In Citizen: An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine uses her encounters with racism, second point of view, and imagery to allow readers to experience the encounters first hand rather than observing from afar. On page 7, Rankine states, “send adrenaline to the heart, dry out the tongue, and clog the lungs… they drown you in sound… like lighting they strike you across the larynx.” This descriptive passage is a reaction to the memory of a friend calling Rankin by her black housekeepers name. The description of how this made her feel is then passed on to the reader by using strong words of imagery. The words make you get a feeling dumbfoundedness and sadness. Throughout the book and especially in this passage by using the second person it makes you feel it is happening to you personally. Even though from an outside perspective this could have just been seen as a mistake but by using “you” and “yourself” you picture how you would feel if you were involved in this econterment. A friend calling Rankine by a black housekeepers name makes her feel angry because is she being called that because “you two were the only black people in her life” or was is because she was distracted and did not realize that she had called her that? (Rankine 7). By the friend calling her that makes for an uncomfortable situation to speak up or correct someone and with the use of imagery it shows that.
The encounters with racism and the second point of view is displayed again on page 15 when Rankine recalls the story of when her neighbor called the police on her black male friend who is babysitting her child, whom he thought was disturbed and breaking into the home. The neighbor took it upon himself to call the police before she could explained to him that he was friend babysitting. This action shows how racism is displayed in this passage. If the man in the house was white the neighbor would have probably not noticed anything off but since he was of color the neighbor felt it was needed to call the police. Using the second point of view throughout this passage makes the reader feel like you are in this situation and puts a sense of anger and feeling of uncomfortableness within them. The feeling of uncomfortableness happens when Rankine states on page 15 “your friend is speaking to you neighbor when you arrive home… your neighbor has apologized to your friend and is now apologizing to you”.
Rankine’s encounternments continue on page 18 when she goes to visit her therapist whom she has only spoken with on the phone but is now going to meet for the first time. Rankin states that “when the door finally opens, the woman standing there yells, at the top of her lungs, Get aways from my house! What are you doing in my yard?”. By using the words “yells, at the top of her lungs” readers can picture how the woman is screaming and how Rankine is standing there. To compare and explain the level of aggression, it is later described “as if a wounded Doberman pinscher or a German shepard has gained the power of speech” (Rankine 18). This instance stresses the idea of racism and how even such a minor thing as knocking on a door as a black woman, for an appointment can be made into a big deal. By using the second point of view it makes the reader feel as if they are the one walking out the door and getting yelled at. At the end of the counterment on page 18 the Rankine’s therapist states “I am so sorry, so, so sorry” but this seems meaningless because there was no reason to yell and Rankine in the first place.
When looking at these smaller encounterments they may just be seen as mistakes or not big deals but when the reader looks at these together it shows all of these microaggressions add up and even though they seem like honest mistakes they make the person they are happening to frustrated and angry.
- How does the second point of view make you, as the reader feel? Would it make a difference if it was third person or first person point of view?
- What are some other examples of imagery seen throughout the sections?
Rankine, Claudia. Citizen: An American Lyric. Penguin, 2015.