Reading through Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen”

For my WGST-310: Race, Class, and Gender class, we have been reading Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen”. It’s a book of lyric poetry that examines issues of(you guessed it) race, class, and gender in the United States. I think part of the reason why I’ve been enjoying this book so much is because of its use of the second person perspective. I really enjoy the second person as a writer and as a reader because I think it does multiple things at once. I think for the writer it can distance themselves from their subject matter in a way that highlights the ways humans distance themselves from their problems on a daily basis. For readers, it can help you locate yourself amidst the text.

For Rankine, I think the second person highlights her anger. She speaks on Serena Williams, and the unfair treatment she’s received from referees and sports media because of her skin color. Rankine notes that Williams is stereotyped as an angry black woman—angry because she’s black, rather than angry at the unfair treatment she’s received. The second person makes the many rhetorical questions asked in this book feel like punches being thrown at the reader. As a reader those punches feel like they deserve to be thrown. There’s a palpable, justified anger on the page that the second person does a great job of directing towards the reader.

When discussing issues of race, the historical disenfranchisement of blacks in America, and the violent racism that’s been so rampant in the U.S., it’s hard to not feel angry. It’s hard to not want to smash tennis rackets through the white faces found smiling on a photograph on page 91 entitled “Public Lynching.” Rankine fights against the stereotype of the “angry black exterior” though, because she’s able to justify her anger, an anger shared by so many others.

One Reply to “Reading through Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen””

  1. Dear Connor,

    Citizen is a book that keeps coming up and that I keep wanting to read, so I’m glad that you brought it up. I agree that the second person can be a helpful way to deflect what the speaker, or narrator, is considering as well as put the reader into their shoes. I am very interested in intersecting issues of race, class, and gender, especially in terms of poetry that is discussing these issues, and this just makes me want to read the collection more. When I get the chance to read it I will try to remember to let you know my thoughts. 🙂

    -Abby

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