posted on July 14, 2016 12:13
Brett L. Stine, University Advising, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX
Sarah L. Louis, University Advising, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX
“…[E]ach body is a strange beach, and if you let in the excess emotion you will recall the Atlantic Ocean breaking on our heads” (73).
Citizen is a raw, poetic work in which Claudia Rankine attempts to wrestle with, synthesize, and articulate some of the daily realities of African American experience in modern America. It has been nominated for or won numerous awards and received much praise nationally and internationally. Through a montage of individual events and/or micro aggressions, both personal and public, Rankine vividly, and often painfully, grounds a philosophical and poetic conversation about race relations and cultural subconscious in America to concrete human experiences. The mingling of image, daily narrative, poetic prose, and echoing refrain causes the reader to reflect again and again on what it means to be a citizen broadly, and specifically an African American citizen wrestling with social and self-identity in 21st century America.
Citizen is broken into seven sections or chapters in total. No titles apart from roman numerals are given to these sections. Sections I and III focus primarily on the author's personal experiences in which Rankine draws a thread between what might otherwise come across as seemingly unrelated events, illustrating a pattern of micro-aggressions in some all too familiar contexts. Sections II and VI spend a lot of time reflecting on national, more public events (e.g. Hurricane Katrina) and people (e.g. Treyvon Martin, James Craig Anderson), connecting the all too often bifurcated spheres of the public and private, and focusing heavily on the physicality of racial prejudice through rich, difficult descriptions and actual images. Sections IV, V and VII seem to take the content of the rest of the book, and mull it over through the medium of poetic diction and philosophic inquiry, highlighting the physically and verbally oppressive nature of racism and how it relates to understanding self-identity and social history. Throughout the influences of authors like Frantz Fanon can be heard, and even seen (p. 125, 127), and a quick skim of one of their seminal works proves to be fruitful for better grasping the context of Citizen.
For the advisor, Citizen has a lot to offer on the levels of practice and reflection, and can potentially provide a cultural lens for better understanding African American students on the modern university campus. It is, admittedly, a difficult book to digest, but for the advisor wishing to be a mentor and advocate for students in an increasingly diverse campus setting, Citizen provides an opportunity to develop cross-cultural competencies as they relate to African American experience. Further, Citizen provides an opportunity to have a frank discussion on the current reality of race relations in America. Primarily qualitative and experiential, Citizen requires advisors as humans to wrestle with personal perceptions, convictions, prejudices, and biases, especially as they relate to students of color.
Citizen: An American Lyric. (2014). Claudia Rankine. Graywolf Press. 160 pp., $20.00, (Paperback), ISBN #978-1-55597-690-3, https://www.graywolfpress.org/books/citizen