This is my review of Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, which I read recently. It's a little hard to define, but it was amazing.
This is a sort of essay/poetry collection written around race and being
black in the United States. It is about little moments where your friends say
something they don’t necessarily mean in a bad way, but which is racist and
hurtful. It’s about the treatment of New Orleans after Katrina, it’s about the
young black men killed by police and “vigilantes” in the States, and it’s about
the racism Serena Williams has faced throughout her tennis career.
I don’t really know what to say about this book. It was incredible and
beautiful. And so important.
There were so many moments that made me want to cry, and I almost did
cry while reading it. There are so many of the moments where there are
descriptions of friends being insensitive that made me hurt inside.
The descriptions of Serena Williams’ tennis career and the often blatant
racism she faces were awful. Basically there have been umpires who have given
her bad calls and it inadvertently led to the introduction of Hawkeye
technology where calls can be challenged. And no matter how bad the calls were
Serena was expected to keep her cool and not be angry, and when she did her
race was used against her. She became an “angry-black-woman” pretty much right
away. And when she got angry it wasn’t seen as the reaction to accumulation of
years of racism and unfair treatment, but just angry outburst in a moment that
were disproportionate. And when you read everything she has had to deal with,
the bad calls, the accusations of unprofessionalism, the booing and racial
slurs at the Indian Wells tournament and Wozniacki impersonating her, I’m
surprised she hasn’t reacted more often.
There was a chapter, or section, dedicated to a list of “In memory of”
and then the names of black men and boys killed without consequence. And the
list continued with “In memory…” and space, where new names can be added on
later. And it was beautiful, and stark and heartbreaking.
It was beautifully written and it was gorgeous and I want to read more
of Rankine’s work definitely.