How Would You Feel?

Often readers find themselves disconnected from certain works of literature they read in their lifetime, because of this it is important for writers to use many different literary devices to maintain readers intersts by making them feel connected to the piece. Throughout the poem “Because of Your Elite Status” by Claudia Rankine a Jamaican poet, essayist, and playwright who graduated from Colombia University, often utilizes the literary device of second person. In the piece the reader is referred to by using the word you, in two situations where race seems to be a problem. At first you the reader are seated on a plane, assumably a white child boards the plane with her mother and is stunned to see you a person of color seated in the row of three. In the other scenario you are an alumna at lunch with another fellow alumna who tells you about the multiple generations of her family who had gone to the school you both attended.

 

When you are seated on the plane and the white woman approaches with her daughter the poem states “The girl, looking over at you, tells her mother, these are our seats, but this is not what i expected”(Rankine 12). After the child states how surprised she was to see you presumably a person of color in her seat her mother then sits in the middle seat in order to place a barrier between you and her child. Rankine really allows the reader to shift from their daily lives into the shoes of the character who is seated on the plain by directly placing them into the characters life. By doing this the reader is forced to put themselves in the same situation and think about what their reaction would be.

Another instance where Rankine puts the reader in the driver’s seat of scenarios is when the character we are supposedly reading about, an alumna is joined by another alumna who is presumably white. She begins to tell you about how her son was not allowed to attend the school because of programs that were put into action in order to help people of color advance in society; by giving them certain advantages based off of their skin color. The poem causes the reader to think personally on the situation by stating “You are not sure if you are meant to apologize for this failure of your alma master’s legacy program; instead you ask where he ended up” (Rankine 13). By the reader being referred to as you in this text the reader is being directly questioned in this situation. Throughout the poem the readers outside presence switches to a more intimate version, where the reader can truly place themselves in the situation at hand; they begin to question how they would react and feel. By using the word you the reader is given an active role of power throughout the poem which makes the entire reading more personable.

 

Works Cited

Rankine, Claudia. “Because of Your Elite Status”. Citizen An American Lyric, Graywolf Press, 2014,pp. 12-13.

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One thought on “How Would You Feel?

  1. I, too, believe the use of the word “you” is significant in that it allows the reader to read from a different, specifically a person of color’s, perspective. In placing the reader in the position of a person of color, it allows the reader to feel a different set of emotions. Furthermore, the word “you” not only puts the reader in a POC position, it puts them in a POC mindset as well, showcasing one of the many ways POC think about certain situations. Additionally, I think it’s interesting that while we think the word “you” is referring to a person of color’s perspective, the title “Because of Your Elite Status” thus puts us in another perspective, presumably a white person’s (hence the word “elite”). The title in juxtaposition to the poem helps the reader view two different perspectives of the word “you”.

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