Maya Angelou knew why the caged bird sang (though I’m still not completely sure she actually spelled it out by the end for those not versed enough in the daily onslaught of racism and prejudice in America to understand that the only thing to do in the face of being beaten down again and again is to laugh–to sing inside one’s cage not only to cope, but to spite one’s very captor, to never give him the satisfaction of getting off on his sadism by being allowed the chance to collect any tears). And I, I know why Virginia Woolf wants (or wanted) to kill herself.
For, it must be said, the white woman has, let’s call it, less resiliency in the face of minor to major inconveniences than the black woman. Perhaps the black woman’s strength is a congenital result of generations of the inherited trauma of oppression and persecution that the mere white girl simply cannot fathom (save for perhaps Tonya Harding). And though to be a woman is already in and of itself enough to make one want to sink into the depths of despair without adding the burden of blackness to it, it becomes an entirely different nightmare when one does not embody “the absence of color” so as not to “cause offense” or “draw too much ire” from the universe. A universe comprised of (ironically) dark forces in the form of white men that would see fit to make everything impossible for everyone but themselves, all while ensuring there is an illusion of fairness to the game called “capitalism,” an entity with its tentacle firmly up the asshole of government operations. A game that white girls at least got the chance to pretend to play at by way of attaching themselves to a uomo bianco in marriage. Through this “legal binding,” she is given the “opportunity” to feign participating in a pay-to-play game with an outcome that’s already fixed, collecting profit regardless of who wins–or, more to the point, who loses.
The black girl can only marry the other most maligned sect in America after her: the black man (unless, of course, like Meghan Markle, she is half-black, therefore offers just enough cachet on both sides of the color spectrum to appeal to the ginger Anglican of a Prince Harry variety. You know, the sort who swears up and down that he’s not a “fetishist”). And in so doing, she seems to only make herself even more of a second class citizen than she’s already deemed by “the powers that be.”
She will do her “woman’s work” and birth child after child despite having not nearly enough cash to support them, while her husband or baby daddy sells la drogue du jour hoping to avoid becoming yet another cliche statistic of incarceration. That is, unless he opts for more “honest” work, like being a wage slave at someplace like Foot Locker. While we’d like to believe this type of instance is but “an extreme case” of black existence in the U.S., that it’s almost rudely stereotypical to think of most black people living this way, it is, in fact, still the truth. Michelle Obama remains an anomaly, not the norm. But she is enough of an anomaly for the white man to hold up and say, “See? What are you talking about? There’s no racism here. If anything, you’ve taken all of our jobs, our opportunities while you reverse discriminate against us.” And the garden variety black woman still suffers. While the Woolfs wallow in their self-pity and complain of the affronts that, to the Angelous, would come across as welcome “issues” in comparison to their insurmountable plights.
White girls like Woolf are allowed the luxury of a mental breakdown at every major inconvenience (a death in the family, which, granted, were numerous in Woolf’s) to every minor infraction (the hells of founding a publishing house like Hogarth Press with one’s husband). Black girls like Angelou are expected to shut up and move on, lest someone remind them of their place with more than just “a swift” kick or smack. In fact, the only time Angelou was truly encouraged to speak up (before the era of Oprah) regarding the surreal-to-white-people travails of her life was at the urging of James Baldwin, who brought her to a dinner party to cheer her up in a state of depression. That depression turned into spinning yarn about her life to whitefolk (even if the Jewish are not nearly as clueless as the goyim) Jules and Judy Feiffer that prompted the latter to do her white woman’s charitable act and get on the horn to sought after editor at Random House, Robert Loomis, whom she informed that he “ought to get this woman to write a book.” And in that strange stroke of happenstance, the door was opened to Angelou as it usually only was (and is) to white men like Leonard Woolf opening them for Virginia by publishing all of her work on his own press.
What’s more, where Virginia’s out-of-touchness with most non-white women’s reality also crested was in being born to an esteemed writer and “mountaineer” like Leslie Stephen. For that certainly doesn’t make it conducive to knowing the way of the world outside of the “elite intellectual aristocracy.” Nor does learning the benefits of performed femininity from a mother like Julia Jackson, who had her fair share of exposure to the glorified prostitution that came with moving among the upper classes (a tradition of the Pattle family from which she descended, best known for meandering within the Bengali high society–oh British imperialism).
And while “Ginia” was literally crying over spilt milk thanks to a condition that would be deemed as Bipolar Disorder long after her money and privilege could do anything to assuage the agony of the mental illness (one that leaves many black women simply homeless or dubbed crazy as opposed to “complex”), Angelou was being raped as an eight-year-old. It rather pales in comparison to Virginia and her family having to switch their summer vacation home to a different picturesque British milieu to avoid the memories of Gin’s mother, Julia, who died when she was thirteen. And sure, maybe it’s not “right” to compare people. It’s not like anyone has control over their circumstance of birth, whether amazing or total shit. Yet all one knows is, there is the Sturm and Drang (a term that the lesser educated black youths of an inner city high school won’t have the leg-up on knowing–not that they need to as most of their narrative is organic Sturm and Drang versus the contrived slop of an author like Goethe) of your Woolfs and then there is the authentic rawness of your Angelous.
Virginia Woolf wants to kill herself not for the simple fact that everything is too hard, but because everything feels especially that way as she was never equipped to deal with it like Maya Angelou. And what’s even worse, she actually wishes that life could be just a little harder so as to further justify her decision. In the end, she gave it her best shot though, for affluent white women have an unshakeable sense of “dignity”–imbued within them by the white men they feel somehow obligated to tie what would be their otherwise defunct wagon to.