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Citizen: An American Lyric

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Poetry (2014)
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.

169 pages, Paperback

First published October 7, 2014

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About the author

Claudia Rankine

50 books1,462 followers
Claudia Rankine is an American poet and playwright born in 1963 and raised in Kingston, Jamaica and New York City.

Rankine is the author of five collections of poetry, including "Citizen: An American Lyric" and "Don’t Let Me Be Lonely"; two plays including "The White Card," which premiered in February 2018 (ArtsEmerson and American Repertory Theater) and will be published with Graywolf Press in 2019, and "Provenance of Beauty: A South Bronx Travelogue"; as well as numerous video collaborations. She is also the editor of several anthologies including "The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind." In 2016, she cofounded The Racial Imaginary Institute. Among her numerous awards and honors, Rankine is the recipient of the Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry and the Poets & Writers’ Jackson Poetry Prize as well as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, United States Artists and the National Endowment of the Arts. She is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and teaches at Yale University as the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry. She lives in New Haven, Connecticut.
(source: Arizona State University)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,060 reviews
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.5k followers
January 28, 2020

Do you remember that incident early in the primary campaign in 2016 when a young black woman staged a silent protest by reading a book during a Trump rally? Well, this is the book, and I think you should read it too. It covers some of the same ground as Coates' Between the World and Me, but Rankine is older and perhaps wiser. And Rankine got there first.

Her book is a well-constructed bricolage of anecdote, poetry, criticism, and multi-media presentation, expertly designed by Rankine's photographer husband John Lucas. The book presents us with the experiences of Rankine, a black woman, a poet and an esteemed professor, as she confronts and endures the thoughtless (or malicious?) everyday words and actions of white people in America, many of whom are her friends. (Examples: when they call you by the name of “that other black person they know,” when they cut in front of you in line, when they use racist language, when they just don't seem to see you at all.)

She also meditates upon these events, generalizes from them, and presents us with incidents which help to illuminate them, from the “temper tantrums” of Serena Williams to the death of Trayvon Martin and Obama's botched oath during his first inauguration. Like Coates, she experiences such incidents as a form of violence that throw her back upon herself, upon the resources of her blackness, her own body--her very identity, the nature of the self turned into a painful question. As Rankine remarks, near the end of the book, “the worse injury is feeling you don't belong so much/ to you.”

When this book is good, it is very good indeed. However, one of its seven sections—Part VI, occupying almost one-third of the book—is inferior to the rest. It is composed primarily of multi-media pieces written for particular occasions, which--although relevant and intermittently affecting—lack the poetic and narrative concentration of the rest. My advice: read the book straight through once, skipping Part VI, then go back and read VI, and read the whole book again.

But however you read this book, read it. And I am sure that, if you love Coates' Between the World and Me as much as I do, you will like this book very much.

Here is just one of the many incidents Rankine relates:

A man knocked over her son in the subway. You feel your own body wince. He's okay, but the son of a bitch kept walking. She says she grabbed the stranger's arm and told him to apologize: I told him to look at the boy and apologize. Yes, and you want it to stop, you want the child pushed to the ground to be seen, to be helped to his feet, to be brushed off by the person that did not see him, has never seen him, has perhaps never seen anyone who is not a reflection of himself.

The beautiful thing is that a group of men began to stand behind me like a fleet of bodyguards, she says, like newly found uncles and brothers.
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 118 books157k followers
December 12, 2014
This book is necessary and timely. It was timely fifty years ago. I pray it is not timely fifty years from now. Rankine takes on the realities of race in America with elegance but also rage/resignation... maybe we call it rageignation.

Outstanding book.
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
854 reviews5,857 followers
April 7, 2016
**Update (4/6/16)** Tonight I had the privilege to attend a reading and discussion with Claudia Rankine here in Holland. It was a real treat. Especially powerful was seeing the visual elements of her book brought to life on the screen, with the video (made by her husband John Lucas), the music all mingling with her words to create an intensely powerful and emotive display. Rankine is a pure joy to hear read and speak, full of wit and humor and a reminder to us all that we all have the responsibility to constantly 'continue the conversation about our society.' She says that it isn't people that anger her, because it is important to remember that we all - even those who offend us - are people, but the failed judicial systems, white privilege, and all the social constructs that build a closed door to individuals based on race are what fuels her poetry. I particularly enjoyed her story about how she became a writer. She was working for a legal degree when she came across the poetry of Adrienne Rich. She says its a moment that can only happen around the age of 21, but when she read Rich she thought 'this is good, but I can do it better.' She loved what Rich had to say, but wanted to tweak the text to speak to her conditions, her story, her struggle. After abandoning the legal field (her first job was for a firm that defended two men for insider trading) she went on to a masters in creative writing and now has delivered an extraordinarily powerful book about racial politics and micro-aggression. Rankine is a national treasure and I feel so lucky to have seen her speak.

Lately it seems every time I turn on the news I come across a story that reminds me of this collection. The further I get from it, the more it grows within me. Rankine argues with teeth for a world where we can look bigotry in the face and pulverize it. A world where cops don't shoot unarmed citizens, regardless of race or creed. A world into which we can be proud to have birthed new lives. Citizen: An American Lyric is fiercely important to us all, not limiting to race, gender, nationality, etc, et al. I hope Rankines message is taken to heart.

The past is a life sentence, a blunt instrument aimed at tomorrow.

It is sad and utterly pathetic that racism still runs rampant in the modern world. Even here in America, despite the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s, vulgar displays of racism occur in everyday life. These displays of ignorance don’t always come in bold, headlines-making instances but in fleeting, casual moments where one hardly recognizes they’ve revealed their prejudice hand though the hurtful blow is cast all the same. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric does more than just explore the existence of a black American in the modern world, it blasts the whole situation wide open with explosive power and frustration that echoes loudly across the valley of the heart in a choir of all those muted voices long held in silence. Though Rankine has a particular focus, the effect should be taken to heart as universal, and that we should not judge based on the color of skin, or gender, or sexuality in any country. From casual encounters to the Trayvon Martin murder or the hurricane Katrina news coverage, Rankine creates a wonderful multi-media artistic expression that straps the reader into the awkward situations where words get ‘stuck in the throat’, and though the purpose outshines the prose, the reader is left gasping for breath in a world much larger than themselves that is in desperate need for an awakening and change.

Do you feel hurt because it’s the ‘all black people look the same’ moment, or because you are being confused with another after being so close to this other?

Rankine never falters in her mission to position the reader in the uncomfortable moments of being assessed not for your abilities, personality, qualities or deficiencies, but simply for the color of your skin. While there are passages of extreme power that focus on national news style racism, much of her book deals with situations between friends or everyday life with store clerks and other service providers.
At the end of a brief phone conversation, you tell the manager you are speaking with that you will come by his office to sign the form. When you arrive and announce yourself, he blurts out, I didn’t know you were black!
I didn’t mean to say that, he then says.
Aloud, you say.
What? He asks.
You didn’t mean say that aloud.
Your transaction goes swiftly after that.

Rankine uses her own experience coupled with those of her acquaintances to build a tidal wave of everyday racist encounters that are sure to horrify the reader. The discomfort of a friend trying to lightly refer to you as a ‘nappy headed hoe’ or a colleague dismayed that they are forced to hire a black person when ‘there are many great writers out there’, and the feeling of forced guilt when you must keep silent in order to keep the peace despite the flagrant insult placed before you. A particularly moving series details a young man pulled over on his way home from a client’s because his skin color matches a suspect sought by police.
And you are not the guy and still you fit the description because there is always the guy fitting the description.
This, and the line ‘you can’t drive yourself sane’ repeat like a mantra during the events of handcuffing and questioning, the repetition effectively used to harness the feeling of utter frustration spiraling to the brink of disaster if one cannot hold them in as the situation would surely create.

A metaphor frequently employed throughout Citizen is one akin to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, that of being unseen, such as people cutting in line at the grocery store to bumping into and knocking over a person on the subway and continuing on without taking notice. Or even worse, to be unseen as a human being and only seen as a color, as Rankine examines in the section on tennis superstar Serena Williams. Written as a prose essay, a strong departure from the style in the other segments, Rankine calls to light the difficulties faced by Williams from obviously bad calls to body parody by a fellow player, reminding us of Zora Neale Hurston’s quote
I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background
Rankine places this beside an account of William’s at London’s All English Club match where a three-second celebratory dance was broadcast on news medias as ‘a crip-walk….What Serena did was akin to cracking a tasteless, X-rated joke inside a church,’ an incident that she was heavily fined for and suspended. Rankine’s exploration of the ‘black body’ against the white dominated background is made most evident by the extraordinary choice of cover art: a black hood underlined by black text against a solid white background. The image is sure to recall the Trayvon Martin murder, though the art used is actually David Hammon’s In the Hood from 1993. The saying about history repeating itself if we fail to learn from it may be echoing in the back of your head about now.

While this collection has been commonly shelved as ‘poetry,’ any distinct classification detracts from the fluid artistic nature of this book. Rankine uses a wide range of styles: prose vignettes, essay form, and free-form poetry, and couples her prose with moving photography. Several segments are intended to be read aloud against a series of photographs (a collaboration with husband John Lucas), making this collection reach beyond the boundaries of typical literature and give it a very artistic, modern feel. There are frequent allusions to youtube videos and other events easily found through a quick Google search (Rankine already reminding us of our modern condition through frequent mentions of watching screens and using social media) that transfer the power from the author and her words into the reader, as if sending them on a quest of continual learning and understanding.

You said “I” has so much power; it’s insane.

The artistic experimentation is impressive and expansive, though it does occasionally buckle under the weight of it’s own ambition. Rankine delivers many moments of shearing prose, yet I was left wanting to see that powerful wit and control of language more often. However, this may also be the point and many of the vignettes may be rendered with duller prose than—considering her obvious potential—they could have been as an expression of mundane, everyday reality. This makes the shocking realization of common racist remarks all the more powerful as they seem to occur so casually and carelessly. Rankin does not need the use of deep metaphor or sly figurative language, she just needs to harness reality and extract the power of the “I”: the voice that shouts across barriers and through the obdurate hand trying to keep it silent. Perhaps I read this too soon after Hilton Als extraordinary White Girls, which explores similar themes but paints with a broader palette of themes, examining race, gender, sexuality and how we affect one another all through a masterful prose that made the book feel more like poetry than essay. But then again, Rankine need not explore a wider field as she has done so well with her focus and has created a book of the utmost importance in today’s world.

Yes, and this is how you are as a citizen: Come on. Let it go. Move on.

This is a blunt blow to the heart, one that cannot be read without coming away carrying its weight deep in the soul. This is a book that everyone should read, or at least spend time thinking about. It is an important look at the world in which we live, and must continue to live, and begs us to make that world a place that accommodates all. The hurt people dish out without even realizing it is just as striking and painful to read as the sections on national, and international news stories like the unarmed Mark Dugan gunned down by Scotland Yard. While Citizen aims its potent focus at the lives of black Americans, the message can be extended to a more universal truth: that we should respect all people regardless of race, gender, sexuality, et al. We should respect people as people and not as a classification, and this extends beyond any borders. We all must coexist together, and should do so with love and goodwill. I will certainly explore more of her work after reading this, as she clearly possesses a masterful language and prose that deeply moved me despite not being the sort of poetry that I typically enjoy or pursue. Rankine poetry harnesses the gut-punch of everyday reality to power her words, a reality that is often overlooked because we fear to look at it, to accept it, to give it credence, but there it is just the same.

The world is wrong. You can’t put the past behind you. It’s buried in you, it’s turned your flesh into its own cupboard. Not everything remembered is useful but it all comes from the world to be stored in you. Who did what to whom on which day? Who said that? She said what? What did he just do? Did she really just say that? He said what? What did she do? Did I hear what I think I heard? Did that just come out of my mouth, his mouth, your mouth? Do you remember when you sighed?
Profile Image for Rowena.
500 reviews2,465 followers
April 5, 2015
This was quite an emotional read for me, the instances of racial aggressions that were illustrated in this book being unfortunately all too familiar. The thing is, most people who commit these microaggressions don't realize they are making them yet they have an accumulated effect on the psyche. I hope this book will help people become more empathic to the plight of others. The question, "How difficult is it for one body to feel the injustice wheeled at another?" is so apt, especially for those of us living in multicultural environments.

Although I've always been a huge fan of Serena Williams, reading about her experiences with racist refs and tennis players made me respect her even more.

I liked the style this book was written in, I guess you could loosely call it a poem. The only poem I've ever written has been on racial aggressions and the racist media; I felt at the time it was a way for me to get my thoughts across clearly and it turned out to be very cathartic. And reading this was also cathartic.

"Graphite against sharp white background" was a powerful line to me. It reminds me of the fact that black people are hyper-visible while being, paradoxically, invisible.
Profile Image for Brown Girl Reading.
349 reviews1,589 followers
May 29, 2020
This is a poignant powerful work of art. It's more than a book. The sections study different incidents in American culture and also includes a bit about France (black, blanc beurre). (That part surprised me.) Rankine does a brilliant job taking an in-depth look at life being black. She says the things that we have all said and describes situations we have all been in. In the light of the horrors that are finally coming out in the US concerning the police and its poor treatment of Black Americans, this book shines more not that, through words and pictures. Each word is a lyrical tribute to Black Americans and all that isn't shouted out on a daily basis. Citizen is definitely a must read for everyone, especially if one day we hope to annihilate racism all together.
Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews966 followers
March 17, 2020
A nuanced reflection on race, trauma, and belonging that brings together text and image in unsettling, powerful ways. It’s rare to come across art, least of all poetry, that so obviously will endure the passing of time and be considered over and over, by many.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,765 followers
June 14, 2015
Look at the cover. A hoodie. The iconic image of American fear. Urban danger. Gang-bangers. A seventeen-year-old boy in Miami Gardens, FL.

The shooting death of an unarmed black man

The shooting death of an unarmed black man

The shooting death of an unarmed black man

Let Me Google That For You

Trayvon Martin
Michael Brown
Walter Scott
Ezell Ford

The hoodie on the cover is empty. Claudia Rankine fills it with experiences. The experiences of Americans whose color has rendered them invisible to the many who are privileged enough to be blind.

It is fascinating to read and experience this book of poetry and essay and visual image in light of the Rachel Dolezal controversy that exploded over the weekend (the president of the Spokane NAACP who identifies as "black" despite all evidence to the contrary). Whatever is in Ms. Dolezal's heart—and it seems clear that identifying as a black woman is meaningful to her—what cannot be denied is that her very choice is a privilege. She can walk away (or could have, before she became a media sensation) from her performance at any time and reclaim her whiteness.
Sometimes "I" is supposed to hold what is not there until it is. Then what is comes apart the closer you are to it.
Rankine's words embody the conundrum that is Rachel Dolezal: it is the difference between her "I" and her "what is".

This is a collection of small moments and media-saturated ones: the injustices experienced by Serena Williams on the tennis court or Zinedine Zidane on the soccer pitch are repeated in the intimate moments when stranger or colleague or friend lets slip a slight or blurts an ignorance they may not even recognize as racist, because they just can't see. The face that fills the hoodie is invisible. Sixty years after Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and America has yet to accept an identity for that space. We allow. We create. We deny. We control. We appropriate. We define. But we don't see. We don't hear.
And yes, the inaudible spreads across state lines.
Its call backing away from the face of America.
Bloodshot eyes calling on America
that can't look forward for being called back.
America turned loose on America—

Profile Image for Debbie "DJ".
352 reviews398 followers
June 24, 2015
Claudia Rankine is an absolute master of the written word. Her gripping accounts of racism, through prose and poetry, moved me deeply. I saw the world through her eyes, a profound experience.

I loved this small piece of prose, "feeling most colored when thrown against a sharp white background." As a huge Serena Williams fan, I read with rapt attention to the expose' on Serena's plunge against that sharp white background. I felt a sense of rage that has always been there, burning. For Serena has claimed she has had to "split herself off from herself and create a different personae." The very definition of dissociation disorder.

I also learned a lot, as I was unfamiliar with some high profile racial events such as the 2006 World Cup French team, and Jordan Russell Davis.

The writing, prose, and poetry is absolutely exquisite. A book I could read over and over. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,459 reviews8,559 followers
July 28, 2017
A piercing and perceptive book of poetry about being black in America. With rightful anger and sadness Claudia Rankine details the racism she has experienced in the United States, as well as the racism that surrounds popular black people in the media like Serena Williams, Barack Obama, and Trayvon Martin and James Craig Anderson. As Michelle Alexander writes in The New Jim Crow , we like to think that we live in a colorblind society, when in reality that false belief just blinds us to the ways we let racism grow and fester. Claudia Rankine puts the emotional and physical impact of this racism into eloquent, intelligent language. America, we must do better.
Profile Image for Whitney Atkinson.
916 reviews13.9k followers
April 15, 2017
4.5 stars

I read about 40 pages of this back in September for Diverseathon, but for some reason, I really couldn't get into it then. Maybe it was that I should've have forced myself to read it in such a quick amount of time, because this story definitely warrants taking your time and digesting what it's trying to say. I continually put this off after that, citing that I was bored and didn't want to continue reading if it was going to be something painstaking.

However, I brought this book home with me for Easter break, wanting to reduce the ridiculous amount of things on my "currently reading" pile. I began to pick this up from where I left off, recalling that the last essay/poem I had read was really long and rough to get through, but I told myself that a fresh start would be my motivation to see this with fresh eyes. And i'm so happy I did.

This book is gorgeous. It's half educational, half eye-opening. I was devastated reading this, and constantly impressed with the quality of the writing, the one-liners, and the depth of emotion to this. The first time I read this, I must not have been in the right state of mind, because this punched me in the gut the second time. I loved almost every single page, and the art and photography interspersed just made it that much more tragic.

My only complaint is that sometimes Rankine's writing gravitates toward being overly wordy. Several pieces exclude punctuation, which is a stylistic choice many may enjoy, but I'm not a fan and find myself unable to follow easily. Additionally, many longer pieces can lose me in the wordy explanations and long sentences, so I found myself preferring her shorter pieces, even though all presented well-thought out and poignant ideas.

This must be required reading. It's the reminder for allies to do better and always speak up, and I'm so glad I read it.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,049 followers
March 24, 2016
Claudia Rankine zeros in on the microaggressions experienced by non-white people, particularly black females, in the United States.

These kinds of books basically make me feel:

Possibly the most memorable essay in here examines Serena Williams and her experiences in tennis - how she is portrayed, how she is treated on the court, her reactions and how those in turn are portrayed.

Also memorable to me are the little tidbits from Rankine's experience, such as people complaining to her about what they perceive as "affirmative action" (DURING a job interview), getting constantly confused with other colleagues because they are both black, and her therapist thinking she was trying to break into her home (she had an appointment.) So many cringing moments from what are likely shared experiences.

The rest of the book has some poetic treatment, imagined documentaries, art, photography - a glossy, immersive experience that can bring you in even if this hasn't been something you've had to face personally. In that sense I hope more people will read it.
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
789 reviews1,184 followers
July 12, 2020
"Where is the safest place when that place must be someplace other than in the body?"

When I downloaded this book, I thought it was a book of poetry. It's not. It's a book of musings, meditations. Kinda like journal entries, kinda like essays. The author includes some brilliant artwork that fits in nicely with her words.  

Even though I discovered it's not poetry and initially didn't like that it's written in the second person, I decided to read it anyway based on the blurb here on Goodreads. For one thing, I strive to be more aware of the things I think and say which might be racist. It's helpful for me to hear of instances of micro-aggressions so that I can check myself and the words that come out of my mouth that would cause pain to someone else.

Claudia Rankine writes openly and achingly on her experiences as a Black woman in the United States. From relating micro-agressions she is often on the receiving end of, she also looks at how others, such as Serena Williams, are treated with hatred, disrespect, and prejudice. 

Ms. Rankine notes the reason she writes in the second person: "Sometimes “I” is supposed to hold what is not there until it is. Then what is comes apart the closer you are to it."

She relates how it feels to be judged and hated because of the colour of her skin. To not even feel her body belongs to her because it is always up for judgment and criticism. As she says, "The worst injury is feeling you don’t belong so much to you"

This is a quick read but one that will stay with me. We white people have no clue how it feels to be treated the way people of color are. We will never know the pain of being judged and hated over a tiny layer of skin, over how much melanin is in that layer that is only a millimeter thick. For my American friends, that's about the thickness --or thinness-- of a credit card.

I am reminded of a video I saw a while back and again the other day. It's only 45 seconds long but powerful. I encourage every white person reading this to watch. Please click here

The only reason I'm giving this 4 stars instead of 5 was because I didn't enjoy reading the included scripts for situational videos Claudine and her husband created. I found them more gratifying to watch than read. Still, this is an important book and one I'm glad I read.

You can watch Claudine and John Lucas' videos by clicking here and selecting 'situations'.
Profile Image for dc.
283 reviews12 followers
October 14, 2014
claudia rankine is oxygen to a world under water.
Profile Image for Jake Goretzki.
729 reviews114 followers
May 25, 2015
Clearly - from the blurb and the plaudits - this is an 'important work' - and my failure to 'get it' is a failure to police my mind (or something). Ominously, it got rave reviews from Hilton Als - whose recent memoir gave me similar migraines.

I did find moments of lucidity (on Serena Williams; on everyday racism; on Zidane). But for the most part, I found this terribly self-indulgent, formless adolescent gloop that felt like listening to a cultural studies student breathlessly talking about last night's dream in a therapy session.

Things like this:

"Do feelings lose their feeling if they speak to a lack of feeling? Can feelings be a hazard, a warning sign, a disturbance, distaste, the disgrace? Don't feel like you are mistaken. It's not that (Is it not that?) you are oversensitive or misunderstanding".


"That time and that time and that time the outside blistered the inside of you, words outmaneuvered years, had you in a chokehold, every part roughed up, the eyes dripping"

Confronted by these kind of witterings, I always want to break the silence and say: "Anyone know what time the Victoria line stops running?".

I hate this kind of material. Every other line, I'm shouting: "what are you talking about? What has happened? What are you trying to say? What is 'The memory of a memory isn't a memory, but it cuts to the soul and bares forth the fruit of the ghost of a passion, leaving the cold imprint of a leaden shadow hanging on the heart's beat'". [I just made that last sentence up. But you'd never know, would you?].

PS: re Hackney rioters and Mark Duggan. If you think Mark Duggan equals Rodney King, you probably ought to check your sources too.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,412 followers
June 14, 2015
Race is something we Americans still have not gotten right. Rankine’s small book of essays tells us the myriad ways we consistently misinterpret others’ motives, actions, language. She writes in second person: "you." It is agonizing to display our flayed skin to the salt of another day. You take to wearing sunglasses inside.

I call these essays while Holly Bass in the NYTimes calls them poems. They are fragments, scripts or screenplays for video or film, shards of thought, sharp and able to pierce one with remembered pain. Bass's review (12.24.14) explains the floating and disembodied hoodie on the cover, black against a field of white: an art installation made in 1993 by David Hammons, long before Trayvon Martin died--before he was even born. Rankine shares a line attributed to Zora Neale Hurston: "I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background."

Rankine talks of tennis, of Serena and Venus, of foot faults and bad calls. I didn’t know these things: I don’t watch tennis. But foot faults and bad calls are happening on our streets, not within the civilized constraints of a rule-bound tennis game. These I do watch. The agony of the small daily slights crescendo, collapse, avalanche when the police become involved. No wonder people run away from police, our ‘guardians’. We have all learned something these many years and it is not that police are guardians.

Overhead in the conference room: “being around black people is like watching a foreign film without translation.” Yes, it is a cultural difference. They got that right. But that’s all: Nothing more sinister or insoluble. And since we know that America is all about cultural differences, this should be something to celebrate. Or profit from.

My mind slides to Obama, and how I don’t think of him as black anymore. Have whites co-opted him? Or is it because black and white are not as different as we were expecting? That our differences really are only skin deep. I worry that we expected Obama to “fix the race problem.” How can he fix the thousand interactions we have every day between us? By denying any differences? Have we learned nothing, nor made any progress at all? Our divisions may have been exacerbated. Tell me it ain’t so.

Rankine’s essays reference the language of video, of film. My mind skims her short paragraphs and the indignities, the small and the large slights blossom. Together we imagine film, great films, films everyone watches and re-watches, praising the actorly restraint and real-life quality of the slurs...something European in slowness and length…that shows us, white and black and yellow and red…what we say, what we think, what we do…to each other. Catching those moments of misinterpretation, or interpretation, waking up to ourselves—this is what great film does.

There is so much work to be done, art to make, change to happen! The urgency weighs on me. "The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions hidden by the answers": James Baldwin and Fyodor Dostoyevsky agree on definition. The ingredients of art are all around us, fat and ripe and ready to be harvested. There is so much art to be made, so many lessons to learn. Hurry!

Citizen was a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award for Poetry. Claudia Rankine is a poet.
Profile Image for Robyn.
827 reviews132 followers
February 7, 2017
"Those years of and before me and my brothers, the years of passage, plantation, migration, of Jim Crow segregation, of poverty, inner cities, profiling, of one in three, two jobs, boy, hey boy, each a felony, accumulate into the hours inside our lives where we are all caught hanging, the rope inside us, the tree inside us, its roots our limbs, a throat sliced through and when we open our mouth to speak, blossoms, o blossoms, no place coming out, brother, dear brother, that kind of blue."

Necessary reading right now. 450 years in a sentence. There's not much I can add to the beauty and pain of this book, so I'll let Rankine's words stand.

Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews126k followers
January 6, 2015
After reading Citizen, it’s hard not to hear Rankine’s voice as I ride the subway, walk around NYC, or even pick up other books. What did he say? What did she just do? We live in a culture as full of microaggressions as breaking new headlines, and Citizen brings it home. Whether Rankine is talking about tennis or going out to dinner, or spinning words until you’re not sure which direction you’re facing, there is strength, anger, and a call for white readers like myself to see what’s in front of us and do better, be better. — Jenn Northington

From Best Books We Read in December: http://bookriot.com/2015/01/06/riot-r...
Profile Image for Lauren .
1,714 reviews2,307 followers
May 31, 2020
In line at the drugstore it's finally your turn, and then it's not as he walks in front of you and puts his things on the counter. The cashier says, Sir, she was next. When he turns to you he is truly surprised.

Oh my God, I didn't see you.

You must be in a hurry, you offer.

No, no, no, I really didn't see you.


Citizen lead me to several thoughts: on the surface, I want to read all of Claudia Rankine's work, AND I didn't realize that prose poetry was such a thing (how did I miss this?) and I adore the form. Little snippets, vignettes, glimpses.

The long piece on Serena (and Venus to a lesser degree) Williams was brilliant, and among the highlights for me. The interspersed artwork - photographs, paintings, sculpture - were a wonderful addition to this already powerful art form.


At the end of a brief conversation, you tell the manager you are speaking with that you will come by the office to sign the form. When you arrive and announce yourself, he blurts out, I didn't know you were black!

I didn't mean to say that, he then says.

Aloud, you say.

What? he asks.

You didn't mean to say that aloud.

You transaction goes swiftly after that.

Profile Image for Tori (InToriLex).
460 reviews360 followers
February 7, 2017
Find this and other Reviews at In Tori Lex

This book is a beautiful reflection at how racist microaggressions that most minority's face mentally chip away at the people who experience them. It's documents the weight of excusing racists slights and ignoring views in attempts to just exist as human.The book navigates between short poems and powerful vignettes. One of the most memorable being the disconcerting feeling and shame that happens when your friend says something to you that is racist, and it markedly changes how you feel about that person, no matter how many times they explain it's a joke.

"...a friend once told you there exists the medical term- John Henryism- for people exposed to stresses stemming from racism. They achieve themselves to death trying to dodge the buildup of erasure."

The resounding truth I read in these poems, and the sigh of relief I felt reading came because I try very hard to look past small acts of racism. But it felt great to read  that it's not normal to play by rules that have addendum's just for you, and meekly never complain. Claudia Rankin explains the racism that Serena Williams has experienced and how it is often overlooked even as she completely dominates her sport.  Yesterday a sport's commentator in reference to Venus Williams said "You see Venus move in and put the gorilla effect on. Charging." This illustrates how black athletes  often deal with racism, and cast it aside as apart of the game, but that cost paid is never acknowledged.

"because white men can't
police their imagination
black people are dying"

This poetry collection includes mixed media. It highlights pictures, art installations and even refers to YouTube videos. I enjoyed it because the inclusion of modern illustrations and references made it a contemporary reflection for us all. The book also describes situations, which are videos produced on her website.  I won't review the videos but I found context for what was described with out them. I would recommend this book to everyone, as a solid way to begin to understand how it feels to exist as an other in our society.
Profile Image for Ellie.
1,475 reviews372 followers
June 27, 2015
Citizen: An American Lyric is a powerful work, the most recent by poet Claudia Rankine. It is cry about racism, prose and poetry with the line between the two often blurred or non-existent. It is "political poetry" at its best, most moving, uncomfortable for me as a white woman but searing and with a beauty in the language that conveys the ugliness, the horror in much of what it tells.

The book sent me to Youtube to hear Rankine reading, Rankine interviewed.

Rankine is a major force, a brilliant poet and Citizen: An American Lyric a necessary book, sadly resonant in today's society.
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.3k followers
April 7, 2016
I repeat what Bill Kerwin reminded me of in his review of this book: At a Trump rally, there is a woman sitting behind him reading a book while he speaks. Citizen: An American Lyric is the book she was reading. Trump is of course unapologetically and infamously racist against various races (and religions, women, and so on), so the woman behind Trump uses the opportunity to read this anti-racist book, knowing it will get national coverage; we see the title, we check it out: Powerful political commentary. Political performance art.

I have not been reading many books in the past couple years specifically just about race. I read the news and political commentary every day and I live in the current murder capitol of the world, Chicago, one of the cities where young black men have been gunned down on the street by the police. So I without question read about racism and observe it every day. I teach in urban Chicago, am regularly in the Chicago Public Schools. And so on.

I have twice in the past six months read National Book Award winner Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which I found to be powerful and eloquent on the subject of race, and the Goodreads algorithm suggested I check out this "related" text, and reminded me that this book, Citizen, is a National Book award finalist from the previous year, nominated for both the National Book Circle Award in poetry AND criticism. When I saw that, I ordered it right away. I am a sucker for multi-genre and multi-media texts, of which this is surely one.

I didn't love the execution of it quite as much as the conception, but it did like it, and I read it twice in the past three days. I liked it better the second time, the more I paid attention to the movement in it. Coates's book is sort of conventional in comparison, a memoir, a letter to his fifteen year old son about growing up as a black body in the old U. S. of A. Citizen is at once a meditation on that same topic and also announces itself as an "American lyric" that some have categorized as poetry, though some of it is prose; at least a third of it are scripts written for various video collaborations with John Lucas, who also provides some of the images for the book, and who designed it.

As "lyrical" it isn't meant to be coherent. It's not primarily an argumentative essay; rather, it's meant to be evocative, enigmatic, at turns enraged, but more often thoughtful. Much if it is cultural commentary, or cultural criticism, such as an essay about Serena Williams that takes up a good part of it. I think of the whole of the book as lyrical essay. The last third is the weakest section, the video pieces; it feels less integrated into the whole than the rest, feels sort of tacked on to me. My mind wandered a bit in that section.

The whole feels like a kind of mediation on citizenship, make of that meditation what you will, because she is not writing James Baldwin essays or Coates memoir. She is making with Lucas bricolage, or pastiche. Some of it is just small observations of every day racism, the everydayness of
it that we participate in and may not quite acknowledge. I recommend your checking it out. As I said, I liked the form of it more than the actual writing itself. But the writing itself can still be lovely in places and provocative throughout.
Profile Image for Gabriella.
272 reviews248 followers
February 28, 2018
I feel like Citizen is one of those books everyone’s read in some portion. By my middling review, I definitely don’t mean to take away anything from Claudia Rankine’s work—I know it made many people more cognizant about the racial issues in this country, and that’s always a great thing—but four years later, it felt a bit off-base for me.

This is another book for my Beyonce/Solange/Jay-Z class, which has now moved on to the latter artists. We’re reading this for our A Seat at the Table unit, which adds to my disappointment with this book, because I really loved the album! Back in 2016, Solange listed Citizen as one of the inspirations for her album, namely due to Rankine’s straightforward descriptions of our nation’s racial grievances.

In 160 pages of essays(?), cultural criticism, and poetry, Citizen explores the gradient of white people who “cannot police their imagination,” and how their prejudice poses grave consequences for black Americans. While this is a novel, admirable feat, it seemed a bit selfish to equate police brutality and a real estate agent assuming you couldn’t pay for a house you wanted. To Solange’s point, I found the most clarity in Rankine’s personal accounts of microaggressions she’s experienced, and not in the darker occurrences she describes (such as the deaths of Trayvon Martin and James Craig Anderson.)

There’s nothing wrong with Rankine sharing her experiences, but it seemed kind of cheap to share them in line with the story scripts, which detailed the deaths and abuse black people have endured at the hands of the state. Some of the scripts (Katrina, World Cup) seemed really imaginative, but most felt a bit too removed to convey the real emotions connected to state terror. Tonally, it almost seemed like she was writing two different books—one about microaggressions, and one about black trauma.

I’m really appreciative of this work, but just wish the sections with “more serious” issues were as lived-in and intimately observed as her complaints about not getting a subway seat. Citizen is an important, powerful, political work of art, but just not the one for me.
Profile Image for Trudie.
526 reviews560 followers
October 13, 2019
I think this is probably excellent and I enjoyed most of it but my caveat needs to be I am inept at appreciating poetry. I nearly always would rather spend time with a novel. I can only point feebly at bits I liked without having the language to say why. Predictably, my finger hovers over sections that are more like prose than poetry ( that bit on Serena was a highlight).
Thus, I must nod in deference to other reviewers for explaining what makes this one such an acclaimed poetry collection, for my own part I thought, yeah, this has given me some "gut-punch" moments and thats all I can ask of my poetry.
Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
2,034 reviews1,419 followers
March 31, 2023
This book focuses on the racial aggressions Clauda Rankine has been subjected to and witnessed, in modern-day America. As well as personal anecdotes, she also shares notable media stories, such as the rage of Serena Williams on the court, further illuminating the harmful stereotypes that are projected onto black individuals. These experiences are harrowing to read about and they all accumulate into providing evidence, as if any was ever needed, of racial inequality.

'Enjoy' is not a world one could use to describe this book. It is a hard but necessary, harrowing, and thought-provoking read, however. As a white individual, I have never had to experience such horrifying treatment and this book aided in further illuminating my privilege. For me, the hardest parts to read were those were the racial prejudice did not stem from individuals who would ever call themselves racist. They often misnamed all black people as one or added racial slurs into conversation with an ignorance that they were unaware of possessing. In 2023 and with books like this readily available, there is no excuse.
Profile Image for Lee Klein .
799 reviews851 followers
March 22, 2017
Rivetingly worth it for the Serena Williams section and the slices of life in the first half that so effectively/efficiently dramatize overt and less obvious instances of racism. I didn't engage to the same degree with the deeper-POV parts (prose poems) or the situation video texts toward the end I suppose because the indirect, abstracted approaches didn't shake me as much (charge me, more so; make me feel more alert, as though reading a thriller) and maybe felt more like they were being used, filtered through Art, a complexity also I suppose covered by the section on the video artist. At times I wondered why she for example attributes a single horrible quotation about Serena to a monumental non-existent entity called "the American Media." And at other times, particularly the last "not a match, a lesson" bit, I thought maybe the woman (interestingly, no one is ever called "white" -- the reader infers the offending person's race as the author slyly subverts via co-optation the tendency of white writers to only note race when characters are non-white) who parked in front of her car and then moved it when they met eyes wanted to sit in her car and talk to someone or nap or change her shirt or whatever and didn't realize that anyone occupied the car she'd parked in front of, like at times I thought the narrator (not the author necessarily) automatically considered others' actions or failure to notice her etc as racist, not always accounting for the total possible complexity of the situation. But then again I suppose it's a really strong point that her consciousness is so occupied by overt racism that she sees subtle racism everywhere -- "because white men can’t police their imaginations, black men are dying," particularly -- even where it likely may not exist. Anyway, I read this is a single sitting in bed and recommend it to everyone. High-grade paper, a unique/large sans-serif font, and significant images.
Profile Image for Justin.
Author 12 books16 followers
October 18, 2014
I'll just say it. Most important poetry book of the year. Brilliant, deeply troubling, beautiful.

It better dang well win the National Book Award.
Profile Image for Claude's Bookzone (on hiatus).
1,501 reviews201 followers
February 19, 2021
Well that was incredibly powerful.

I strongly recommend reading as opposed to listening. I started with the audiobook but found I needed to see the words. To really SEE them. I could study phrases and reflect, and take the time to feel. There are also some thought provoking visual elements too. I also suggest reading this in a quiet place and in a quiet time, if you know what I mean. A time when you are ready to commit to the experience and the range of emotions you will feel. This book is important.
Profile Image for leynes.
1,102 reviews2,959 followers
August 6, 2019
After reading The White Card by Claudia Rankine, I knew I needed to check out Citizen. It is hailed as an essential text and one of the first poetry collections that stirred the pot back in 2014 when the Black Lives Matter movement was on the rise.
because white men can't
police their imagination
black men are dying
Written in a sharp and commanding tone, Claudia Rankine interrogates whiteness. By showcasing the constant micro-aggressions Black people face in life and the media, Claudia Rankine never fails to demand the attention of her white audience as well. I admire that quality of her work since more often than not (judging from what I have read) white people (oddly enough) are not held accountable. When discussing racism and race relations, most authors claim racism to be the problem of Black people only. They ask themselves why Black people are treated differently, how Black people behave in public spaces, what Black people encounter and face, what the history of Black people in any given country is. All of these are vital questions but more often than not, we forgot that racism is also the problem of white people.

Claudia Rankine demands answers: What did you just say? Did you really just say that? Did that really come out of your mouth? Why do you think it's okay for you to talk to me like that? Why don't you write about this? Why do you feel comfortable saying this to me?

Looking on the current events and the bullshit Black Americans have to endure on the daily, Claudia Rankine is angry in her portrayal of American society. She details Serena Williams' career and many of the instances she was unrightfully policed simply for being a dominating Black women on a tennis court. Surprisingly, she also references the black-blanc-beur (the French football team which is predominantly made up of Black and Arab players) and Zinedine Zidane's chestbutt on Marco Materazzi during the World Cup final in 2006. Athletes, artists, citizens ... pushed to their limits but having to hold their anger in because "this is how you are a citizen: Come on. Let it go. Move on."

Claudie Rankine refuses to let this go. She refuses to be silent and simply move on. I really appreciate this poetry collection (even though I would personally consider this as prose) for its bluntness. Claudie Rankine doesn't sugarcoat anything. However, in terms of the actual writing I have to say that I was somewhat underwhelmed. The passages in which she describes everyday racism are really quite sharp and brilliant, however, we also get many other interludes in which she tries to be overly lyrical, and these passages didn't work for me at all. I'm glad that Citizen exists and was able to start this conversation, but I'm also glad that since then other voices have joined the chorus, voices that simply put it better (like Don't Call Us Dead by Danez Smith, for instance).
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