The famous African-American baseball player, Jackie Robinson once said, “The right for every American to first-class citizenship is the most important issue of our time.” That was in the 20th century, and today in our 21st century, the issue is still crucial. The poet, Claudia Rankine writes on the significance of citizenship and the the struggles faced by blacks in obtaining first-class citizenship in America in her collection, Citizen: An American Lyric (2014).
Let’s specifically focus on the no-title poem on page 14 about the argument the beginning character called “a friend” makes about the two identities, “historical self” and “self self” in lines 2-3. The ‘self self” identity is further broken down as black self and white self which transitions from a friendship with no conflict to one of conflict throughout the poem because their history creates different identities and placement in their shared America.
Rankine symbolism when she writes the words “Americans battle.” Symbolism is the use of an object or word(s) to suggest a larger meaning or idea. To better display the symbol Rankine uses, let’s look at the opening line from the poem which says, “A friend argues that Americans battle between the “historical self” and the “self self.” The words ‘Americans battle’ acts as symbols because they produce the effects of historical connotations to slavery and the civil war as an american battle for freedom and equality between blacks and whites. Those two words also imply that it was not peaceful but rather bloody and gruesome because of the word battle. In terms of surrounding text in relation to the symbol, the ‘historical self’ is at battle with the ‘self self’ in the poem.This brings up the association of the civil rights movement and the black lives moment because they are essentially battles between black and whites for freedom and equal citizenship in America.
The symbol of ‘Americans battle’ produces these associations and connotations because the racial history of America is highly memorable and characterizing in terms of the country. Some of the biggest American battles are ones based of race and for citizenship. The word battle placed in front of the word Americans brings up images of bloody conquest, stripping away native land, and forced labor like on cotton plantations. These effects are significant because the American history is one grounded and founded in racial inequality and discrimination. So, when the words ‘Americans battle’ are in the same line as ‘historical self’ and ‘self self’ (black self and white self) the message created of race relations and unfairness helps to convey Rankine’s message. The symbol of “American battles” helps to convey the fight between black and whites for black equality.
Jackie Robinson and Claudia Rankine both note the need to address the issue of black not feeling like first-class citizens in America because they are not despite it being a vital part of feeling like they belong here. Rankine goes a step further by using the symbol of ‘Americans battle’ to showcase the two types of Americans, black and whites, and how the battle for blacks to feel like first-class citizens is one based of historical discrimination and prejudice. ‘Americans battles’ stand for the inequality in citizenship that blacks face and how that creates a conflict between blacks and whites, even those who are friends.
Rankine, Claudia. Citizen : An American Lyric. Minneapolis, Minnesota : Graywolf Press, , 2014. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx? direct=true&db=cat00326a&AN=dico.1363424&site=eds-live&scope=site.
“Jackie Robinson Quotes.” BrainyQuote.com. Brainy Media Inc, 2019. 8 February 2019. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/jackie_robinson_140158