The Saturday Reading List: Citizen, An American Lyric

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine


The Stats:

  • Publication Date: October 7, 2014
  • Non-fiction, poetry, essays, race, short book, #blacklivesmatter
  • 4/5
  • Warning: …read review

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 *

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.”

Zo’s Review:

“Every day your mouth opens and receives the kiss the world offers, which seals you shut though you are feeling sick to your stomach about the beginning of the feeling that was born from understanding and now stumbles around in you – the go-along-to-get-along tongue pushing your tongue aside. Yes, and your mouth is full up and the feeling is still tottering -“

– Claudia Rankine

Okay, let’s just get this out of the way, shall we? There are some people that will read Citizen: An American Lyric and will instantly understand it and then, there are some people that will read Citizen and will not understand it. What is unfortunate is not that some readers might not be able to understand some of the subtle nuances of the book but, that those same readers will not pause, reflect, and try to understand why they do not understand this book. So, if you read the first few pages of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen and you don’t get it, I encourage you to look up terms such as “#blacklivesmatter”, “microagressions”, and “systematic racism” and just follow those rabbit holes throughout the interwebs before giving Citizen another attempt.

Now, with all that being said, Citizen: An American Lyric takes real moments that are more likely than not pushed to the side and highlights them in ways that bring to light the years of hurt, mistreatment, and objectification of black bodies in the world today. Along with a collection of images that in themselves add to the narrative of Rankine’s story, Citizen builds up to a point where it won’t allow itself to be ignored or thought of as singular. It takes stories, that although are not deemed “news worthy”, still have rippling effects not only in the individual but in the community and society as well.

“Some years there exists a wanting to escape – 

you, floating above your certain ache – 

still the ache coexists.

Call that the immanent you – 

You are you even before you

grow into understanding you

are not anyone, worthless,

not worth you.

Even as your own weight insists

you are here, fighting off

the weight of nonexistence.

And still this life parts your lids, you see

you seeing your extending hand

as a falling wave – “

– Claudia Rankine

Citizen isn’t a book that coddles its readers, no matter whether they feel the book is for them or not. It simply states reality. It brings awareness. It brings moments of “Oh, I’m not crazy. I’m not overreacting. This doesn’t just happen to me…” It focuses on the dehumanization of black citizens in western civilization though I’m sure that other non-white groups can also relate to some of the stories as well.

Personally, I really appreciated Citizen: An American Lyric. I believe that having part of the book be done in poems allowed me to fill and round out the words with my own experiences and place myself amongst the pages. It didn’t need to go into deep details because, whether I experienced all the moments or not, the feelings of being labeled as “other” or “unseen” as a black person are moments that I have gone through, my mother has gone through, my grandmother has gone through, and on and on…It’s a story without an ending leaving me, the reader and the subject asking not Rankine, but myself: What next?

What do you all think? Have you read Citizen: An American Lyric, already? Have any other book suggestions that I should add to my Saturday Reading List? Leave your thoughts behind in the comments. Just be respectful please.


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