The Life of a Black Citizen – Chris Russo

In the last section of Claudia Rankine’s novel Citizen, she once again discusses the points that she’s hit over the course of the book: Microaggressions, Racism, Identification and personal stories to connect them with such as Trayvon Martin. Rankine puts the reader in a position where she continuously uses the perspective of “you” to understand how life feels all around you as a black citizen. She also implements images to connect these feelings to its origins, circling back to slave ships and the beginning of a treacherous time for African Americans.

Rankine opens up this chapter by diving into the conclusion of these feelings. She writes, “Some years there exists a wanting to escape-you, floating above your certain ache-still the ache coexists. Call that the immanent you-” (Rankine 311). Rankine promptly discusses that their “aches” still exist, that racism as a whole, and all the damage that comes with it, exists within their own bodies which they can’t escape from. Rankine goes on to repeat the word “you” singling out only you, the reader, to feel the position and identification of her descriptions. She continues with these descriptions of how the body feels drowned and that “only half concerns you,” (Rankine 319), allowing us to put ourselves in the situation of a black citizen who is constantly being pushed away from mattering fully. Feelings can be powerful and suppressing those feelings to not be free and thoughtful of is damaging to a person who can’t express themselves in their full comfort of their own body.

Rankine goes on to discuss how African Americans voices aren’t heard as much, putting them in a more uncomfortable situation, imaging “your voice entangles this mouth whose words are here as pulse strumming shut out, shut in, shut up-” ending on shut up, silencing the voices of African Americans and what their words mean for weighing in on situations in different matters. Feeling as nothing has been accomplished or liberating enough to counteract these microaggressions and behavior that seem to beat their already broken bodies, wearing them down more, feeling the tiredness of not belonging to your own self, to your own body. She images this through a picture of mangled body parts, one conveying an arm or limb stuck in the mouth of the figurine and another appearing to choke the throat where the voice propels, striking the feeling of being silenced and limited of speech and projection of their thoughts, and still she refers all of this to “you.”

The story of Trayvon Martin, a young 17 year old high school student, fatally shot, even being unarmed, serves a purpose to the justice system and how it internally has worked for years on end. Zimmerman was acquitted after claiming self defense, describing a physical altercation between the two, but what does justice mean if the death of a young black citizen happened in cold-blood, being he was unarmed? We see and hear stories like these all the time, and sometimes not as frequent as when they happen. Rankine paints a picture for these stories all throughout the book in other examples, but in Trayvon’s case, the feeling that “you” feel, is a sense of not knowing what could happen, and understanding now as you grow, the undesirable feeling of being afraid from the police, being afraid of what it may lead to simply based on the color of your skin. Rankine’s depiction of Trayvon and “those feelings” she’s discussed throughout the chapter, signify the sort of feelings that feel like a “warning sign” or a “hazard” when indeed they shouldn’t be but constantly do everyday and it’s apart of their lives.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you feel the use of the word “you” in the last chapter is effective in capturing the essence of emotion to display Rankine’s message?
  2. When reading about Trayvon Martin, did the text make you think about what those feelings Rankine describes would be like day in and day out, and if so how?

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

14 Replies to “The Life of a Black Citizen – Chris Russo”

  1. Hi Chris,
    Discussion Question #1: Do you feel the use of the word “you” in the last chapter is effective in capturing the essence of emotion to display Rankine’s message?

    Yes, “You” in the last chapter is how Rankine feels. She says “you” but it is her past of what she went through and “you” feel like you are in the story. You put yourself in Rankines shoes. Rankine states, “The worst injury is feeling you don’t belong much to you- (146). Rankine never felt accepted because of her skin color and she wants you to feel the pain that she went through. “You” to imagine what it feels like. It makes the reader more drawn in because she is interactive with the audience on how does it feel if this happened to “you?” Another example Rankine states, “A friend writes of numbing effects of humming and it returns you to your own sigh” (151). Rankine states her feelings by “you” instead of “I” to make the reader understand how it feels to be a black woman during this time period. It is scary when you are the one going through all of this chaos, just because of your skin color.

  2. Hello Chris, in response to discussion question #1, yes Rankine’s use of “you” is effective in capturing the essence of emotion. The first lines of the last chapter single out the reader and describes what they are feeling. Rankine says that we are feeling a “certain ache” (139) and that no matter what happens, “still the ache coexists” (139). This is the emotion that people feel when microaggressions occur and Rankine wants to emphasize that. It is not a big injury that can be diagnosed by doctors, but rather little, small aches that can cause you to crumble on a daily basis. Another way to think of these aches are “death by a thousand cuts.”

    Do you feel the use of the word “you” in the last chapter is effective in capturing the essence of emotion to display Rankine’s message?

  3. Hey Chris,
    To answer disscussion question 1, I do feel that Rankine’s use of “you” does capture the essence of emotion. Rankine uses this to capture the reader into the stories, and make them feel as though they are involved in them, and how they feel in this situation. When Rankine states, “The worst injury is feeling you don’t belong much to you-” (146). The use of “you” in this quotation is important because she is telling the reader how to feel, and it works.

  4. Hi Chris,
    I agree with your point that the use of the word “you” throughout the whole book, and especially in this last section is extremely important in displaying Rankine’s message throughout the whole book. She uses this second person you to put the reader into the scenario, so we cannot have a sense of emotional detachment, or pretend not to understand what the speaker is going through. In a sense, we are the speaker. In this last section, I believe you is repeated the most throughout any other section of the book, and I think its meaning and effects are even stronger here.

    Since the entries in the book are structure as lyrics, Rankine uses poetic structure more than the typical structure of novels. One of the devices she uses is enjambment, which is defined as “the continuation of a sentence beyond the second line of the couplet. Now also applied less restrictively to the carrying over of a sentence from one line to the next” by the Oxford English Dictionary. Since people tend to read to the end of line in poetry, instead of to the punctuation, the use of enjambment can have different effects on the reading and on the way people understand the poem. I noticed this especially in the line “You are you even before you/grow into understanding you/are not anyone worthless/not worth you” (139). If you analyze the lines one by one, they have a different meaning than if you analyze them all together as a sentence. I think the different meanings of this sentence are all important to the message of the book.

  5. Hey Chris! With answering the second discussion question, Rankine brings back the feeling of being oppressed by society with the reading about Trayvon Martin. Rankine explains that society forces African Americans to let go of horrible incidents, like the murder of Trayvon Martin, and that, “ is how you’re a citizen: Come on. Let it go. Move on.” (151). In order to erase negative feelings from people’s mind, Rankine uses sighing as coping mechanism. Sighing helps people suppress their feelings deep down in order to prevent negative emotions from emerging. Rankine also explains that African Americans and the reader has “grown into it.” and that the sighing is “no longer audible.” towards the end of the book (151). Even though many African Americans have feelings that they want to emerge, society continues to surpass these emotions and makes the habit of sighing a daily occurrence.

  6. Hey Chris,
    To answer your discussion question, I feel that the use of the word “you” is very effective in capturing the essence of emotions that Rankine is trying to display. Rankine says, “Yes, and this is how you are a citizen: Come on. Let it go. Move on,” (151) which uses the word you to put the reader into her perspective of life and to show the reader just how different it is for black citizens compared to white citizens. Rankine uses the word you to allow the reader to understand the emotional stress of the speaker of these stories, leaving a stronger lasting effect than using the word “I”.

  7. Hey Chris, you make a lot of strong supporting arguments for your thesis about making the reader feel like they are a black citizen and being put in Rankine’s shoes with her stories during these troublesome times. I like your analysis of the opening sentences with this chapter and how this “ache” for Rankine still does coexist with her, even today. I do feel like Rankine’s use of the word “you” is still prominent throughout this chapter, as with all of the other chapters, since as you said the repeat of the word “you” singles out the reader to feel the emotions of Rankine and her stories. One of the more interesting ideas that surrounds this last chapter is when Rankine was asked to find an uplifting moment throughout the book she was only able to find one. This was the moment when she was in the restaurant and says “Then you both are laughing so hard, everyone in the restaurant smiles.” (Rankine, 329) As the reader, you are reading this book with a lot of disheartening moments and stories that Rankine tells until you get to this one section where you and your friend in the story are both laughing and smiling. I do believe Rankine did an outstanding job at making her point across throughout the book and even better so by using the word “you” directly to the reader.

  8. Hey Chris,
    The feelings Rankine feel when hearing about Trayvon Martin many African Americans feel this same way every day. Most of the time African Americans in societies that don’t involve a lot if Caucasian people develop the mindset of “us vs them.” Rankine states, “…though no one seems to be chasing you, the justice system has other plans”(151). I feel this almost every time I see a police officer due to the fact of all the stories that I’ve heard and the discrimination I have see firsthand, you start to believe that the police are not there to protect you, they are there to protect everyone else from you.

  9. Hi Chris, I agree with you about how Rankine’s use of the second person perspective intensified the feeling of fear and uncertainty that Trayvon Martin went through. Not only did she call attention to the shooting of Trayvon Martin, but she also threw us as readers right into the situation that way we could get a sense of what black people are going through emotionally. Instead of just telling these short stories and including these emotions, she is telling the reader that “you don’t belong” (146) to get the readers to understand what it is like to be put in that place.

  10. Hey Chris, I feel that the use of “you” is effective in capturing the essence of emotion in the last chapter. By using “you” it makes the reader feels as if the were the ones in the situation. It also paints a better picture of what is happening because the reader pictures themselves in the scene. Rankine discusses Trayvon Martin she states “this is how you are a citizen. Come on. Let it go. Move on” (151). This shows how this is not the first time this has happened and you can’t hold onto it and dwell over it. By using you it makes the reader think they are the ones having to let it go. It makes it more emotional for the reader

  11. Chris,
    I really liked how you talked about Trayvon Martin in your post and the circumstances around his death because before this book I don’t believe I had heard about him. It’s a shame how common his story is though. Rankine says that, “Trayvon Martin’s name sounds from the car radio a dozen times each half hour” (151). Nowadays you barely hear about unarmed black men being shot by police for seemingly no reason other than racial prejudice. It’s just too common in today’s world and I think Claudia Rankine really brings that to light by telling the same story of black males being shot by police and attaching a different name to each tragedy to really make it stick out in the reader’s mind. Great post!
    Sadie Royce

  12. Chris, I liked your post because it put things into perspective. By using “you” all the time, Rankine makes it possible to imagine life as a black person in America and the many struggles that could come along with that identity. I think it’s important to remember that it’s only that; unless you have experienced racism first hand, on a regular basis, you can only IMAGINE what it feels like. I think Rankine wants her audience to have a sense of what real discrimination feels like and use it as empowerment to make positive changes for marginalized groups. I also think it’s important to notice how Rankine repeatedly writes, “I they he she we you”(146). This covers everyone, as far as I know. And she doesn’t mean that everyone feels the effects of racism the same- she means that this could be anyone in those groups, and that it could be any gender or religion or personality within these groups.

  13. Hi Chris, I agree that Rankine’s use of the second person “you” perspective is able to make us feel an almost deeper felling of fear. I also liked that you brought up the fact that using second person we are able to feel the uncertainty when reading about Trayvon Martin. When Rankine does this we are able to almost feel like we are in that situation and are able get a sense of what black people feel when they are in these certain types of situations. She says the “worst injury is feeling you don’t belong so much” (146), and by saying this she is able to make us feel as if we are not supposed to be there and is able to make us feel what it’s like to be told that we don’t belong much like those of color are told everyday.

  14. Hey Chris,
    To answer the question “Do you feel the use of the word “you” in the last chapter is effective in capturing the essence of emotion to display Rankine’s message?”, I do believe that the use of the word “you” in the last chapter is very important. Using this point-of-view is very unique and something not a lot of authors do. It makes readers feel as if they are a part of the book and being spoken to directly. It creates an atmosphere for readers where they are completely immersed in the book in every way. I think this quote is a good example: “The worst injury is feeling you don’t belong much to you” (146). As a reader, I felt targeted, as if Rankine was talking to me directly. I thought this was very powerful and an amazing use of diction and POV for Rankine to use to get her point across.

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