publication date: 2014
Citizen was a collection of free form prose poetry and visual imagery that documented the black experience, especially when bounded by the white experience. The book was split into seven parts, which centered on loosely related topics. Generally, these topics were: personal experiences of racism, Serena Williams’s experience as a powerful black female tennis player, and violence against black people in the news.
The most effective parts for me were Rankine’s depictions of the subtle and relentless racism encountered by black Americans in everyday life. The pieces were written in second person and were usually vivid and intimate. Here was an example:
You are in the dark, in the car, watching the black-tarred street being swallowed by speed; he tells you his dean is making him hire a person of color when there are so many great writers out there.
You think maybe this is an experiment and you are being tested or retroactively insulted or you have done something that communicates this is an okay conversation to be having.
Why do you feel comfortable saying this to me? You wish the light would turn red or a police siren would go off so you could slam on the brakes, slam into the car ahead of you, fly forward so quickly both your faces would suddenly be exposed to the wind.
Here was another very short passage:
And when the woman with the multiple degrees says, I didn’t know black women could get cancer, instinctively you take two steps back though all urgency leaves the possibility of any kind of relationship as you realize nowhere is where you will get from here.
The descriptions of the violence against black people were also effective, although they were more confusing and less striking than the more intimate verses. However, the pieces about Serena Williams really fell flat for me; maybe because they weren’t written from Serena’s perspective but instead from a spectator’s perspective.
The book also contained images of artworks. Some of these were more potent or useful than others. The cover image was probably the most powerful: it was a stark black sweatshirt hood.
The book captured aspects of life that many Americans don’t have cause to confront with very often. Although it was uneven, when it worked it really worked.
4/6: worth reading