2. A light shade had been pulled down between the Black community and all things white, but one could see through it enough to develop a fear-admiration-contempt for the white “things”—white folks’ cars and white glistening houses and their children and their women. But above all, their wealth that allowed them to waste was the most enviable.
In this passage in Chapter 8, Angelou captures Maya’s childlike observations about what makes white people different. Her fixation on clothing as a sign of difference also refers back to the incident in church when she suddenly realizes that her fairy-tale taffeta dress is really an old, faded white woman’s hand-me-down. Stamps, Arkansas, suffers so thoroughly from segregation and Maya’s world is so completely enmeshed in the black community that she often finds it hard to imagine what white people look like. They appear to her more like spectral ghosts with mysterious powers—and wonderful possessions—than as fellow human beings. At the same time, from a young age Maya knows that white people bear responsibility for the suffering of the cotton-pickers. She also learns from Momma that it is best not to address any white people directly, as it might lead to mortal danger. Momma goes so far as never to even speak about white people without using the title “they.”