Until I read this book, I did not know, had not bothered to imagine, what racism really feels like. It has, heretofore, been an abstraction to me, this thing that permeates the everyday life of people of color and doesn’t touch me at all. I had categorized white privilege in headlines like Not Getting Killed By Cops or Not Having To Worry That My Brother Will Be Shot For Wearing A Hoodie. I had never considered the daily, insidious ways that racism plays out: the comments, insinuations, the sheer invisibility. The realness of my privilege disoriented me.
Rankine invites us to join her experience by sharing it nakedly, without analysis, judgement, or blame. She writes in micro-fiction snippets, like you just dropped into her story for a minute or fifteen. There you are, in the drug store with her, in a diner, at her therapist’s house. Speaking about her experiences of racial micro-aggressions is very, very brave in part because they are often proffered by well-meaning individuals and are thus subject to minimization. But she takes that risk, entrusts her vulnerability to our gaze.
I found this way of writing richly accessible and deeply inspiring. I wondered what micro-aggressions I have graced and glossed over, normalized, buried in my bones. I wondered what it would feel like to put them on the page. Not the deconstruction of abusive behavior, not the labeling of each traumatic event – just the experience, raw and vulnerable. The words, the sensation in the chest.
This is poetry. Or micro-fiction. Or memoir. Or Rankine has started a new genre that is now my favorite genre. She packs a lot of gravity into 169 half-pages. Buy it, check it out at the library. Let her voice sink in, by which I mean accept her invitation, share in her experience of life. Let the visual art encircle your throat. Sit with all these things. Observe what is born in your heart.
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
Cover image: David Hammonds, In the hood, 1993. Athletic sweatshirt with wire, 23 x 9″.