Citizen: An American Lyric

Chapter 1

Claudia Rankine's lyric opens with an introductory paragraph that is ironically a more formal "closing" to a long day. Rankine prescribes melancholia with an overall sense of exhaustion that leads the reader directly into a very familiar place: "bed". It is here, in the beginning of the book that Rankine weaves "prose, poetry and visual image pervasively into the daily American social and cultural life, subtly foreshadowing and boding its readers to the challenges certain citizens must overcome in order to not become invisible (National Book Award Judges’ Citation)." "Sometimes the moon is missing and beyond the windows the low, gray ceiling seems approachable. Its dark light dims in degrees depending on the density of clouds and you fall back into that which gets reconstructed as metaphor." (Citizen, pg.1) Moreover, Rankine's first paragraph offers the oppressed citizens, Blacks, a subtle solution even before delivering her readers the very contents of her book. The book is lyrically written, in of itself, as an extended metaphor of the extreme color distinction between white and black. Only people's perspectives regarding race allows society to identify the difference when regarding humanity and therefore equality. Throughout the lyric this racial divergence becomes more apparent as Rankine conveys each experience. The crux of the metaphor is the subsiding factor of grey; a color degree between that of white and black that implies patience and hope. These factors, subtly and metaphorically penned in the first paragraph grants these citizens a means to press forward against the subtle microaggressions, which, metaphorically speaking, is a wake for them in the very wake of the book. "There are billions of souls in the world and some of us are almost to be touching the depths of how it is and what it is to be human. On the surface we exist but just beyond is existence. I write to articulate that felt experience."(Rankine) The first chapter immediately transfers the reader into a black persona who is quickly becoming invisible by the harassment of microaggressions. The necessity of tolerance ascribed by blacks, that is, in these occurrences even are subjected to children in grade school. Still consistent with second person perspective use of you, the short narration is of a child: "You", who experiences a microaggression by first a student who is copying her work throughout the school year, and secondly, from Sister Evelyn, who never acknowledges the blatant incidences. "...later when she tells you you smell good and have features more like a white person. You assume she thinks she is thanking you for letting her cheat and feels better cheating from an almost white person." The microaggression described here is that, you are unworthy of a genuine acknowledgment of gratitude. "Thank you", is unnecessary or does not apply because you are classified as an "almost" in girl students’ mind. Rankine's verbiage utilizing the word assume, remarks the harsh reality that you have to ascribe an excuse or reasoning for another's actions. You must enable them - her and therefore the situation, crippling it, in order to rectify your own stability, in your own personal defense, so that you do not take direct offense. Only because the offense was not a direct form of prejudice. "Sister Evelyn never figures out your arrangement perhaps because you never turn around to copy Mary Catherine's answers. Sister Evelyn must think these two girls think a lot alike or she cares less about cheating and more about humiliation or she never actually saw you sitting there."

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