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