CBR 13 Bingo: UnCannon
Sometimes I read a book that is so deep it’s hard to put it into words for other people to understand. The only response is a directive: “You should read this.” This is how I feel about Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric.
Rankine’s book is about not just her experience as a Black woman—although it is that as well—but what it’s like to be Black in a racist world, though that is a reductive summary that doesn’t do justice to her words. The book contains brief personal accounts that read as poems. There are essays and essays-as-poems that also talk about the Black experience, such as ones that focus on Serena Williams and Hurricane Katrina. There are poems in more traditional forms that are somehow not traditional forms. There is amazing art.
This book made me uncomfortable, as it should. I am white and have tried to do a lot of reading about race, class, gender—anything that gives me food for thought and challenges me to step into another’s world. I can never know what it is like to experience racial hatred, and it is my responsibility to educate myself. Even so, Citizen is not an easy book to read. I noticed as I read I kept inserting myself into the stories, something white people do all the time. I wanted to respond, “I’m not like that.” I wanted praise for reading the book, her words. I actually said aloud to myself at one point, STOP. This isn’t about you. This is about listening without talking. So I tried to do a better job of it. I let the words sink in. When I flinched, I knew that was something I should pay special attention to.
I should let Rankine speak for herself. There are so many passages I could quote here, but here is one that exemplifies the incision and beauty of her writing:
The rain this morning pours from the gutters and everywhere else it is lost in the trees. You need your glasses to single out what you know is there because doubt is inexorable; you put on your glasses. The trees, their bark, their leaves, even the dead ones, are more vibrant wet. Yes, and it’s raining. Each moment is like this—before it can be known, categorized as similar to another thing and dismissed, it has to be experienced, it has to be seen. What did he just say? Did she really just say that? Did I hear what I think I heard? Did that just come out of my mouth, his mouth, your mouth? The moment stinks. Still you want to stop looking at the trees. You want to walk out and stand among them. And as the light as the rain seems, it still rains down on you.