Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

And you are not the guy and still you fit the description because there is only one guy who is always the guy fitting the description.
–from
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Citizen An American Lyric

The minute I saw the cover I knew I had to read this book. The image of a black hoodie means so much these days in the wake of Trayvon Martin and many other black folks who’ve paid the ultimate price in the face of racism. But for awhile Rankine’s work just felt too heavy of a book for me to read. I’ve needed some space and a few lighter books under my belt before being able to pick up Citizen and give it the presence it deserves.

Rankine is really taking racism to task in her book. Citizen in some ways feels like Rankine’s much needed rant about all the microaggressions and race-based bias or invisibility she’s encountered throughout life. What I think is important though is that Rankine is saying all of this through prose poetry, which lets the rant flow and settle into your brain in little pieces that each deserve their own time to be processed.

Each section of Citizen is in a slightly different style or tackles a different subject, such as media news, microagressions, or more free-floating expression. I connected most with the sections that were about recent events, but I think there’s something in here for everyone. I bet most people who read it will have at least one line that really stands out to them the way that the quote I pulled for the intro stood out to me.

Since I grew up playing tennis and basically worshipping the Williams sisters, I particularly loved the section that talked about all the flak Serena’s had to take as a top female black athlete. Rankine shows a really awesome and sensitive interpretation of some of Serena’s early career “explosions” at umpires who were overly eager to call her serves out of bounds and police her movements on the court. Rather than chalking those outbursts up to the brashness of youth, Rankins suggest they are actually the consequences of microagressions unexpressed.

Throughout her work, Rankine mixes in powerful images, such Glenn Ligon’s 1990 painting in block letters repeating the phrase “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.” Those breaks, along with lots of white space helped me pause as I was reading and know where I could put the book down.

I think Citizen is the kind of work that I’ll probably read pieces of from time to time and take away different meanings. It makes me even more excited to pick up Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me and other recent works that take on some of the BlackLivesMatter issues. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more writing that addresses race issues in the coming years.

4Stars24 out of 5 stars

See a full list of my book reviews here and my book review policy here.

5 thoughts on “Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

  1. C.J. @ ebookclassics

    I like how you said Citizen has something for everyone. I have a copy and I think I’m going to add it to my pile for the October read-a-thon. I love Serena Williams too and I don’t know if you saw the Andy Roddick article where he said he’s had just as many outbursts as Serena, but he never got as much criticism as she did.

    Reply
    1. Stefani Cox Post author

      Thanks C.J., I hadn’t seen that article by Andy Roddick, definitely will check that out now! There is for sure some race policing that went on from Serena’s younger years. Looking forward to see what else you read in October for the read-a-thon!

      Reply
  2. Jenny @ Reading the End

    I read both this and Between the World and Me very shortly after they each came out, so it didn’t cross my mind to think what a good pairing they’d make. When I go back for a reread, I’ll have to try them together. Both such wonderful, thoughtful, beautifully written books.

    Reply
  3. Pingback: Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine | A Good Stopping Point

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *