4. Bailey was talking so fast he forgot to stutter, he forgot to scratch his head and clean his fingernails with his teeth. He was away in a mystery, locked in the enigma that young Southern Black boys start to unravel, start to try to unravel, from seven years old to death. The humorless puzzle of inequality and hate.

In this passage in Chapter 25, Bailey reels from having encountered a dead, rotting black man and having witnessed a white man’s lighthearted satisfaction at seeing the body. Maya emphasizes that the traumatic experience forces him to try to confront a degree of hatred that he cannot comprehend. Maya does not say that he succeeds in comprehending the reasoning behind white hatred. Bailey asks Uncle Willie to explain how colored people had offended whites originally, but both Uncle Willie and Momma try to hide the sickening, debilitating truth from Bailey. This section draws attention to the idea that Bailey’s life depended upon him not understanding or attempting to understand how racism operates against black men. Bailey’s experience here precipitates Momma’s decision to remove the children from both the physical and psychological dangers associated with growing up in the South. This quote also illustrates the fact that while Angelou writes mostly about the experiences of black girls and women living in the segregated South, she also empathizes with the experiences of her male relatives.