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.


2 thoughts on “Stop-and-Frisk, This is what it looks like

  1. In this post the use of second person is focused on in Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric in my post I had focused on the same writing technique. This post describes how the word you is being utilized throughout the piece, in order to label certain people in society as the you Rankine is supposedly focusing on. I found it interesting that in my post I had instead focused on the word you being a way of connecting the reader to the piece on a deeper level, to form a closer connection between the reader and the material. They, the reader could place themselves in the role of the the character they are reading about who is referred to as you. This comment instead had labeled people in society such as police officers and victims of stop and frisk occurrences with the role of you rather then the reader. The comment also brought up an important factor that i had not yet thought of which was the idea of you being used in order to bring the idea of familiarity to a situation which I had not realized. By using you throughout the poem “Because of Your Elite Status” by Claudia Rankine the scenarios that were brought up can be thought of as more of a reoccurring thing, rather than just a scenario that could possibly impact the reader; it gives the impression that it has happened to many people rather than just one.

  2. I never noticed how the absence of quotation marks affected the meaning of what Rankine was saying in her poem Stop-and-Frisk. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your analysis. You comment on Rankine’s use of the word “you”, which allows the reader to internalize what the narrator is saying. However, you introduced a new idea in your interpretation of sentences starting with the phrase “you need to…”. I failed to noticed how this phrase could also be interpreted as the voice of those who have fallen victim to racially targeted stop and frisk searches. Similarly, I observe Rankine’s use of repetition in my post. The ambiguity and repetitiveness of the word “you” allows the reader to see how common black and brown people are targeted by the police. It is frustrating to think how many people have fallen victim to this racially charged abuse of power, and how many are given the simply explanation “you fit the description of who we are looking for” .

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