Citizen by Claudia Rankine is defiant, affirming and relevant. Read it to understand that oppression has never been as black and white.
This is a book that will make you want to be heard and seen. In this collection Rankine assesses microaggressions and oppression-fuelled assassinations of character that follow black people around in America and abroad. Citizen isn’t just a push for the recognition and dismantlement of systems of discrimination, there is a truly unique representation of marginalisation that resides in its pages.
Citizen is an eye-opening non-fiction/fiction collage of society. As you read it baffles you why you know the world she describes so well, yet are oblivious to some of it’s injustices. Citizen is so informed and intelligently told, and importantly, it’s difficult to stomach – and that discomfort, that obliviousness that we all unwittingly harbour, is why you must read it.
To give you a taste of the sheer variety of Citizen: Rankine writes hard-hitting free verse on Serena Williams and the racism she has felt in her career which I found fascinating, a work surrounding the relief effort during Hurricane Katrina – a haunting poem which is one of my favourites in this collection, and one on black woman being not be seen, literally and metaphorically, by a white man in a queue.
One of the things that Rankine does so well is punctuate these poems with multimedia that throws the themes of her words into greater relief. Images of a black boy with the ripples of a hurricane’s waves across his face, a tirade of text quoting activist and author Zora Neale Hurston and a screenshot of a youtube explaining rap: these are just some of the memories of blackness that Rankine presents to us for inspection.
It’s difficult to do this poetry collection justice just using my own words, as Rankine summarises feelings of fear, anguish and the constant hum of oppression so startlingly well:
‘Daily diminishment is a low flame, a constant drip’ (p.32)
This is a line that particularly stood out to me. Several of the poems in here reflect a shared, expected reality for the black community – the expectation of being branded with alterity and invisibility – in a way that is unlike anything else I have read. The power of this book is so monumental. I’d recommend it as a non-fiction history lesson of black identity in popular culture, a vivid transportive poetry collection that teleports you across eras and back again and as a politically charged, yet human, work of literature. I cannot wait to hear even more from Rankine.
Read if you loved: Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Davis, Linton Kwesi Johnson’s Collected Poems and The Sellout by Paul Beatty.
What have you been reading, please shower me with poetry recs!