Editor’s Note: Dr. Maya Angelou joined the world of the ancestors on May 28th, 2014. In celebration of her life and work and in keeping with our mission, I thought it would be useful to ask several sex radical women, Akynos Shekera, Amanda Love and Dr. Loraine Hutchins, to share their thoughts about Dr. Angelou, who had among her many professional experiences worked as a Calypso singer, shake dancer, madame, and sex worker, highlighting this work and making connections to their own experience and work. The results were these wonderful articles.
By Akynos Shekera
When I dug through the archives of your time in the sex trades, I noticed the negative tone in which it is treated. You’re even quoted as saying, “If you happen to fall into that sort of experience, what you have to do is forgive yourself.” I wish you were here to expand on that for me. Explain to me if you were specially speaking about sex work, using drugs or your time as a table dancer.
I imagine myself speaking to you. I imagine you explaining that sex work isn’t any worse than working a minimum wage job and being unable to care for your family adequately. I imagine you talking about how vile our capitalist society is and how women using their bodies to fight poverty and earn a living to care for their families isn’t shameful labor, but labor that should be respected.
I relish in the belief that you knew that anyone can be forced into any form of labor and you shunned the idea that sexual labor should be criticized anymore than corporation executives making a fortune while their employees struggle to obtain their basic needs of survival.
Your time as a shake dancer has proven that a woman half naked on a stage, gyrating her hips and releasing the tension that the world has bared upon her doesn’t make her a societal misfit, but a woman who dares to just be. Be whatever she is and still be articulate and outspoken. Still have a life long influence on the current culture and the ones to come. Your life has shown light on everything positive that our culture deems as vices only appropriate when hidden and never spoken about in polite spaces. Your work has emphasized the power that language holds and how it can shape lives.
Words inspired you to speak when you didn’t have a voice because of the sexual assault that happened to you. Who would you be without your experiences? If all the things that you endured didn’t take place how would you have had the voice necessary to make such an impact? How could I now strive to be like you for my community? It would be virtually impossible. Your time here shows all the beauty that can come from pain and hardship. And as so many mourn your permanent absence from this world, others like me celebrate the time you lived and the inspiration that you’ve left us, which will live on forever.