The Impacts of Racism: Citizen

In the final section of Citizen, by Claudia Rankine, the word “you” is focused on heavily. Within the first few pages of this section, the word “you” was being used so much that I was completely lost. But after reading it over a few times I began to realize that Rankine is trying to emphasize the word “you” to put the readers in the shoes of the black men and women who experience racism on a daily basis. “You are you even before you grow into understanding you are not anyone, worthless, not worth you” (139). In this quote, I believe Rankine is explaining how you are already at a disadvantage once you are born black. Before you even understand who you really are, you are worthless in the rest of society’s eyes due to your skin color. “Even though your own weight insists you are here, fighting off the weight of nonexistence” (139). This quote explains how although your physical weight and body are proof that you exist, that is the only thing fighting off the notion that you are nothing. There are many more examples throughout the first half of this section in which Rankine uses the word “you” to try and impact readers and make the experiences of racism resonate with them more.

In the second half of the final chapter, Rankine revisits the subject of Trayvon Martin. “Trayvon Martin’s name sounds from the car radio a dozen times each half hour. You pull your love back into the seat because though no one seems to be chasing you, the justice system has other plans” (151)”. On July 13th, 2013, George Zimmerman was acquitted in the Trayvon Martin killing. A black citizen hears the news over the radio, and their significant other’s reaction is described. One is angry at the verdict and reacts accordingly, while the other attempts to calm them down. Even though you are not in danger, the justice system will find a way to hurt you. “Yes, and this is how you are a citizen: Come on. Let it go. Move on” (151). As a black citizen, ignoring the unfair circumstances and racism to avoid further problems is a route many take. But should that be the way all people handle situations like this?

On the final page of the book, there is an image that seems to be detailing an ocean with many other features. When I look at it, on the right page I see a black leg with a chain around it, showing that blacks are locked behind barriers in our society. There are fish and rushing water beside it, implying that the black leg is going to be washed away and forgotten. When I then look at the left page, I see a zoomed-out picture, showing the surroundings of that leg. By looking at the left picture first and the right picture second, I feel that there is more emphasis on that leg being washed away and forgotten in a bigger ocean. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Focusing on the Trayvon Martin section of this blog post, do you think that it is best to sit back and “let it go” when it comes to seeing examples of racism throughout your life, or is it better to step in and act, regardless of what backlash you will receive?
  2. Racism will never fully disappear in my opinion, but at the very least it is important to not let these instances of racism be forgotten (Trayvon Martin). In what ways can we make sure that these issues are never forgotten, and in what ways can we use these unfortunate situations as a learning tool?

12 thoughts on “The Impacts of Racism: Citizen”

  1. Hey, Owen. Great blog post. I was also caught up in the use of “you” throughout the novel, mainly because there is rarely any literature written in the second person. The only instance I could think of was the Netflix show “You”, which is about a stalker and his relationship. I feel that this point of view is rarely used because of how personal it is, it makes the audience feel as though they are directly where the main character is, which is another thing you pointed out that I agree with. I believe Rankine did this in order to place the reader directly into each and every situation that the main character faces due to her face. When she uses other people, such as Serena Williams and Trayvon Martin, I believe she utilizes their stories to emphasize the realness of racism and how it affects the main character.

  2. Hey, Owen. I really liked your blog post. I agree with what you said about Rankine using “you” throughout the novel. I think it was done purposely to make a greater impact. It is a bit unnerving to read the word “you” in these stories. On page 143, she says “you there, hey you” which made me feel a bit uncomfortable when reading it because I felt like I was being called out. I’ve never read a book written in the second person before, and I think Rankine’s choice to do so makes the book more powerful.

  3. Hey Owen, I like the route you went in your blog post and the commentary on “you” as the second person narration in Rankine’s book. There is a quotation from Rankine that she uses the let the reader understand how even if “you” are not the exact person fitting the crime, there is a crime in being born a black American. “And you are not the guy and still you fit the description because there is only one guy who is always the guy fitting the description” (105) Rankine’s explanation of this is important in pushing people to speak up if someone is on the receiving end of a microaggression because- even if the victim right now wasn’t the initial target, someone else will also be targeted when uncorrected racist behavior is exhibited.

  4. Hey Owen, I truly enjoyed reading your blog post and you made very valid points on how Rankine uses the “you” and it makes it as if you are actually in the story and the author is actually talking to you. This is very effective to get a message across and to reach out to the readers. I have never read a book that was in the second person and I enjoy this. Rankine is reaching out and describing real life situations that the readers have been in or heard of. Referring to question one, I believe that it is important to step up and act for what you believe is right because that is the only way that change will happen. Change does not happen over night but it only takes one person to step up and fight back. I agree with your statement in the second question. Racism will never disappear, it will be hidden and covered up at most.

  5. Hey Owen, I think you had a very unique way of seeing the chapters that you read. Especially the use of the word you. As I was reading I never once thought of the word you, and if I were to go back and re-read it, I think it would be more impactful. Tryin to put yourself in their shoes and trying to feel exactly what they are feeling instead of reading the words as if you already heard their story before. I think if rankin hadn’t used this book in 2nd person or had made this book all about black peoples life struggles and real life examples, this would just be another book people would overlook. We can make sure all of these examples are never forgotten by social movements, protesting, more books like these, making it know to the world that this is not okay and that we won’t stand for this. Leading by example and sticking up for people that are being attacked. Doing as much as you possibly can to make everyone aware that this is a issue and there must be a change immediately. I think that racism has been imbedded in our roots since the beginning of our country and that I think there is hope that racism won’t last forever but I think we need thousands and thousands of years for healing and forgiveness and knowledgeable people who are willing to realize this isn’t right and we need to move forward as one.

    1. Hi Owen, this was a great post and I enjoyed how you focused on Trayvon Martin. This section of the book truly shows how black people felt when this happened. The line on page 151, “Yes, and this is how you are a citizen: Come on. Let it go. Move on.” shows that even though they are citizens of this country, they still feel unsafe. It is a sad truth that black people live in a constant fear in his country. This line in particular is so moving to the reader, because it shows just how they feel. Hearing the news over the radio automatically triggered a response to go and hide; to keep your head down and just move on. It is awful that it is still happening today, and that this book is so relevant in 2019.

  6. Hey Owen, I really like your take on Rankine’s use of the word “You”. I was very confused reading it at first as well, and your explanation of it helped me understand it even more. To answer your first question, I don’t think you should sit back and “let it go”. I feel that people need to step up and fight against racism even if there is backlash. If we all come together and stand together we can get a lot more done when dealing with racism. A quote from the book that really got to me was on page 146, “The worst injury is feeling you don’t belong so much to you-“. I can’t imagine what that must feel like, feeling like you don’t even belong to yourself; we need to do better as a society and come together and fight against ignorant people.

  7. Hey Owen! Really great job with this blog post, the way Rankine addresses the reader as “you” also throws me off a bit. Sometimes when I am reading I almost feel as though I am in the wrong when she says “you.” I also really like your first question. I do not think that you should just sit back and let it go. I think that you should always stand up for people regardless of the backlash. There are some exceptions to this, if you feel as if you are in a dangerous situation I would say that you should maybe back down. To answer your second question, I think that writing books like this or just continuing to talk about racism and the problem it still is today is important in keeping the problem relevant.

  8. Hi Owen, really great post!! This book has already changed my stance on racism. For example, over the weekend a friend of mine made a stereotypical joke. Although they didn’t mean any harm by it, I told them it wasn’t funny or ok for them to say that. Prior to reading this I probably would’ve just ignored them. I remember when Trayvon Martin was killed because it was all media would talk about, “Trayvon Martin’s name sounds from the car radio a dozen times each half hour.” (151) Dealing with racism is hard because it already exists and is being taught even when we don’t mean it to be. What I mean by that is when someone makes a joke it still does damage. I think it’s important to remind racists that they won’t win by teaching future generations that we are all equal. It’s also important to talk about events such as Trayvon Martin being gunned down and how it was wrong.

  9. Hey Owen, I really enjoyed this blog post and related strongly with your confusion by the way Rankine used the word “you.” This was the first novel I ever read in second person; throughout it I was forced to try to understand and put myself in the uncomfortable situations African Americans are forced to go through every day. Many times when doing this I also had to go back and reread parts several times in order to understand what I was envisioning and the feelings that were arising. To answer your second question, I think the use of second person in books like Citizen help us learn about and not forget these situations by forcing the reader, regardless of their race, to be in that moment. It was definitely a learning tool for me and has made me think a lot about how quickly impactful what people do or say can be.

  10. Hi Owen, I loved reading your blog post. To answer your first question, I don’t think that we should “let it go” when there is racism heard or seen. Personally, I believe it shows what type of character you have when sticking up to racism. This will evoke change in society when more people stand the stand to racism. If we go against the ignorant thinking in America, I believe the world would be a much better place.

  11. Owen,

    This is a very well thought out blog post, I feel that I looked at the book with more understanding after you explained some quotes. I agree with the ideas in your blog post, that African Americans have to endure unfair circumstances and racism is our society today. Although many times when they go through situations of racism and unfairness, they keep it to themselves to avoid backlash. The thought that African Americans are afraid to speak up because of the consequences is one of the many issues with our society. Everyone, regardless of their color, should feel comfortable enough to stand up for what they believe in and act in whatever way they see fit. Therefore, I do not think that it is better to sit back and “let it go.” I feel that it is always better to stop and react. Stopping to react and doing what you believe is right could change someone’s outlook or beliefs. If more people paid attention and did what was right, there is room to make a difference.

    I agree, it is important that issues like Trayvon Martin are never forgotten. I think one way to do that is never loose feeling. As long as people hold onto the way that a tragedy like that made them feel, change can happen. Rankine writes on page 152, “Can feelings be a hazard, a warning sign, a disturbance, a distaste, the disgrace?” The truth is feelings can be all those things, and feelings can root change in this society.


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