**NOTE: I wrote this review shortly after reading the book in 2015, but never got around to publishing it – so this is actually an older review!**
I don’t normally read poetry, but I’ve heard so much about this book in my blogging community over the past year or so, that I was curious. I ended up reading it during a readathon, which worked out well because though it is weighty in topic, it’s a fast read.
Rankine’s book is about race. More specifically, it’s about being black in America. So right there, you know you’re getting into something both vitally important, and incredibly uncomfortable.
Reading it as a white woman – and a Canadian – I felt that while I responded to her poems and prose intensely, I was simultaneously aware that I would never, ever know how it felt to be in her shoes. I couldn’t. It’s not something you can imagine, even with a vivid imagination.
Because of this, some of her situational responses were hard for me to understand and relate to. I found myself having to consciously remind myself that being black in America is an ongoing and cumulative experience – that the hypersensitivity that can seem out of all proportion to a white girl from Canada is a reaction to an entire lifetime of prejudices both large and small.
Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s a book of poetry – the majority of it is prose format. It’s experimental, and not structured in traditional narrative format, but it is accessible and easy to understand. Though you can zoom through it and take it in at a surface level in a single sitting, I found that I got more from the pieces I took my time over and went back to re-visit and really think about.
I think this is a book everyone should read. I don’t care what your ethnic background is, whether you live in America or not, this book addresses the very essence of racial inequality (and any prejudice, for that matter). It will show you just a sliver of what it feels like, and it will force you to confront your own discomfort as you read. I don’t care if you don’t read poetry – read this book anyway.
A provocative meditation on race, Claudia Rankine’s long-awaited follow up to her groundbreaking book Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric.
Claudia Rankine’s bold new book recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. Some of these encounters are slights, seeming slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, on the tennis court with Serena Williams and the soccer field with Zinedine Zidane, online, on TV-everywhere, all the time. The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person’s ability to speak, perform, and stay alive. Our addressability is tied to the state of our belonging, Rankine argues, as are our assumptions and expectations of citizenship. In essay, image, and poetry, Citizen is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, often named “post-race” society. – Goodreads
Author: Claudia Rankine
Published By: Greywolf Press
Released: October 7, 2014 (first published January 1, 2014)
Genre: Poetry, Social Commentary, Politics, Race