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Urgent Recommendation: Claudia Rankine’s CITIZEN

CITIZEN: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Not racist? Hear, listen, and grasp social and race issues with the renowned author, playwright, and poet. “I don’t think we connect micro-aggressions that indicate the lack of recognition of the black body as a body to the creation and enforcement of laws.” Claudia Rankine said last fall in BOMB.
Wait, what’s a “microaggression”?? These words matter.
CITIZEN: An American Lyric divulges and dissects day-to-day, often sub-surface racism and its effects beyond the moment. Her fifth poetry book, it made history, nominated for two National Book Critics Circle Awards, for Criticism and for Poetry; it won the latter, along with the NAACP Image Award, PEN Open Book Award, and others, and is the only New York Times nonfiction bestseller of its lyric kind.
CITIZEN calls out in solidarity if you’ve ever been run into by an armored tank of racial marginalization or been caught in a nasty traffic jam of intersectionality. Rankine calls you to action if you give a hoot or are susceptible to participating in systemic racism. Cultural theorist Lauren Berlant described in the BOMB interview, “Citizenship involves metabolizing in the language of your flesh what you call the ‘ordinary’ injury of racist encounter.” Rankine’s prose details scene by the millisecond, along with internal reaction, piling on inevitable, immediate, smacking social resonance in fell swoop after fell swoop. Each scene rounds out with that “metabolizing” as it happens, or as its consequence plays out within black bodies and minds constrained by white hegemony and apathy.
Los Angeles’ Fountain Theater produced an adaptation in August, spotlighting the versatility of CITIZEN and Rankine’s multi-form and -genre work. Her dialogue and descriptions came to life on stage particularly smoothly: The ensemble cast rove among different characters, black actors facing white actors, playing out scenes of surprise verbal, contextual complicity or attack and slow-motion, time-stopped response, outburst, or restraint. Sitting, watching in your red theater seat became complacency; cringing and squirming in it were not enough.
In interactions of daily and professional life, how can white people stop colluding to enact racism, even if unintentionally? How can all people not commit and not accept racial microaggression? Recognition of such words and acts is a start.

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