / I rise / I rise” — emphasizing the resilience of black people in the face of repression.
The poem is one of Angelou’s most well known.
How is the poem related to Omar?
Poet Danez Smith lives in Omar’s district and voted for the representative. They told CNN the poem speaks to a lot of the struggle black women face in the country, who still have to carry on with grace and style.
“I think you see that a lot in Ilhan Omar,” they said, citing Omar’s identity as a black Muslim woman is a hyper-politicized and at-risk identity.
“I think for Omar and the rest of the crew, I think the ethos is still ‘I rise.’ That no matter how much you try to stall us, we will continue forward,” they said.
Smith pointed to the fourth stanza in the poem, which reads:
“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.”
“I think that’s why we see so many people attacking Omar and the rest of the crew, and it’s because they’re haughty,” they said. “They’re not scared to have a voice, and that’s what their constituents have asked them to be.”
Omar and the other women of color have faced extensive criticism from Republicans for their progressive views, sometimes even standing in opposition to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Omar has also made a number of statements condemned on both sides of the aisle as anti-Semitic, drawing extensive criticism her way.
Omar, Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley and Tlaib have all called for the abolishment of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, among other positions that have made them targets, like their statements in favor of boycotting Israel, universal health care and a $15 minimum wage. The four have become metaphorical thorns in the side of some in the Washington establishment, which Smith said is exactly what the poem references.
“That’s what Maya Angelou was getting to,” they said. “Just because of your fear and your ignorance, I will not accept your terms for my silence.”