Why We Should All Read Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

While incredible books such as White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo and How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi are currently at the top of multiple best sellers’ lists, it would be remiss not to mention Claudia Rankine’s book-length poem and winner of the 2014 national Book Critics Circle Award for poetry, Citizen: An American Lyric. In her book, Rankine describes the impact of microaggressions with the power only a poet possesses. The book is written in second person, forcing the reader to be in Rankine’s mind. From a white girl refusing to sit next to her on a plane to a heartbreaking list of names of the countless victims of police brutality, Claudia Rankine gives the reader a glimpse into her everyday life as a black woman. 

Along with her experiences as a black woman, Rankine analyzes multiple microaggressions we have seen on television (and most likely dismissed). Amid this analysis, Rankine goes into detail on the treatment of Serena Williams at the 2009 US Open. Rankine beautifully writes: “Serena in HD before your eyes becomes overcome by a rage you recognize and have been taught to hold at a distance for your own good” (28). In her recounting of the 2009 US Open, Rankine relates to Serena Williams’s anger and frustration, something she has been forced to hold onto her entire life. Citizen serves as Rankine’s attempt to communicate these seemingly perpetual annoyances that have not crossed many readers’ minds. 

Despite the fact that Citizen was published in 2014, Rankine’s poetry continues to be incredibly relevant. Rankine ends one of the most powerful sections of her book with a quote that horrifyingly rings true six years after writing it: 

because white men can’t

police their imagination

black men are dying

You can get Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine delivered to you from these bookstores now. 

Photo courtesy of Big Bang Poetry

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