Citizen: An American Lyric

Citizen: An American Lyric

A provocative meditation on race, Claudia Rankine's long-awaited follow up to her groundbreaking book Don't Let Me Be Lonely: 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 intenti...

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Title:Citizen: An American Lyric
Author:Claudia Rankine
Rating:
Edition Language:English

Citizen: An American Lyric Reviews

  • Roxane

    This book is necessary and timely. It was timely fifty years ago. I pray it is not timely fifty years from now. Rankine takes on the realities of race in America with elegance but also rage/resignation... maybe we call it rageignation.

    Outstanding book.

  • Debbie

    Claudia Rankine is an absolute master of the written word. Her gripping accounts of racism, through prose and poetry, moved me deeply. I saw the world through her eyes, a profound experience.

    I loved this small piece of prose, "feeling most colored when thrown against a sharp white background." As a huge Serena Williams fan, I read with rapt attention to the expose' on Serena's plunge against that sharp white background. I felt a sense of rage that has always been there, burning. For Serena has

    Claudia Rankine is an absolute master of the written word. Her gripping accounts of racism, through prose and poetry, moved me deeply. I saw the world through her eyes, a profound experience.

    I loved this small piece of prose, "feeling most colored when thrown against a sharp white background." As a huge Serena Williams fan, I read with rapt attention to the expose' on Serena's plunge against that sharp white background. I felt a sense of rage that has always been there, burning. For Serena has claimed she has had to "split herself off from herself and create a different personae." The very definition of dissociation disorder.

    I also learned a lot, as I was unfamiliar with some high profile racial events such as the 2006 World Cup French team, and Jordan Russell Davis.

    The writing, prose, and poetry is absolutely exquisite. A book I could read over and over. Highly recommend.

  • Julie Christine

    Look at the cover. A hoodie. The iconic image of American fear. Urban danger. Gang-bangers. A seventeen-year-old boy in Miami Gardens, FL.

    The shooting death of an unarmed black man

    The shooting death of an unarmed black man

    The shooting death of an unarmed black man

    Let Me Google That For You

    Trayvon Martin

    Michael Brown

    Walter Scott

    Ezell Ford

    The hoodie on the cover is empty. Claudia Rankine fills it with experiences. The experiences of Americans whose color has rendered them invisible to the many w

    Look at the cover. A hoodie. The iconic image of American fear. Urban danger. Gang-bangers. A seventeen-year-old boy in Miami Gardens, FL.

    The shooting death of an unarmed black man

    The shooting death of an unarmed black man

    The shooting death of an unarmed black man

    Let Me Google That For You

    Trayvon Martin

    Michael Brown

    Walter Scott

    Ezell Ford

    The hoodie on the cover is empty. Claudia Rankine fills it with experiences. The experiences of Americans whose color has rendered them invisible to the many who are privileged enough to be blind.

    It is fascinating to read and experience this book of poetry and essay and visual image in light of the Rachel Dolezal controversy that exploded over the weekend (the president of the Spokane NAACP who identifies as "black" despite all evidence to the contrary). Whatever is in Ms. Dolezal's heart—and it seems clear that identifying as a black woman is meaningful to her—what cannot be denied is that her very choice is a privilege. She can walk away (or could have, before she became a media sensation) from her performance at any time and reclaim her whiteness.

    Rankine's words embody the conundrum that is Rachel Dolezal: it is the difference between her "I" and her "what is".

    This is a collection of small moments and media-saturated ones: the injustices experienced by Serena Williams on the tennis court or Zinedine Zidane on the soccer pitch are repeated in the intimate moments when stranger or colleague or friend lets slip a slight or blurts an ignorance they may not even recognize as racist, because they just

    . The face that fills the hoodie is invisible. Sixty years after Ralph Ellison's

    and America has yet to accept an identity for that space. We allow. We create. We deny. We control. We appropriate. We define. But we don't see. We don't hear.

  • Hadrian

    This is incisive poetry. I read it in a sitting. It's a sort of essay about the kinds of psychological burdens that black people have to deal with constantly about the stigmas of race and certain other people just want to ignore and drown out those who speak out about it. (See the one star reviews for the nasty details.)

    I remember first hearing about this book from some sterile academic journal, but I was reminded of it again when a lady in the audience read it during a Trump rally in Iowa. I li

    This is incisive poetry. I read it in a sitting. It's a sort of essay about the kinds of psychological burdens that black people have to deal with constantly about the stigmas of race and certain other people just want to ignore and drown out those who speak out about it. (See the one star reviews for the nasty details.)

    I remember first hearing about this book from some sterile academic journal, but I was reminded of it again when a lady in the audience read it during a Trump rally in Iowa. I like this image of reading as an act of protest. The contemplation of images, history, memory, and their effect on specific bodies works as a shield against political demagogues who promise easy answers to intractable questions.

    It's comparatively easy to call for action against racist laws and institutions and bring up proof against them. It's comparatively easy to call for this and that law to be dismantled and such policeman to be tried with a paper trail of wrongdoing. The problem of implicit biases about the humanity or social status of the other, seems to be a problem as innate as the Christian concept of original sin. Of course not every person is a Christian, but the idea of some implicit bias seems anathema to the idea that every individual decision is rational and can expunge their faults once they are realized.

    But this is an abstract digression about a more personal topic. I am not black (nor am I exactly white, either), so there is the premise that I can not really speak about the experiences of the Other. What can be

    , then, is a Rawlsian investigation of different points of view and attempt to act or implement a world which would be more equitable to those with different points of view. Again, a theoretical concept for an immediate personal experience. So what. But the act of using specific language itself, or implicitly conveying different ideas or attitudes in the interaction with others, (which cannot so easily be avoided) is a different possibility. I cannot be so gauche as to propose censorship, but to individually calling out attitudes sprung from ignorance, and the introduction of so many points of view early on in life, to make them acceptable and less like an alien force.

    It is a tentative answer, of course, but that will be radical to some. So it is, then. Such is the challenge to a way of thinking to avoid seeing people as a different object, a thing, a body to be set aside and disposed of.

    J. M. W. Turner's

    , 1840. Reproduced in this volume, pg. 160-1.

  • Rowena

    This was quite an emotional read for me, the instances of racial aggressions that were illustrated in this book being unfortunately all too familiar. The thing is, most people who commit these microaggressions don't realize they are making them yet they have an accumulated effect on the psyche. I hope this book will help people become more empathic to the plight of others. The question, "How difficult is it for one body to feel the injustice wheeled at another?" is so apt, especially for those o

    This was quite an emotional read for me, the instances of racial aggressions that were illustrated in this book being unfortunately all too familiar. The thing is, most people who commit these microaggressions don't realize they are making them yet they have an accumulated effect on the psyche. I hope this book will help people become more empathic to the plight of others. The question, "How difficult is it for one body to feel the injustice wheeled at another?" is so apt, especially for those of us living in multicultural environments.

    Although I've always been a huge fan of Serena Williams, reading about her experiences with racist refs and tennis players made me respect her even more.

    I liked the style this book was written in, I guess you could loosely call it a poem. The only poem I've ever written has been on racial aggressions and the racist media; I felt at the time it was a way for me to get my thoughts across clearly and it turned out to be very cathartic. And reading this was also cathartic.

    was a powerful line to me. It reminds me of the fact that black people are hyper-visible while being, paradoxically, invisible.

  • s.penkevich

    **

    **

    Lately it seems every time I turn on the news I come across a story that reminds me of this collection. The further I get from it, the more it grows within me. Rankine argues with teeth for a world where we can look bigotry in the face and pulverize it. A world where cops don't shoot unarmed citizens, regardless of race or creed. A world into which we can be proud to have birthed new lives.

    is fiercely important to us all, not limiting to race, gender, nationality, etc, et al. I hope Rankines message is taken to heart.

    It is sad and utterly pathetic that racism still runs rampant in the modern world. Even here in America, despite the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s, vulgar displays of racism occur in everyday life. These displays of ignorance don’t always come in bold, headlines-making instances but in fleeting, casual moments where one hardly recognizes they’ve revealed their prejudice hand though the hurtful blow is cast all the same. Claudia Rankine’s

    does more than just explore the existence of a black American in the modern world, it blasts the whole situation wide open with explosive power and frustration that echoes loudly across the valley of the heart in a choir of all those muted voices long held in silence. Though Rankine has a particular focus, the effect should be taken to heart as universal, and that we should not judge based on the color of skin, or gender, or sexuality in any country. From casual encounters to the Trayvon Martin murder or the hurricane Katrina news coverage, Rankine creates a wonderful multi-media artistic expression that straps the reader into the awkward situations where words get ‘

    ’, and though the purpose outshines the prose, the reader is left gasping for breath in a world much larger than themselves that is in desperate need for an awakening and change.

    Rankine never falters in her mission to position the reader in the uncomfortable moments of being assessed not for your abilities, personality, qualities or deficiencies, but simply for the color of your skin. While there are passages of extreme power that focus on national news style racism, much of her book deals with situations between friends or everyday life with store clerks and other service providers.

    Rankine uses her own experience coupled with those of her acquaintances to build a tidal wave of everyday racist encounters that are sure to horrify the reader. The discomfort of a friend trying to lightly refer to you as a ‘

    ’ or a colleague dismayed that they are forced to hire a black person when ‘

    ’, and the feeling of forced guilt when you must keep silent in order to keep the peace despite the flagrant insult placed before you. A particularly moving series details a young man pulled over on his way home from a client’s because his skin color matches a suspect sought by police.

    This, and the line ‘

    ’ repeat like a mantra during the events of handcuffing and questioning, the repetition effectively used to harness the feeling of utter frustration spiraling to the brink of disaster if one cannot hold them in as the situation would surely create.

    A metaphor frequently employed throughout

    is one akin to Ralph Ellison’s

    , that of being unseen, such as people cutting in line at the grocery store to bumping into and knocking over a person on the subway and continuing on without taking notice. Or even worse, to be unseen as a human being and only seen as a color, as Rankine examines in the section on tennis superstar Serena Williams. Written as a prose essay, a strong departure from the style in the other segments, Rankine calls to light the difficulties faced by Williams from obviously bad calls to body parody by a fellow player, reminding us of

    ’s quote

    Rankine places this beside an account of William’s at London’s All English Club match where a three-second celebratory dance was broadcast on news medias as ‘

    ’ an incident that she was heavily fined for and suspended. Rankine’s exploration of the ‘

    ’ against the white dominated background is made most evident by the extraordinary choice of cover art: a black hood underlined by black text against a solid white background. The image is sure to recall the Trayvon Martin murder, though the art used is actually David Hammon’s

    from 1993. The saying about history repeating itself if we fail to learn from it may be echoing in the back of your head about now.

    While this collection has been commonly shelved as ‘poetry,’ any distinct classification detracts from the fluid artistic nature of this book. Rankine uses a wide range of styles: prose vignettes, essay form, and free-form poetry, and couples her prose with moving photography. Several segments are intended to be read aloud against a series of photographs (a collaboration with husband John Lucas), making this collection reach beyond the boundaries of typical literature and give it a very artistic, modern feel. There are frequent allusions to youtube videos and other events easily found through a quick Google search (Rankine already reminding us of our modern condition through frequent mentions of watching screens and using social media) that transfer the power from the author and her words into the reader, as if sending them on a quest of continual learning and understanding.

    The artistic experimentation is impressive and expansive, though it does occasionally buckle under the weight of it’s own ambition. Rankine delivers many moments of shearing prose, yet I was left wanting to see that powerful wit and control of language more often. However, this may also be the point and many of the vignettes may be rendered with duller prose than—considering her obvious potential—they could have been as an expression of mundane, everyday reality. This makes the shocking realization of common racist remarks all the more powerful as they seem to occur so casually and carelessly. Rankin does not need the use of deep metaphor or sly figurative language, she just needs to harness reality and extract the power of the “I”: the voice that shouts across barriers and through the obdurate hand trying to keep it silent. Perhaps I read this too soon after Hilton Als extraordinary

    , which explores similar themes but paints with a broader palette of themes, examining race, gender, sexuality and how we affect one another all through a masterful prose that made the book feel more like poetry than essay. But then again, Rankine need not explore a wider field as she has done so well with her focus and has created a book of the utmost importance in today’s world.

    This is a blunt blow to the heart, one that cannot be read without coming away carrying its weight deep in the soul. This is a book that everyone should read, or at least spend time thinking about. It is an important look at the world in which we live, and must continue to live, and begs us to make that world a place that accommodates all. The hurt people dish out without even realizing it is just as striking and painful to read as the sections on national, and international news stories like the unarmed Mark Dugan gunned down by Scotland Yard. While

    aims its potent focus at the lives of black Americans, the message can be extended to a more universal truth: that we should respect all people regardless of race, gender, sexuality, et al. We should respect people as people and not as a classification, and this extends beyond any borders. We all must coexist together, and should do so with love and goodwill. I will certainly explore more of her work after reading this, as she clearly possesses a masterful language and prose that deeply moved me despite not being the sort of poetry that I typically enjoy or pursue. Rankine poetry harnesses the gut-punch of everyday reality to power her words, a reality that is often overlooked because we fear to look at it, to accept it, to give it credence, but there it is just the same.

  • Didi

    This is a poignant powerful work of art. It's more than a book. The sections study different incidents in American culture and also includes a bit about France (black, blanc beurre). (That part surprised me.) Rankine does a brilliant job taking an in-depth look at life being black. She says the things that we have all said and describes situations we have all been in. In the light of the horrors that are finally coming out in the US concerning the police and its poor treatment of Black Americans

    This is a poignant powerful work of art. It's more than a book. The sections study different incidents in American culture and also includes a bit about France (black, blanc beurre). (That part surprised me.) Rankine does a brilliant job taking an in-depth look at life being black. She says the things that we have all said and describes situations we have all been in. In the light of the horrors that are finally coming out in the US concerning the police and its poor treatment of Black Americans, this book shines more not that, through words and pictures. Each word is a lyrical tribute to Black Americans and all that isn't shouted out on a daily basis. Citizen is definitely a must read for everyone, especially if one day we hope to annihilate racism all together.

  • Bill  Kerwin

    Do you remember that incident early in the primary campaign in 2016 when a young black woman staged a silent protest by reading a book during a Trump rally? Well, this is the book, and I think you should read it too. It covers some of the same ground as Coates'

    , but Rankine is older and perhaps wiser. And Rankine got there first.

    Her book is a well-constructed

    of anecdote, poetry, criticism, and multi-media presentation, expertly designed by Rankine's photograph

    Do you remember that incident early in the primary campaign in 2016 when a young black woman staged a silent protest by reading a book during a Trump rally? Well, this is the book, and I think you should read it too. It covers some of the same ground as Coates'

    , but Rankine is older and perhaps wiser. And Rankine got there first.

    Her book is a well-constructed

    of anecdote, poetry, criticism, and multi-media presentation, expertly designed by Rankine's photographer husband John Lucas. The book presents us with the experiences of Rankine, a black woman, a poet and an esteemed professor, as she confronts and endures the thoughtless (or malicious?) everyday words and actions of white people in America, many of whom are her friends. (Examples: when they call you by the name of “that other black person they know,” when they cut in front of you in line, when they use racist language, when they just don't seem to see you at all.)

    She also meditates upon these events, generalizes from them, and presents us with incidents which help to illuminate them, from the “temper tantrums” of Serena Williams to the death of Trayvon Martin and Obama's botched oath during his first inauguration. Like Coates, she experiences such incidents as a form of violence that throw her back upon herself, upon the resources of her blackness, her own body--her very identity, the nature of the self turned into a painful question. As Rankine remarks, near the end of the book, “the worse injury is feeling you don't belong so much/ to you.”

    When this book is good, it is very good indeed. However, one of its seven sections—Part VI, occupying almost one-third of the book—is inferior to the rest. It is composed primarily of multi-media pieces written for particular occasions, which--although relevant and intermittently affecting—lack the poetic and narrative concentration of the rest. My advice: read the book straight through once, skipping Part VI, then go back and read VI, and read the whole book again.

    But however you read this book, read it. And I am sure that, if you love Coates'

    as much as I do, you will like this book very much.

    Here is just one of the many incidents Rankine relates:

  • Whitney Atkinson

    4.5 stars

    I read about 40 pages of this back in September for Diverseathon, but for some reason, I really couldn't get into it then. Maybe it was that I should've have forced myself to read it in such a quick amount of time, because this story definitely warrants taking your time and digesting what it's trying to say. I continually put this off after that, citing that I was bored and didn't want to continue reading if it was going to be something painstaking.

    However, I brought this book home with

    4.5 stars

    I read about 40 pages of this back in September for Diverseathon, but for some reason, I really couldn't get into it then. Maybe it was that I should've have forced myself to read it in such a quick amount of time, because this story definitely warrants taking your time and digesting what it's trying to say. I continually put this off after that, citing that I was bored and didn't want to continue reading if it was going to be something painstaking.

    However, I brought this book home with me for Easter break, wanting to reduce the ridiculous amount of things on my "currently reading" pile. I began to pick this up from where I left off, recalling that the last essay/poem I had read was really long and rough to get through, but I told myself that a fresh start would be my motivation to see this with fresh eyes. And i'm so happy I did.

    This book is gorgeous. It's half educational, half eye-opening. I was devastated reading this, and constantly impressed with the quality of the writing, the one-liners, and the depth of emotion to this. The first time I read this, I must not have been in the right state of mind, because this punched me in the gut the second time. I loved almost every single page, and the art and photography interspersed just made it that much more tragic.

    My only complaint is that sometimes Rankine's writing gravitates toward being overly wordy. Several pieces exclude punctuation, which is a stylistic choice many may enjoy, but I'm not a fan and find myself unable to follow easily. Additionally, many longer pieces can lose me in the wordy explanations and long sentences, so I found myself preferring her shorter pieces, even though all presented well-thought out and poignant ideas.

    This must be required reading. It's the reminder for allies to do better and always speak up, and I'm so glad I read it.

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