Imagery and Escapism

Some tragedies are difficult to confront. Claudia Rankine’s poem from Citizen: An American Lyric (2014) titled “February 26, 2012 / In Memory of Trayvon Martin” uses imagery to show a desire to escape from the police brutality that affects the black community in the United States. Specifically, Rankine utilizes images of nature, which evoke a sense of peace that juxtaposes the event that the poem was inspired by. Imagery is a type of descriptive language that appeals to the senses and prompts the reader to create a mental picture inspired by the language.

Rankine’s repeated images of nature echo throughout the poem. In the fourth paragraph, mentions of the sky are woven between mentions of struggle and pain. Rankine writes, “On the tip of a tongue one note following another is another path, another dawn where the pink sky is the bloodshot of struck, sleepless, of sorry, of senseless, shush.” (89). The image of the pink sky falls in the middle of the sentence, which is concluded by a series of words that connote negative emotions. In this line, I was drawn to the image of the sky as it contrasts strongly with the emotions evoked by “struck, sleepless, sorry, senseless, shush” (89). Then, Rankine uses the image of blossoms to juxtapose violence, slavery, and brutality. Following a list of instances of violence and institutional racism, Rankine writes, “a throat slices through and when we open our mouths to speak, blossoms, o blossoms… The sky is the silence of brothers” (90). Rankine’s brutal image of hanging is juxtaposed here by the image of blossoms, which the reader associates with softness.

The effects provided by Rankine’s imagery are significant, as they offer a glimpse into the speaker’s coping mechanisms for grieving Trayvon Martin. By returning to images of blossoms and the sky, Rankine shows a desire to escape from the realities of police brutality.

Works Cited

Rankine, Claudia. “February 26, 2012 / In Memory of Trayvon Martin.” Citizen: An American Lyric, Graywolf Press, 2014.

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Race : The Elephant In The Room

 

Why don’t we talk openly about race? I think this image presents just a few reasons why. But within the history of the united states, race is subject that is barely explored in depth, whether it be in the media or between friends in conversation. It is hard to talk about race, and it is also difficult to understand the real reason why. Claudia Rankine’s collection of poems in her book, Citizen: An American Lyric (2014), explains and presents exactly why peopler so afraid of these conversations, and she does this without any of the frilly poetic elements you would expect from an collection of poems. Rankine is to the point, and states bluntly why, without needing to soften the blow – because it is time that we recognize this deafening silence and tune into the static, white noise that has been the soundtrack of the American life for centuries.

Within the opening of Citizen: An American Lyric (2014), Rankine includes a poem that exemplifies the difficulty of having conversations about race. She frames this issue by addressing the reader directly and inserting them into a conversation between a black and a white friend, allowing. The reader to choose who they align with. Through this, Rankine formulates her poem into a personal experience for the readers and furthermore forces them to think about their own interactions, and their own shortcomings or obstacles within racial discourse.

Rankine introduces the concept of one’s “self” and ones “historical self”. “Self” meaning the way in which one views and presents themselves aside from their race, and “historical self” meaning the way in which one is labeled categorized or perceived due to the historical context of the color of their skin within American history. Rankine’s use of diction in relation to the convergence of a black and a white persons’ “historical [selves]” is both broad and specific, but through this duality, Rankine creates a moving statement within the text that pinpoints the difficulty of racial discourse.

“However, sometimes your historical selves, her white self and your black self, or your white self and her black self, arrive with the full force of your American positioning”

The use of broad diction in reference to the phrase “American Positioning” forces readers to pause and think about the impact of the writers choice. What is my position? Where does my historical self put me? The word position has several different meanings. When we think of position we often think of a literal place in which exist, where we literally stand. Or, we think of position in terms of advantage or disadvantage, where we stand compared to others. Rankine’s choice of diction brings to light all of these implications and definitions and forces readers to confront that their “American positioning” will never be defined by their “self” but by their “historical self”, because race in America will always be at the root of all interactions, friendships, schools, institutions, and governments. It forces readers of all ethnic backgrounds to acknowledge that they are physically positioned in a nation that is designed to oppress, and that they are either in a position of advantage or disadvantage.

Rankine’s choice of diction is a small yet central component to the piece as the vague nature of the word forces them to confront themselves, but simultaneously the bluntness of the statement and connotations that are aroused demonstrate exactly why there is a fear associated with racial discourse. People are afraid – especially white people – are afraid of realizing the position that was built for them. And minorities, specifically African Americans in the case of the poem understand this position yet have to live in a nation that will not acknowledge this injustice aloud.

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Caroline Berezin

Works Cited

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

The Clash of Blackness and Authority (B2)

The American society is decorated with a history of racism and as of today, racism is still prevalent everywhere you look because America has imbedded race in everything, to the point when it dictates how you are treated. In the book Citizen by Claudia Rankine, particularly the story Stop and Frisk the literary device allegory is used to explain a symbol that conveys a deeper meaning, that symbol in this case is the process of a Black individual being wrongfully accused for something they didn’t do and the deeper meaning is the racism Blacks go through when they are unfairly accused of a crime.  

Image result for police brutality against blacks

Within the first passage of the story is this quote, “Everywhere were flashes, a siren sounding and a stretched-out roar. Get on the ground. Get on the ground now. Then I just knew.” This shows what exactly happens when a Black person is pulled over by the police. The Police become overly aggressive as a reaction from fear of blackness and the Black individual does everything, they can to seem less dangerous by cooperating and being selective, cautious with their tone and diction, one wrong move and it’ll all escalate. All you can do is cooperate because of the fear of dying. In the sixth passage there seems to be a conversation with the police officer and the Black man, or the Black man is having a conversation with himself within his subconscious as a way of trying to understand the situation he’s in. The dialogue has no parentheses, but it includes the words, “You didn’t do anything wrong. Why am I pulled over? Put your hands up.” However, thinking of that dialogue now it could just be him reassuring himself of what to do, even though he knows he did nothing wrong he also knows that the police officer doesn’t care if he is guilty or not so it’s best for him to just cooperate and appear less as a threat.  

Image result for police brutality against blacks

Nevertheless, Black men have been accused of crimes and misdemeanors that they didn’t commit but because they’re Black they were still blamed. Claudia Rankine states, “And still 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.” This is saying that yes, a Black man can be innocent but because he fits into a stereotype that all Blacks are dangerous and cause chaos in society, he often isn’t believed, he’s mistaken for something he isn’t, which connects back to the way your treated in society depending on if you’re White or Black and on how close you’re to whiteness which is acceptable in contrast to blackness. It shouldn’t be like this, but it is, and it won’t change until the actual aggressor changes their tactics and stop reacting with racial fear. 

                                                        Works Cited 

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

 

Is It Still History If It Reoccurs?

The fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin and the unjust acquittal of George Zimmerman would forever remain in history as the momentous incident that would spark the emergence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and its conversation about racism and systemic violence towards black people in America. Claudia Rankine’s poem “February 26, 2012/In Memory of Trayvon Martin” in her collection, Citizen: An American Lyric (2014), portrays the emotion of a black individual detailing the position black Americans stand in, both historically and in modern day society.

In her poem, “February 26, 2012/In Memory of Trayvon Martin”, Rankine structures her sentence about the history of the black American as a continuous list, using multiple commas, to depict both the consistent history of violence towards black people and its ongoing presence in modern society. This is evident in the sentence,

“Those years of and before me and my brothers, the years of passage, plantation, migration, of Jim Crow segregation, of poverty, inner cities, profiling, of one in three, two jobs, boy, hey boy, each a felony, accumulate into the hours inside our lives where we are all caught hanging, the rope inside us, the tree inside us, its roots our limbs, a throat sliced through and when we open our mouth to speak, […]” (Rankine 90).

In incorporating a long and continuous sentence with multiple commas, it portrays to the reader just how long and the multiple discriminatory acts black people have had to deal with. The beginning part of the sentence, “[…] the years of passage, plantation, migration, of Jim Crow segregation, of poverty, inner cities […]”, reads like an ongoing list of the historical racism black people faced beginning with slavery and the racist aftermath. Additionally, this excerpt draws our attention to how this racism towards black people is not just one point in time, but it repeats over history. The list begins with “passage” and “plantation”, which signifies the start of unacceptable treatment towards black people, and continues with “Jim Crow segregation”, “poverty”, and “inner cities” to further exemplify that even after slavery, there was still poor treatment towards black people and it continues as evident through socio-economic status and affected neighborhood.

In reference of the Trayvon Martin poem, this excerpt that reads like a passage is significant because it is exemplifying that there is a long history of prejudice and racism towards black people, and yet society is still trying to portray them as the enemy. This poem allows reader to feel the continuity of unfortunate treatment black people have had to deal with and continue to deal with every day. Trayvon’s death is the crux of this poem because he was just a young black boy living his life, when George Zimmerman decided to implement his own prejudiced views and take his life away.

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Works 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.

…But What Happens Next?

 

Elementary school taught me the five categories of race. Middle School introduced me to memes and taught me how to joke “That’s Racist!” to my friends. High School taught me that institutional power is an essential part of racism. And college is teaching me how to unpack the very notion of race as a “social construct,” thanks to writers such as Ijeoma Oluo and Chenjerai Kumanyika. These writers explore the confusing thing we call race.

Race is no easy topic of discussion. In our current society, many wonder why “social justice warriors” make such a fuss about it. I mean, why do we keep talking about something that is fake right?

Ijeoma Oluo’s book So You Want to Talk About Race, published in 2018, dives deeper into the idea of race as a social construct. Through her own narrative, Oluo says, “out of a social construct created to brutalize and oppress, we’ve managed to create a lot of beauty.” (21) Race is a system of power that imposes pain, but it also informs Oluo’s identity as a Black woman. And so the question is not whether we can simply be color blind and all get along in the future, but whether we can see race as an architect of both our society at large and personal lives too.

Chenjerai Kumanyika assistant professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers, and contributor of the “Seeing White” podcast, also builds upon the idea of the systematic power of racism. He also addresses how the word appears in our vernacular. Kumanyika says, “It’s not about just attitudes, like your distant cousin who’s a bigot. Right? But we also do use the term racist for that too” (Kumanyika). Throughout the podcast, Kumanyika expresses his confusion in having to grapple with an understanding of racism at the macro level in our institutions, and micro level in interactions between people. Hence, it is easy to throw the word “racist” around and create tension and confusion but no progress.

In their work, Both Oluo and Kumanyika acknowledge that race is systematic, ingrained into the institutions that organize our society. But they also paint a clearer picture into what we as individuals make of race outside of the system, and how race can simultaneously bridge and separate people.

While race is not scientific fact, it is still real socially, and very much “alive” (Oluo 12).  After 13 years of schooling, I now understand how race is a social construct, but what happens next? What conversations are there to be had after acknowledging the complex and confusing versatility of race?

Works Cited:

Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race. New York, Hachette Book Group, 2018

Kumanyika, Chenjerai. How Race Was Made (Seeing White Part 2). Scene On Radio, Mar. 1, 2017. http://www.sceneonradio.org/episode-32-how-race-was-made-seeing-white-part-2/

 

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via GIPHY

 

Socioeconomic divide or Systematic Racism

Once we have solved the gap in socioeconomic divide, issues of race will follow. According to Ijeoma Oluo author of So you want to talk about race, and recipient of the 2017 Humanist Feminist Award by the American Humanist Association, the statement above is a false misconception.

In So you want to talk about race, Oluo shares how identifying as a black, women of color in a white space, such as Seattle, has placed her in many positions of vulnerability and anger while explaining to her white friends how their white privilege works to oppress her every day struggle against systematic racism & oppression (Oluo, 35). In “Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s”, Omi & Winant, sociologists from University of Santa Barbara argue how systematic oppression of people of color roots itself within social and political power of hegemonic institutions such as the education system, government, Church ect (Omi, 67).

In reference to the ignorance of hegemony’s power to facilitate and prevail systemic racial oppression, friends of Oluo must understand the tickle down of this all-controlling inescapable void of oppression against all are non-white identifying. Yes, socioeconomics is a single aspect of how racism can effect the life of a person of color, but no it is far from the encapsulating answer to race.

Works Cited (MLA)

Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race. 2018. Print.

Omi, Michael W. H. Racial Formation in the United States: from the 1960s to the 1990s. Routledge, 2013. Print.

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What Was The Need For Race?

Image result for race

Race is a very puzzling idea for multiple people. Often there is a questioning of why such a concept was created in the first place. Along with who would want to be held responsible for separating humanity rather than bringing us closer together?

The answer of why race was created  and why it’s such an influential word are discussed in the book So You Want to Talk About Race a collection of short essays by writer, speaker, and internet yeller Ijeoma Oluo. The book describes how to have conversations relating to race, and how not to offend people when discussing such a sensitive topic, while giving readers a close look into Oluo’s encounters with issues relating to race throughout her life. The book states “The ultimate goal of racism was the profit and comfort of the white race,specifically, of rich white men. The oppression of people of color was an easy way to get this wealth and power, and racism was a good way to justify it.”(Oluo 32). This statement explains how race was an ideal created specifically for the enhancement of people who were not of color, rather than the lives of everyone.

Oluo’s statement lacks historical background, but the historical information presented in the podcast How Race Was Made by journalist, reporter, and documentary-maker John Biewen proves Olulo’s statement. The podcast describes the actions of a man named Zurara, who was given the task of documenting and writing a bibliography on Prince Henry’s process of  retrieving natives from Sub Saharan Africa in order to enslave them during the year 1444. The podcast describes Zurara’s actions by saying  “he had to basically combine all of the different ethnic groups that Prince Henry was enslaving into one people, and then describing that people as inferior” (Biewen). This statement is an early historical demonstration of people who looked the same being categorized as inferior, while making another group of people look superior.

Through understanding both of these quotes from Oluo’s book and Beiwen’s podcast, it is revealed that race was established only for the mere beneficiary of people who were not of color in society. It is hard to believe a false concept created so long ago that separates our world is still so influential. But ultimately race was created in order to justifiably oppress black and brown people for the benefit of people who were not of color in society.

Works Cited

Oluo, Ijeoma. So you want to talk about race. Seal Press, 2018, New York, NY.

“Seeing White, Part 2”. How Race Was Made. Scene On Radio. from Scene on Radio, 1 March 2017, http://www.sceneonradio.org/episode-32-how-race-was-made-seeing-white-part-2/

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For White People: The Dangers and Importance of Saying “I”

Part of the reason I dread holidays so much is I know I will face the same conversations with my extended family as I do every year.  At this point, I’ve got my script in the back of head ready so that I can whip out the usual responses to the usual questions involving my major, my relationships status, and my professional goals.  Two of the texts we analyzed so far in the course, Ijeoma Oluo’s 2018 book So You Want to Talk About Race and John Biewen’s 2017 podcast episode “Turning the Lens,” have brought my attention to a whole different area of conversation I haven’t had to come into contact with so much.  These texts help provide strategies for conversations about race, as well as providing information on the structures and concepts that hide underneath the things that people say.

In Oluo’s chapter “What if I talk about race wrong?” she writes various strategies and tips to keep in mind while engaging in conversations about race, which can be difficult but are also important to have.  One of her tips reads: “If you are white, watch how many times you say ‘I’ and ‘me’” (Oluo 47).  A lot of racism extends beyond the individual, manifesting in the larger structures and institutions that we engage in.  When a white person makes a conversation about race too much about their personal feelings, they are diminishing the role that race plays in the lives of others.  Yes, white people experience problems.  But people of color can experience the same problems in addition to having them be impacted by race.

 

John Biewen’s “Turning the Lens” episode is a part of his larger podcast titled Seeing White.  In this text, before discussing how institutional racism is prominent everywhere, Biewen mentions how “…white people ourselves are not very good at seeing whiteness” (Biewen).  It is easy, particularly for those who live in predominantly white areas or schools, to look at people of other ethnicities and backgrounds and the social problems they face as a result of their difference.  What Biewen helps highlight, however, is that the privileges of being white are what needs to be recognized as well.  It is whiteness as a kind of property (as we learn in my American Studies major) that is the code for hundreds of years of racial formations that have been created.

 

And so in connecting both Oluo and Biewen’s ideas, it’s important to recognize that racism has been constructed into many aspect of our lives.  When discussing race, it is important for white people to use personal pronouns carefully as to not try to diminish the significance or extremity of racism but while still recognizing moments when personal privileges are making an impact on individual treatment.

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Works Cited

Biewen, John. “Turning the Lens.” Seeing White. 2017. Podcast.

Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2018.

Race Is Real

Race, should it even be considered real? According to Ijeoma Oluo’s 2018 publication So You Want to Talk About Race, she addresses the idea of race having no meaning in terms of science, but still “[being] alive”(Oluo 11) in todays economic and societal systems. This ideology is also supported in John Biewen’s podcast series Seeing White, while he talks with REI advocator Suzanne Plihcik.

While talking with Plihcik on his podcast, Biewen plays a clip of her presenting at a Racial Equity Inclusion workshop in Charlotte, North Carolina. She makes the interesting claim “there is more genetic variation within groups that have come to be called races than there is across groups that have come to be called races”(Biewen Seeing White). Plihcik then points at the crowd and states it is statistically more likely that she shares a closer genetic relation to a black man in the crowd than a white woman. This statistic helps shatter what we think we know about how race is categorized in society. It is so common for people to group others based off of appearance alone, and in regards to race skin color plays a crucial part in these groupings. But so what? The varying levels of melanin in skin is an easy thing to sort since color is easy to see. The problem lies when some of these sorted groups are perceived as being less or more “dangerous” than other groups. Plihcik makes the claim that anthropologists have now started to consider race as “anthropological nonsense” (Biewen Seeing White), but this does not mean it doesn’t exist, doesn’t affect the lives of millions of people, and mostly importantly it doesn’t give any justification for race to be a subject brushed under the rug. 

Oluo also addresses this issue of race being a very real reality especially for black and brown people in America. She makes the bold claim that race “was invented to lock people of color into the bottom of [a racially exploitative economic system”(Oluo 12). Thisconnects back to the history shared in Biewen’s podcast where they explained racially discrimination for those not considered white Christians was a westernized concept. Western civilizations purposefully enslaved people with the mindset the were “less human” by the color of their skin and religious affiliation. This has manifested itself into the disadvantages experienced by POC’s today. Not being able to acquire jobs on the basis of their names, being seen are more violent or scary without having committed any crime, which in turn leads to them being targeted.

Both Oluo and Biewen aim to shed some light on how past categorizations of race have affected modern views on the subject. They help us understand how history has influenced the underlying forms of racial oppression and discrimination towards black and brown people in our society, that put millions at a disadvantage for opportunities. 

Work Cited:

Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race. Seal Press, 2018.

Biewen, John, host. “Turning the Lens.” Seeing White, Scene on Radio, 15 Feb 2017.

Acknowledging Race and Racial Formation in a Multicultural Society

In his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. memorably said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” In the United States where issues of race and racism is prevalent, the injustice Dr. King speaks of is occurring.

Michael Omi and Howard Winant, in their book, Racial Formation in the United States (Routledge 1994), contributes to the discussion with their definition of racial formation. They define it as, “the sociohistorical process by which racial categories are created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed” (Omi and Winant 55). They further this discussion by acknowledging the history behind race and racial projects, as well as linking that to how society has evolved into the power structure that is current. This essentially is the foundational structure for understanding how categories of race came to be and how racism, the side product of these categories was birthed in the United States. The combination of these two is precisely stated as, “to recognize the racial dimension in social structure is to interpret the meaning of race,” (Omi and Winant 57). Race and Racism are not scientific, but the social and political impacts and realness they hold make it undeniably important to understand and speak on in our society. The history of race in America is one of wars, conquest, and categorizing. That has lead to racial formation and race relations creating issues of racism that must be brought into dialogue.

In the book, “So you want to talk about race (Seal Press 2018), Ijeoma Oluo adds to the conversation about race and racial formation through her definition of racism and the steps useful in having these conversations. Oluo defines racism as, “racism is any prejudice against someone because of their race, when those views are reinforced by systems of power” (26). The important point to note in her definition is systems of power reinforces racially held prejudice. Yes, individuals can be racist and that is a conversation to have, but more importantly, looking at the systems of power that gives them the tools to reinforce racism over generations and in detrimental aspects of other lives is most critical. Secondly, Oluo gives useful advice for when speaking about race. One of the most important advice was “do your research” (46). This means that before entering a conversation on race, read, learn, and gain knowledge to know what you are talking about. With conversations on such a sensitive and real issue, doing the research can be the difference between productive or non effective conversations.

 

Ijeoma Oluo and Omi and Winant arguments and points parallel each other and act as building blocks for the conversation on race, racial formation, and racism. Both definitions of race and racism focus on the history behind the issue as well as acknowledging the systems of power that cause the perpetuation of the oppression. Oluo’s ideas are useful because it gives people the tools needed to have resourceful and progressive conversation about race. Omi and Winant’s ideas are useful in providing the history of racial formation and giving readers the tools to understand how race and racism developed in the United States. The combination of both works creates dialogue on the pressing and important issue or race as well as providing humans foundation blocks for having the uncomfortable conversation about race, racial formation, and racism in our society.

 

Works Cited

King, Martin Luther. “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” 16 Apr. 1963.

Omi, Michael and Howard Winant. Racial Formation in the United States from the 1960s to the 1990s. Routledge, 1994.

Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race. Seal Press, 2018.

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