The poem is directed towards those oppressors in society who would tie the speaker to her past and to a history that has been misrepresented and cannot be relied upon. Her ancestors were depicted unfairly and dishonestly in history, and she will rise above the cruelty and suffering they experienced. The speaker is both angry and confident throughout the poem. Initially, she is baffled by the way in which her oppressors—ostensibly, white people and specifically, white males—do not want her to succeed or become more than the sum of her history. She notes that her joy seems to make them miserable, and she questions why that is. At the same time, she taunts these oppressors, acknowledging the impact of her behaviors and personality and delighting in the fact that she bewilders them with her power and confidence. The poem as a whole is a declaration of strength and of determination.
The speaker proclaims boldly that whatever her oppressors do to try to hamper her progress or take away her rights, it will not matter. Nobody will ever take her power away, and she will always rise above the racism, pain, and sexism to be the powerful woman she knows she is. She will break the negative cycle of the past.
She also speaks on behalf of other black people without actually stating that this is what she is doing. By making references to her ancestors and naming slavery explicitly near the poem's conclusion, she is addressing the collective experiences of her people and stating that they as a race are more powerful than their oppressors. Whatever the oppressors do, they cannot stop her people from moving forward in their lives.
The poet ends her declaration by affirming that no matter what happens, she will continue to rise above history, hate, and bigotry just like her ancestors dreamed would be possible. She will fulfill their dreams and hopes for freedom and happiness.