Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

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.

The book
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.