Citizen: An American Lyric

“because white men can’t 

police their imagination

black men are dying”

I reread Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric recently. Published in 2014, this poetic, artistic snapshot of Black life in the US is stunning in its impact and intellectual heft. The book is decidedly not written for white men like me, and can, maybe should make white people uncomfortable. The combination of Rankine’s play with subject positions and the language’s poetic density makes me connect with the (narrative) voices. 

Citizen was The Stacks Podcast book of the month (part of the reason I reread it). I really recommend listening to the episode. Darnell Moore’s excellent critique of what is left invisible (queer, trans Black lives) and the strengths of indeterminacy really expanded my understanding of the book.

The responses were various. One man said he was moved by a reading I gave and wanted to do something to help me. I said I personally had a privileged life, which I do, and that I didn’t need his help. What I needed was for him—this was a white gentleman—to understand the urgency of the situation for him and to help himself in an America that was so racially divided. It wasn’t about him coming from his own position of privilege—of white privilege—to take black people on as a burden, but rather to understand that we are all part of the same broken structures. He said, I can take what you’re saying, but you’re going to shut down everybody else in this audience. And all of a sudden I was like, What? I thought you wanted to help me! To remove him from the role of “white savior” was to attack him in his own imagination.


Claudia Rankine responds to Johari Osayi Idusuyi reading her book, “Citizen: An American Lyric,” at a Donald Trump rally.

Video: Worlds collide: Reading poetry at a Donald Trump rally

The Rachel Maddow Show segment linked above about the protest-through-poetry-reading is a really interesting recap of the action and a good (if slightly awkward) interview with Johari Osapy Idusuyi. Such a small but fascinating story.

(Plus, I’m ordering Claudia Rankine’s Citizen asap.)