In the 21st century … We are colorblind

Freddie Gray

In the 21st century, the color of your skin can determine the numbness one feels to racial profiling, micro aggression, and cop sirens. In the 21st century, expecting to be pulled over in a car because of your skin color is a reoccurring lived experience. In the poem “Stop-and-Frisk” attributed to the collection Citizen: An American Lyric (2014), Claudia Rankine uses recurring patterns and rhythm to illuminate the deep roots of systematic racism within the criminal justice system which black Americans have been forcefully grown accustomed to.

“Each time it begins in the same way, it doesn’t begin the same way, each time it begins it’s the same. Flashes, a siren, the stretched-out roar—” (Rankine, 107).

The patterns of wording in Rankine’s poem potentially mirror the repetitive nature of the systems of which she and black identifying Americans are oppressed by. Despite the changing narratives previous to, or following, “same,” the ending remains unchanged. Rankine’s use of repetition challenges her audience to consider the inevitability of this racialized injustice. Rankine’s use of repetition positions her audience to glimpse into the perpetual racialized experience which the protagonist is subject to, despite change in narrative.

“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” (Rankine, 108).

In the second quote, Rankine’s repetition of “the guy fitting the description,” places similar emphasis on the inevitability of “the guy” being subjected to racial profiling. Rankine’s deliberate identification of the offender under the vague title of “the guy” further exaggerates the ambiguous nature of racial profiling common within the criminal justice system. The confidence which Rankine positions her audience to anticipate the racial oppression of the maybe, maybe-not offender in her poem provokes her audience to reevaluate the passive acknowledgment of America’s racialized criminal justice system.

Trayvon Martin

Work Cited

Rankine, Claudia. “Stop-and-Frisk.” Citizen: An American Lyric, Graywolf Press, 2014.

B2

Stop-and-Frisk, This is what it looks like

 

“To understand the universe you need to…” was the practice sentence that my Portuguese professor presented to us in class and my first response was the language itself. I believe understanding language is critical to how we communicate with one another. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric demonstrates how the absence of quotation marks impacts the understanding of her writing.

Rankine’s prose creates a unique way of reading and understanding her work, especially in the poem “Stop-and-Frisk” in which she sets the stage for a play on words, truth, and dichotomy:

“This is what it looks like. You know this is wrong. This is not what it looks like. You need to be quiet. This is wrong. You need to close your mouth now. This is what it looks like. Why are you talking if you haven’t done anything wrong?” (Rankine 108).

The apparent dialogue is stripped of quotation marks. This style of narration zooms out of the direct confrontation between two people and allows readers to examine what the narrator is voicing. The presence of the word “You” highlights the familiarity of stop-and-frisk, and the contrasts from sentence to sentence suggest the internalization of these occurrences.

The presence of the sentences starting with “You need to…” can be the words of the cop, but it can also be the thoughts of the victim who’s vocalization has become criminalized. Pairing these commands with the words “this is wrong” illustrates the process behind the narrator deciding on what move to make next. Throughout this small part of the poem, repetition, and the ambiguity of dialogue alludes to the systematic oppression that creates these encounters. This internal dialogue can show just how normalized it is to fear encounters with police in the black community.

Just as black bodies are criminalized, black voices are repeatedly dismissed in their efforts to narrate their own experiences, on the streets and in classrooms alike. In her depiction of Stop-and-Frisk, Rankine’s structure of language forces readers to listen more closely to the narrator’s voice by contrasting each sentence with the one preceding and/or following it. We as readers are able to find deeper understanding of the complexity of communication in Stop-and-Frisk, all without the use of quotation marks. 

Image result for stop and frisk

Works Cited

Rankine, Claudia. “This is what it looks like.” Citizen: An American Lyric. Graywolf      

         Press, 2014.

B2

Seething Salad: How Alliteration Helps Establish Tone in “A Woman You Do Not Know”

Claudia Rankine’s poem “A Woman You Do Not Know,” as part of her 2014 poetry collection Citizen, covers an uncomfortable lunch meeting between two women, one of color and one not, who had once attended the same college.  The white woman mentions her son did not get accepted into their school on account of affirmative action or “minority something,” but is instead attending another prestigious school (13).  The second to last line of the poem ends with the second-person perspective line: “This exchange, in effect, ends your lunch” (13).  It is in this short sentence where the literary device of the alliteration has a powerful effect on the overall tone of the piece.   

The sentence is separated by commas into three short segments, each including a short “e” sound in the words “exchange,” “effect,” and “ends.”  These repeated sounds in conjunction with the short breaks in between them create a need to slow down while reading the sentence.  In effect, the repeating commas and e’s make the verbal diction of this line uncomfortable and abrupt to speak out loud.  The way the alliteration helps split the sentence into fragments and makes the spoken delivery short directly associates to the literal meaning of the line: that the subject gives up hope of having a positive lunch with the woman before the food even arrives.  The woman’s passive aggression against affirmative action and the notion that the poem’s second-person subject got to attend the college and her son never will helps bring out a tone of passivity, as if you have to suck your teeth or bite your tongue just to make it through the lunch you already gave up on.  The three “e” words themselves, exchange, effect, and ends, are also key moments in how the poem evolves.  The two individuals exchange just a few words before there is an effect of underlying racism in the air that in turn puts an end to any real amicability between the two.

B2

Works Cited

Rankine, Claudia. Citizen. Graywolf Press, 2014. (Book)

The Battle for Citizenship in America

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.

 

Work Cited

Rankine, Claudia. Citizen : An American Lyric. Minneapolis, Minnesota : Graywolf Press, [2014], 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

B2

A Place You Don’t Know

Can you survive a conversation about race and politics with a person of an opposing race? Many would answer this question with a yes why not? But in reality, many would explode in emotions and scream. Many of this conversations are indeed difficult due to not being able to articulate one’s ideas thoroughly and effectively, and yes containing one’s anger and frustration regarding this failure is even harder. This topic is also introduced in the second poem of Claudia Rankine’s collection of poems, Citizen: An American Lyric(2014). Rankine adequately develops the idea of racial conversations and the negative outcome of them in modern day societal terms.

Rankine develops the idea of racial uncomfortable conversations by the use of authorial intrusion, a figurative language tool that is unusually spoken of but well reaches the readers connection to the text. This literary device is the usage of the second person point of view instead of the more common first and third person by the author. Rankine uses this tool specially in the opening of her second poem as well as throughout the rest of the poem, she sets the stage with this tool and forms the platform to the rest of her poem in which the ideas flow cohesively and understandably in the readers point of view. This can be shown in the quote,

 “A woman you do not know wants to join you for lunch. You are visiting her campus. In the café you both order Caesar salad. This overlap is not the beginning of anything because she immediately points out that she, her father, her grandfather, and you, all attended the same college…” (Rankine 13)

 The usage of authorial intrusion proves to be effective in captivating the essence of the scene and portraying it in a way that readers can clearly and easily create an image in their minds. When an author uses second person, it becomes easier for the reader to imagine themselves in the scene, when readers can imagine themselves in the scene, they can create a better connection with the author. This better connection then leads to better understanding of the meaning behind the poem. In regard to Rankine poem the readers are able to set the uncomfortable setting in their minds for the conversation that occurs within the first line “A women you do not know wants to join you for lunch”. The idea of the not knowing who one is having lunch with creates an unsettling feeling that is deeply generated throughou