Racism: Bleeding through the Cracks of America’s History- Sadie Royce

          This section of Claudia Rankine’s novel Citizen focuses heavily on instances of racism, not only on specific cases but groups as well. Rankine even skips around time periods like from hurricane Kartina in 2005 to the Jim Crow era that occurred late into the 19th century and the early 20th century. Rankine pairs these very strong examples with equally strong images and she uses them to her advantage to floor her microaggressions.

  Rankine begins on page 82 with the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. The most violent image she exposes to the viewer in this instance is with the bodies “missing limbs” and the “bodies lodged in piles of rubble, dangling from rafters, lying face down, arms outstretched on parlor floors” (Rankine 84). Many African Americans were on the streets of New Orleans at this time and were very poor as Eugene Robinson’s Disintegration. Robinson says, “There is no one explanation for how so many people ended up staying rather than leaving… Perhaps if Nagin had pressed all the city’s school buses into service, thousands more might have escaped the storm” (116). The truth is that the city didn’t care. They were more concerned about keeping the tourist attractions more intact rather than making sure all of the people living there were able to make it out safely. Rankine ties into Robinson’s observation of this fact to show how prevalent racism still is today. Without naming the specific hurricane, it would be plausible that someone would think this happened long ago but it was only 14 years ago which isn’t that long ago in the scheme of things. This city was never really punished for practically letting specific members of their population, only receiving backlash in the form of a slap on the wrist, and it shows how racism is an applicable topic still today even if some refuse to acknowledge it and Claudia Rankine refuses to let them do that. 

Rankine address the topic that is on many African Americans minds today, police brutality. To draw the reader’s attention to this, she uses the example of Rodney King. Rodney King was pulled over for speeding after a car chase on March 3rd, 1991 and when the cops pulled him over, he was pulled out of the car and brutally beaten by police. This attack was broadcast after being filmed by George Holiday. The officers that committed this crime were acquitted after a three month trial. After two decades, King made a public statement that he had forgiven the officers. He was found dead in his pool on June 17th, 2012 yet there seemed to be no foul play of course (Biography.com Editors “Rodney King”). Rankine uses this example of this man being largely mistreated, to say the least, by police to show how young black men are the prime target of police back then and even today for petty crimes that whites would get a slap on the wrist for. Rodney King becomes a symbol for Rankine to use for showing how over and over again African American males are targeted specifically by the very people that are there to protect them (117). 

     Rankine manipulates these images and examples of African Americans being thoroughly mistreated in life or death situations. She violently tries to open the eyes of the reader to these prevalent examples of racism that were applicable in 1991 to 2005 and even now in the sense of police brutality. These are very sad and fueling instances for many African Americans, and even whites that are ashamed this has happened and is still going on, and Claudia Rankine lays it all out on the line for her readers to leave them gasping at what is at the basis of American history and how it still shines through today. 

Discussion questions:

  1. Do you think the personal stories like that of Rodney King were effectively in furthering the idea that racism is still very prevalent today?
  2. What other personal examples have you either seen or experienced that Claudia Rankine touched on generally but did not go into full detail about?

Works Cited
Rankine, Claudia. Citizen: An American Lyric.                         Graywolf, 2014. 

Robinson, Eugene. Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America. Anchor Books, 2011

“Rodney King.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 16 Apr. 2019, https://www.biography.com/crime-figure/rodney-king.

15 Replies to “Racism: Bleeding through the Cracks of America’s History- Sadie Royce”

  1. Hi Sadie,
    I do think that the use of personal stories like Rodney King’s effectively further the idea that racism is still prevalent today. I believe that these personal stories are also used to show just how common racism is, how often it happens. In this section of the book, we travel past the everyday microaggressions that happen and we see what these seemingly ‘small’ things can lead to. The fact that people can get away with small acts of racism leads to people believing bigger acts of racism are okay. And that is where we start to see these hate crimes come into play.
    Another way I believe Rankine tries to show how common racism is is by her use of repetition, throughout the whole chapter, the whole book and throughout specific stories. In the section “In Memory of James Craig Anderson” towards the end of it, she writes “So sorry”(95) without stating who says it or what they mean by it. This pulls us back to the woman showing up to a trauma therapists house. At the end of that story, one of the characters also says “I am so sorry” (18). This shows both how common acts of racism are and how they are all connected. In another section, this one entitled “Stop-and-Frisk,” multiple instances of black people being pulled over and being victims to police brutality are shown. And throughout these repeated incidents, the phrase “And you are not the guy and still you fit the description because there is only one guy who is always the guy fitting the description” (105). This phrase is confusing, but I believe it is meant to show how black people are targeted, always assumed to be doing something wrong, no matter where they are or what they are doing.

  2. Hi Sadie,
    Yes, I believe that there is racism today like stories like Rodney king. Sadly, racism will never go away in society, it will decrease within time. There are still heartless people in the world today. We live in a violent world. Sadly, we watch on the news how people are building walls to make America great again. People are excluded and it makes people feel bad. This powerful quote, “ The wall next to you is a torn passport photo of half a woman’s face blown up and framed as art” (115). This is disgusting to hear that somebody would frame a person being blown up. This is a sad society. This is not art. “On the train the woman standing makes you understand there are no seats available” (131). This sounds like from history class Rosa Parks, on how she was not allowed to sit in the back of the bus. African Americans were only allowed to sit in the front of the bus. Whether it happens years ago or today it is not going to stop.

  3. Sadie,
    Your argument that racism and acts of violence against blacks are still relevant today is pretty hard to deny. Like in Rankine’s “In Memory of Rodney King”, there are many other horrific stories of these acts of violence that can further your argument, because even before the beating of King, “it had happened and happened,” (116). On page 134, Rankine shows a body of text that consists of many other “In Memory Of”s that are fading out. This is really powerful because the fading out of names shows readers that this list can sadly go on and on. She does this because “white men can’t police their imagination black people are dying,” (135). There have been too many instances of this kind of brutality. So to answer your second discussion question, Rankine shows the name, but does not go into depth about, of Jordan Russell Davis. Jordan Russell Davis was a 17 year-old high school student who was shot to death by a 45 year old-white man in a gas station in an argument over the music Davis was playing. So like King, Davis was targeted and acted violently upon by a white male for something so minor because of his race. If it had been a white man who was playing music in a gas station, nothing would’ve happened to him. But because of Davis’ skin color, he was murdered in cold blood. Acts like these need to end, but it will not until everyone realizes that racism is still prevalent and a huge problem in our society.

  4. Hi Sadie, I really like how you went into depth about the real-life situations that Rankine used in the book. You made a very strong point that Rankine is trying to argue that racism is still very prevalent today. I feel as though there are too many stories about racism and unfair treatment due to skin color, so Rankine could only use a few of them. She also chose to use some current stories to show that this is still happening. On page 134, there is a list of names starting with “In Memory of…” and it eventually fades away. Each name is different, showing us that there are too many stories of racism for us to keep track of and remember. By adding this list to the book without telling us who these people are or when the stories took place, she is telling us that racism can occur at any time and still has not gone away.

  5. Hi Sadie!

    I really liked the points you’ve made and the questions you’ve asked.
    I think that personal stories similar to Rodney King were effective in showing how important and relevant racism is. I believe that the telling of stories such as his and Serena Williams broadens our perspectives, as well as gives us in sight to how racism still exists and impacts our world. Another examples of this can be seen on page 105, when a black man is mistaken for committing a crime he didn’t commit, however, since he is black he is taken in and suffers the consequences for a crime he didn’t commit.
    Rankine repeats this stanza throughout a few pages– “And you are not the guy and you still fit the description because there is only one guy who is always the guy fitting the description.” (105)
    This stanza is repeated on each page of the short story to demonstrate the idea that despite the fact that there are many African Americans out there who do not commit crimes, they are always getting called on or blamed because they are black.
    This a theme that is very apparent and can be seen throughout the whole novel. Blacks get treated unfairly and are stereotyped to be “bad”, because of their skin color.

  6. Sadie, I think the Rodney King story is so very important in showing readers the prevalence and frequency at which police brutality against black bodies occurs. For example, Rankine writes, “before it happened, it had happened and happened” (116). She means that although King’s assault was one of the first caught on tape and shown on national television, similar attacks had happened many times, out of public eye. She then writes that “if you were to hold on to the fiction that this was an event ‘wrongfully ordinary’”, then you were ignoring the fact that it was another common occurrence (117). This is very important- I believe as Americans, we act shocked at such disgusting acts of violence, only because we are ignorant to them until we are affected directly or see them on television in an undeniable video.

  7. Hi Sadie,
    Sadly, I agree that racism is still very prevalent today. The continuous acts of police brutality for no other reason then the color of the person’s skin. Rankine writes about Mark Duggan who’s story was almost forgotten for being “wrongfully ordinary” (113). But his death started a protest to demand justice for the family. Following multiple deaths this protest turned into a full blown riot, showing the desperation to be heard/seen. The same thing keeps happening and the only way to have it noticed is to wreak havoc. Rankine mentions a common police procedure called the Stop-and-Frisk saying “Each time it begins in the same way, it doesn’t begin the same way, each time it begins it’s the same.” (107). This is heartbreaking to think this is a normal event of people being ripped from their cars with no reason needed. Having to keep calm in a situation where you’ve done nothing wrong but be there at the wrong time. The purpose of this book is to show that racism is still prevalent today and no advantaces have really been made to stop it.

  8. Hey Sadie,
    In your analysis I enjoyed how you dissected different events that occurred throughout this chapter, discussing how in specific instances such as police brutality and racism is still seen and existing still in today’s society. Rankine does this well with discussing the story of Rodney King pointing out “because there is always one guy that is always fitting the description,” and this paints a powerful image that black people face their entire lives, being afraid, tired and scared, yet their image is the description, no matter anything else but the skin of their color and not the person (105). The public sees stories like these, even closer today, and the repercussions simply aren’t enough and aren’t accounted for as they should be. The problem isn’t fixed, only handled with after the occurrence and still justice isn’t quite served. Further, Rankine also discusses hurricane Katrina and the lack of help extended for the people it would then impact. We notice as readers that communities were left alone, to fend for themselves, and yet the cities and states prioritized money over their people. The distribution of resources that should have been available for poorer, targeted neighborhoods, were simply uncared for and instead focused on different matters that served those people to feel forgotten about.

  9. Hi Sadie,
    I believe that the stories, such as the Rodney King one, were effective in demonstrating that racism is still prevalent in the United States. She says “Though the moment had occurred and occurred again with the deaths, beatings, and imprisonment of other random, unarmed black men, Rodney King’s beating somehow cut the air supply in the US…”(Rankine 117). Reading this just sounds so familiar, we see this every couple months where unarmed black men and incarcerated for small infractions and beaten or killed by the police but there is always that one story that creates the most rise out of everyone. Such as Eric Garner or Trayvon Martin. It just seems like the story will just continue and I don’t see a change anytime soon.

  10. Sadie,
    Using real stories really shows how racism is something that still occurs today and has been happening for a very long time. The stories of Trayvon Martin and Rodney King provide a good demonstration of how racism is still prevalent. Rankine writes “before it happened, it happened and happened” (116) to explain that almost all acts of racism and police brutality weren’t seen by the public eye before King’s. Acts like this still continue today and it seems that there has been no steps forward.

  11. Hi Sadie, I really liked how you went in-depth and pulled apart all these examples Rankine gives about racism. To answer your question, I feel that these personal stories were very effective in Rankine proving that racism is still prevalent today. For example, she states, “Before it happened, it had happened and happened,” (116) which shows that this racism was happening before the beating of Rodney King, and that it will continue to happen if there is not change. These stories allow the reader to understand first-hand what is happening, which makes it more of a reality rather than just a story.

  12. Hi Sadie, I enjoyed reading your blog post. I do think that the personal stories like that of Rodney King were effective in furthering the idea that racism is still very prevalent today. Unfortunately, racism and police brutality is a huge issue that still faces America. Rankine states that “the length of silence shaping lives” (112). This quote is very powerful because it describes how there is no change happening and because of silence it is constructing lives of certain people. It helps to support the idea that the government has yet to really change since the Rodney King incident. Because of the silence of the government about police brutality and racism for so long, it has affected the future for people of color. It has now changed the way that people of color live and it ultimately shapes how they will live. They feel like they are walking on eggshells around people and especially police. Because of the silence about police brutality and racism from the government, it has had a long term effect on people of color and how they live.

  13. Hi Sadie, I really like the fact that your blog post consisted of you going more into depth of the examples of racism that Rankine gives in the book. In regards to your first question, yes I feel that by using personal stories like Rodney Kings we are able to see that racism is still very prevalent in the world. Rankine states “the length of the silence becoming a living” (112). This quote is a way to show the longer people stay silent and pretend that they don’t see racism the more it become apart of our lives and that if nobody speaks up then there will be no change.

  14. Hey Sadie,
    I really liked your blog post. The notion of the continual affects and continuous rise of racism, even in today’s time, is hard to deny. Especially with some of the irrefutable evidence that you’ve brought up. One of the most effective stories that Rankine uses throughout this whole book is the Rodney King story. The story has such an impact on the population, Rankine states, “Though the moment had occurred and occurred again with the deaths, beatings, and imprisonment of other random, unarmed black men, Rodney King’s beating somehow cut the air supply in the US…”(Rankine 117) making sure the readers know how much of an impact the story had made on the US population. It was surprising to see, yet it was information we needed to know how terrible racism had been and what it had become in modern day. Overall really good post, it made me evaluate how the book could have affected modern day standings.

  15. Hi Sadie,
    I really liked reading your blog post. In regards to your second question, the first example that popped into my head was the murder of Botham Jean. Amber Guyger, an off-duty officer, was under the influence when she walked into Jean’s apartment. Thinking that it was her apartment and he was an intruder, she shot and killed him. Guyger was sentenced to 10 years in prison, which is the first time I’ve personally heard a police officer being convicted of one of these highly publicized killings. I think Jean’s death goes to show that even in their own homes, black Americans are unfortunately not safe. Although Guyger being convicted should be a “win”, there are now suspicions of foul play because one of the key witnesses, Joshua Brown, who heard it all happen and is also a black man, was found dead. Police said it was a drug-deal gone wrong, but people find it too much of a coincidence that he is dead mere days after the conviction. In addition, people have doubts that the three men arrested would have traveled 300 miles to purchase drugs and then leave the drugs at the scene of the crime. Although there is no way to confirm what happened, I think Brown’s death is suspicious, and the mention of drugs is to make him look like a dangerous man, as black men are so often framed, in order to justify it.

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