September 23, 2015
Claudia Rankine: Citizen Book Review
Using prose blocks intercepted with uncaptioned images from art and news media, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen spotlights what it is like to be black in America. She listens over the shoulder of America and uncovers for the readers a racism that has really never gone away, but has merely been swept under the rug of our guilt and denial. Through condensed situations and problematic retellings of news and events, Rankine means to put one, as a reader, on alert to racism taking place in ones own daily lives.
In the hopes of getting this past to the reader, Rankine uses the pronoun of “you” in second person to put the reader into the shoes of a black character who hits a social wall with that of the pronouns”he” or “she” who are to be presumed white. Changing the way that we as an average audience read a piece of literature by muddying the personas and pronouns, we are forced to work harder to better understand what it is like to face the faulty that is racism.
Rankine’s use of second person makes us wonder how would we feel if we were treated the same way as those described in the book were. By not ending each section with a resolution, we are to think and wonder how we would resolve the situation if it were to really be happening to us. In order to answer these questions, we too must know how it feels to be alienated in the place that you live and call your home. Without that alienation, true answers cannot be given, and the matter cannot be improved.
Along with this, Rankine uses situations, such as when the white woman states over lunch that affirmative action her son isn’t accepted to the same college that she, her father, “you”, were accepted to, to erase “you” entirely. Page 142 says, “You nothing/ You nobody/ you.” Here it is plain and simple. “You” are a figure too worthless for even that of a pronoun. In concept with this book, being given a pronoun, a title, is the act of handing power over, which is something that the American society points out to the narrator isn’t worth of, regardless of the fact that the narrator is a citizen the same as they are.
Placed beside that of second person, Claudia Rankine is able to use powerful and unnerving imagines to penetrate the minds and bodies of her readers as they take in both the story’s typed words on the page and the visuals that alone can have a story worth telling. Take the picture of the hood placed on the cover for example, black against the white background, painfully echoing Zora Neal Hurston’s words, “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.” To have the black hoodie, separated from the rest of the clothing and empty, free from any who wear it, allows us to realize that we each have our own one single aspect of a person that takes place of their whole existence.
Nearly 2000 years ago, religious fanatics in Northern Europe wore the hoodie as a cowl. Used in the 1979’s motion picture Rocky, the hoodie was popularized around the time that hip-hop was born in The Bronx. 60 years before the image of the hoodie was made for Citizen, the hoodie had been in America for years, worn for warmth by blue-collar folks. The hoodie was once seen all around as full of rich history, but now it sends off a different message.
The hoodie is no longer filled with history but with the iconic image of American fear, urban danger, and a 17-year-old boy without a gun. Made a couple years before, the imagine of this hoodie has again and again been said in sources to resonating the happenings of the Trayvon Martin case and how it has become normal for people to connect those who are wearing hoodies with that of gangsters who are dangerous and menacing and should be killed. It’s clear that Rankine wants the reader to reevaluate how they perceive certain things. White Americans may be fearful of the hoodie and the dark face that hides behind it, but it was not that long ago that black men and women were terrorized by white men wearing white hoods and bearing flaming torches.
There is no denying that Claudia Rankine’s Citizen can be categorized timely just as is it can necessary.With her powerful writing ways, and selected images to go along with it, Rankine moves racism to the forefront of our minds. She makes us think about how we treat others in our everyday lives and gives us the tools that we need spark ideas about how we can change the world that we live in.
“Review: Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine.”Puerto Del Sol. Graywolf Press, n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2015.
“Did David Hammons Presage Trayvon Martin With “In The Hood”? | Mass Appeal.”Mass Appeal. N.p., 29 Mar. 2012. Web. 23 Oct. 2015.