Citizen – 5 Star Review

“Did you win? he asks. It wasn’t a match, I say. It was a lesson.”

Citizen by Claudia Rankine

A five-star read. A book you don’t want to read but need to read. A perspective and experience that have value. Being 156 pages and containing images of related modern art, a reader may expect this to be an easy one-sitting read. They would be mistaken. Claudia Rankine challenges the reader from the start. A world that glosses over the continued cruelty of racism is laid bare. There’s no denying Rankine’s personal pain and defeats. She shows us time and time again her own experiences with race, highlighting the ignorance that still reigns high in America today regarding how we speak to and treat people of color. 

Racial topics make American’s uncomfortable in general, and as a white woman I was in emotional turmoil reading through her verses. How can America still be so behind on such an important humanitarian aspect? And if the first part of the book was uncomfortable, the last half left my heart ripped wide open.

Rankine ties in poems covering widely broadcasted examples of injustice such as Selena Williams, Hurricane Katrina victims, Trayvon Martin, and more. These along with her own, situation after situation, leave the reader feeling gutted. Angry. Solemn. The truth that Rankine paints for us is this: American life is still a horror story for people of color. And I, heartbreakingly, agree. 

“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.”

Excerpt from Stop-and-Frisk (situation 6 video)

Her work doesn’t explore her solutions of what we should or shouldn’t do to remedy this national problem. Instead, her work acts as a thesis proving that the problem exists. Because so many in our society deny the problems with racial injustices. The corresponding videos and added art imagery operated like references to her thesis. Situations like these are occurring frequently for all people of color. It isn’t just one jaded woman’s experiences seeking out pity. It’s a call to attention, and one would hope – to action. 

I was especially moved with the section that paired some of her poems with videography. You can access the videos, which also include some of her poems (read in the voice over) by clicking here. I highly recommend the one regarding Hurricane Katrina & another titled Situation 7.

The saddest part of her collection for me, was that Citizen was published in 2014 yet our advancements on racial equality and elimination of discrimination have not made any improvements. Some could argue, we’ve even regressed. Society has continued to fixate over the argument of whether or not racial injustice is even true anymore (like what?!) instead of focusing attention to remedies, education, and enlightenment to the issues. A YA book called Dear Martin is a fictional novel exploring racial tensions in modern day America. The book’s author Nic Stone recently shared on her social media how exhausted she gets from defending the need for such a story in our schools. All American’s need to stop debating if these issues exists and start responding to counteract the culture currently in place. What does this look like? Discussion. Books like Citizen and Dear Martin that provide a platform for us to start the conversation. 

Reviewed by Coco

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