Citizen by Claudia Rankine

This weekend, I finished reading a good book. This book can also be seen as a good poem, based on the way it is written. Good? As in, makes you think. Speaks truth. Halts your relative acceptance that the world could be better and forces you to engage in the conversation and the practicing of, in fact, making the world better.

The book is Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, published the same month as Zadie’s birth, October 2014, here in Minnesota. I don’t know if I have ever read something so fresh, besides maybe current events in articles. It really wakes me up to the reality that history is happening right now. And my role matters.


Thoughts and reflections of race, racism, and white privilege are daily rhythms in my life. This weekend, I had the opportunity to spend Saturday back at school learning about race, racism, and white privilege with a cohort of colleagues in my district, facilitated by Heather Hackman. I do not love that racism exists, but I do appreciate that I can always be learning and dialoguing, and that my workplace cares about racial equity.

Several conversations and teaching points from the day really struck me as important and will continue to sit with me. Here is one of the big ones: If I am an ally to the movement that black lives matter, then I am an ally to someone else’s problem. The truth is that the racial injustice in our world, in our nation, and in our communities, affects me too. The way black individuals and communities are treated in our country is my problem too.

Another lesson: I can honestly say that the first time I really understood my whiteness AND what it means to be white was in a college course. College. I truly attempted to think back further into my childhood years, hoping I could remember an early memory of what it meant to be white, and I came up with nothing but stories of noticing other races. Realizing how sad it is that I lived two decades in this nation before getting an initial grasp of the advantages I have living as a white person in the United States motivates me to teach transparency to my daughter and to my students. My desire for Zadie is to grow up acknowledging her whiteness and what it means, and for her to begin advocating for racial justice and racial equity as a child. Two decades is too long to live in ignorance.

Race, Racism, and White Privilege are conversations that I have entered, and I’m not backing out until the work is done. In addition to a personal commitment to praying, reflecting, connecting, and listening to people of color, I am also committing to reading more about race, racism, and white privilege by authors of color. Please consider joining me in reading these texts too as I share my takeaways via blog. Here are just a few passages from Citizen that caused me to pause and reflect. They are illuminated even more inside the experience of reading the whole text together:

“What does a victorious or defeated black woman’s body in a historically white space look like? Serena and her big sister Venus Williams brought to mind Zora Neale Hurston’s ‘I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.'” (p. 25).

“The world is wrong. You can’t put the past behind you. It’s buried in you; it’s turned your flesh into its own cupboard. Not everything remembered is useful but it all comes from the world to be stored in you.” (p. 63).

“On the tip of a tongue one note following another is another path, another dawn where the pink sky is the bloodshot of struck, of sleepless, of sorry, of senseless, shush. 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 mouths to speak, blossoms, o blossoms, no place coming out, brother, dear brother, that kind of blue. The sky is the silence of brothers all the days leading up to my call.” (pp.89-90).

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