Friday, March 4, 2016
Book Review: Citizen - An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
Author links: Goodreads
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Purchase links: Amazon - Book Depository
Description (from Goodreads):
* Finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry *
* Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry * Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism * Winner of the NAACP Image Award * Winner of the L.A. Times Book Prize * Winner of the PEN Open Book Award *
ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR:
The New Yorker, Boston Globe, The Atlantic, BuzzFeed, NPR. Los Angeles Times, Publishers Weekly, Slate, Time Out New York, Vulture,Refinery 29, and many more . . .
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 intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, on the tennis court with Serena Williams and the soccer field with Zinedine Zidane, online, on TV-everywhere, all the time. The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person's ability to speak, perform, and stay alive. Our addressability is tied to the state of our belonging, Rankine argues, as are our assumptions and expectations of citizenship. In essay, image, and poetry,Citizen is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, often named "post-race" society.
This fairly short collection of poetry completely blew me away. Inspired by my postcolonial theory class and discussions of race in America, I started to look for books that would give me a chance to put into use what I learned during that course, and came across Claudia Rankine's Citizen. My local library surprisingly had this in their collection, of which I am extremely happy, because I don't think an e-copy of this would have done justice to the way this book is not only written, but also put together through inclusion of images etc.
I am a white, middle class, university educated woman from Finland. I grew up in a place where like 99.9 % of people were white and middle class, and never really had to think about issues related to race while growing up. I was 11 when I first traveled abroad, but it was to one of those places where most of the people were tourists who looked exactly like me. It wasn't until my exchange student year to United States at the age of 16 that I really became conscious of the issues related to race and racism. I traveled from Finland to Washington D.C. and was picked up by a family of Mexican immigrants - a wonderful group of people who offered me their home for 10 months and very quickly became like a family to me. The cultural differences were embraced at the home setting, but when I went to school and started to spend time with the family outside the home-setting, questions started to arise. Very quickly, I came face to face with situations in which I was seen as the superior due to my skin color. I was shocked - I was a quest in that country, but still some people seemed to treat me like I had more of a right to be in there than the people who had taken me in. I am grateful for my year in US, because it opened my eyes up for so many things I probably would not have become aware of in Finland, at least not at that age. Now, questions of race are becoming more and more in-bedded into our national discussions, and the perspectives I learned in US have really helped me to form my opinions about the issues in Finland right now.
Rankine's collection focuses on different kind of racial encounters and aggression in media as well as in daily life; the slips of the tongue, the questions of "is that racist", the representations of athletes, etc. It also pays quite extensively attention to race and issues of safety and for those who have been following the evolution of the Black Lives Matter movement, there's definitely a lot of food for thought here.
This book really made me think about my own privilege, and the privilege of people around me. The way Rankine delves into the matter of everyday racism, the little slips of tongue that some people do without realizing that what they are saying might be hurtful, is done very powerfully and in a way that makes you think about your own actions and own words. Though this book is very much tied to US context, I think the message of it is universal. And since what happens in US is often felt around the world in other countries, understanding of the US society is crucial. This book can help you with that, by offering a very interesting, vivid image of racism in our contemporary, "post-race" society.
If you get a chance to pick this one up, I highly recommend you do so!