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.
- 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?
- 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?
Rankine, Claudia. Citizen: An American Lyric. Graywolf, 2014.