Use of the word “YOU”: Citizen An American Lyric

In the last section of the book, Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine one word that is commonly referred to is the word “you”. The definition of you is used to refer to the person or people the speaker is addressing. With this we can assume that the author, Rankine, wants the reader to be put in the position of the “minority”. Giving us the thoughts and feelings to get through the mission of everyday racism. In the quote, “Nobody notices, only you’ve known, you’re not sick, not crazy, not angry, not sad- It’s just this, you’re injured” (Rankine 145); I get the understanding that when she says “you’re injured” she is speaking about the physical, psychological, and emotional instability these people endured. Evidence that may support this is “The worst injury is feeling you don’t belong so much to you-” (Rankine 146). By what Rankine is saying by this is even though you are a person and know you are, others see you’re skin color and race as second class citizens.

One the final page of the book there is a close up picture and the zoomed out picture. In the close up view, you see a black leg with chains, birds, and fish swimming. The chained leg symbolizes the hardships and struggles that African American culture has faced. Whereas, the birds and fish all symbolize freedom; the freedom to go where ever they would like without judgement and struggles. As one looks at the expanded or zoomed out view there’s more to the picture that can be interpreted. In the background you see a ship which could have two meanings. The first meaning is freedom; the freedom to sail the open sea without restrictions or consequences. The second can be taken another way where they were brought over on ships and taken in as slaves. The beginning of lost rights, hardships, struggles, and finally barriers along the way. These symbols made the saying second class citizens come more into picture.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Looking more closely at the two pictures in the end of the book. What do you think are the symbols the author is trying to get across the reader’s mind?
  1. The word “you” is used heavily in the second half of the reading. What do you think the word “you” is being interpreted as? After understanding the use of the word “you”, do you feel that you were put in the position of the author was?

3 thoughts on “Use of the word “YOU”: Citizen An American Lyric”

  1. Hi Brooke, this blog posts is very compelling especially about how the author uses the word “you”. Throughout the book she challenges the reader to look at the situations she presents as if it were them. I like the style in which writes and I think it helps many to rather think about their actions in the long run. While this very imperative piece of literature comes to an end, it leaves us with two pictures of art that are as well imperative. The first painting is a picture of a ship that is sailing away from hands in the body of water. These hands have chains on them as if the people who were drowning in the water and could swim. In the second painting it shows a close of the first painting’s bottom right corner. It is a detailed foot with fishes around them, showing the dramatics and purpose of this painting. The leg is in chains primarily to probably show that the person who probably a slave and was tossed off the ship. The fishes if you look closely some have blood, this is telling us that the people tossed off the boat were never found mainly due to being eaten by the fish and there was no evidence of them again.

    One of the most important quotes from this reading that I could relate to is when she states, “Every day your opens and receives the kiss the world offers, which seals you shut though you are feeling sick to your stomach about the beginning of the feeling that was born from understanding and now stumbles around in you” (154).

  2. Hey Brooke, I really liked your blog post! The images on the last two pages also really stood out to me too. For me, the close-up picture with the foot and animals was a lot more macabre. The deep red colors around the fish almost give a feeling of a feeding frenzy going on. There is also red stains around the mouths of some of the fish that also add to the idea of a feeding frenzy. Thalassophobia is described as being a fear of the ocean. The idea of floating and not having any idea what lays beneath you is one that terrifies many people. The fact that when the slaves were thrown overboard they didn’t just drown, but were devoured invokes hellish torture. The feeling of struggling to stay afloat for air while mystery creatures are trying to pull you down from beneath is one very few will ever understand the torment of.

  3. Hi Brooke!

    I think this is a very well thought out blogpost. I think that the increase in the utilization of the word “you” within the second half of the book is important. This allows the reader to be put in the position of the person that Rankine is describing. This book is a collection of microagressions, and using the second person point of view, and saying the work “you” really illuminates these microagressions. Using the word “you” make the reader feel uncomfortable, which is one of the goals Rankine had in writing this novel. These microagressions were uncomfortable for the person experiencing them, and by using the word “you” as opposed to he or she, it makes the reader feel uncomfortable too. Rankine does a really good job of putting racism, and racist comments into perspective. Racism is still present today, and reading this novel makes you realize how prevalent it truly is in American society. One of the quotes that stuck out to me the most was on page 153, Rankine writes “You smile dumbly at the world because you are still feeling if only the feeling could be known and this brings on the moment you recognize as desire” (Rankine, 153). As well as this, on page 159 “Did you win? he asks,” “it wasn’t a match. I say. It was a lesson.” Both of these are important in showcasing the ways in which Rankin utilizes the word “you” in the second half of the novel.

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