Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

January 19, 2017
Published By: Graywolf Press on October 7, 2014
Format Read: Paperback Edition (169 pages)
Genre: Poetry/ Non-fiction/ Race
Source: Purchased
Citizen: An American Lyric
Claudia Rankine's bold new book recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. Some of these encounters are slights, seeming slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, on the tennis court with Serena Williams and the soccer field with Zinedine Zidane, online, on TV-everywhere, all the time. The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person's ability to speak, perform, and stay alive. Our addressability is tied to the state of our belonging, Rankine argues, as are our assumptions and expectations of citizenship. In essay, image, and poetry, Citizen is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, often named "post-race" society.



This book is a beautiful reflection at how racist microaggressions that most minority's face mentally chip away at the people who experience them. It's documents the weight of excusing racists slights and ignoring views in attempts to just exist as human.The book navigates between short poems and powerful vignettes. One of the most memorable being the disconcerting feeling and shame that happens when your friend says something to you that is racist, and it markedly changes how you feel about that person, no matter how many times they explain it's a joke.
"...a friend once told you there exists the medical term- John Henryism- for people exposed to stresses stemming from racism. They achieve themselves to death trying to dodge the buildup of erasure."
The resounding truth I read in these poems, and the sigh of relief I felt reading came because I try very hard to look past small acts of racism. But it felt great to read  that it's not normal to play by rules that have addendum's just for you, and meekly never complain. Claudia Rankin explains the racism that Serena Williams has experienced and how it is often overlooked even as she completely dominates her sport.  Yesterday a sport's commentator in reference to Venus Williams said "You see Venus move in and put the gorilla effect on. Charging." This illustrates how black athletes  often deal with racism, and cast it aside as apart of the game, but that cost paid is never acknowledged.
"because white men can't
police their imagination
black people are dying"
This poetry collection includes mixed media. It highlights pictures, art installations and even refers to YouTube videos. I enjoyed it because the inclusion of modern illustrations and references made it a contemporary reflection for us all. The book also describes situations, which are videos produced on her website.  I won't review the videos but I found context for what was described with out them. I would recommend this book to everyone, as a solid way to begin to understand how it feels to exist as an other in our society.


Claudia Rankine is an American poet and playwright born in 1963 and raised in Kingston, Jamaica and New York City. She has taught at Case Western Reserve University, Barnard College, University of Georgia, and in the writing program at the University of Houston. As of 2011, Rankine is the Henry G. Lee Professor of Poetry at Pomona College.


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