Connection to Color

Claudia Rankine immediately introduces her audience to a personal anecdote of her youth. Ofen in literature, readers find it very hard to connect to something they have never experienced, yet Rankine makes this objective easy to obtain. She gets very personal with her readers, taking them to a memory that greatly impacted her life, and continues to even years after its occurrence. It is normal to wonder why we are getting thrown into this story. It is also common to think about the reasoning behind Rankine’s direct address to the audience.

In the story, Citizen, Rankine makes multiple references to the audience. She does this by introducing the idea of “you”. By doing so, Rankine is pulling us all in, thus forcing us to connect. I use “force” because without this aggressive nature, many would not even consider relating to the life of the author. Rankine wants us to see life through the experiences that she has overcome. She places us in the middle of her anecdotes, throwing us into a world that many of us would not know. This then opens up a new door of interpretation and understanding.  The use of the pronoun “you” is rather ambiguous. Rankine does not know the audience, yet she involves them in her story regardless of their race or gender; it can be applied to anyone. But to me, that is simply her point; it doesn’t matter your race nor gender, but only that YOU understand the string of stories coming from years of experienced racism. Rankine wants the readers to realize the harsh effects this reality had, and still has, on her everyday life.

The color of her skin has separated her from other children throughout her childhood. Even as a young girl, Rankine would experience backhanded remarks. At 12 years old, she is told that she “[has] features like a white person” by another young (white) girl in her class (5) As a child, Rankine does not know how to interpret this, so sadly enough, she understands it as a thank you in return for letting this girl cheat off of her test (5). 12 years old… these are the things running through the minds of a 12 year white girl. And Claudia, naive and unable to detect the blatant racism, received this as a thank you. Racism is not innate, it is taught. Another example is when a young girl tries to take ownership of the seats on the plane, stating, “these are our seats” while the look on her face gives way to how she really feels– she really does not want to sit next to an African American woman on the plane (12). The mother, clearly sensing her daughter’s uncomfort, does not correct her actions, but condones them by saying that she’ll “sit in the middle” so that her daughter doesn’t have to sit next to this woman (12).

Through these narrated experiences, Rankine uses the pronoun “you” to create a variety of emotional experiences in the reader as they interpret the story. How did you feel when reading this opening stories? How did you react to Rankine’s direct address? More importantly, what emotions does it pull out of the reader? Is it anger, or maybe even disgust? Rankine throws “you” into her experiences because she wants the reader to feel the discomfort she experiences on a daily basis. She wants this to provoke an uncomforting feeling. If this in fact does happen, Rankine succeeds in her goal of forcing the reader to connect to experiences. These introductory stories are supposed to provoke an uneasy feeling. If you look at these stories and scowl in disgust, Rankine has done her job in making you a part of her experiences.

9 thoughts on “Connection to Color”

  1. Hi Stephanie, I think your idea of Rankine being ‘forceful’ throughout the story is pretty spot on. I could not help but to feel involved while reading the opening stories. Also while reading these opening stories, I felt like it was one very long poem or a very long point that Rankine was trying to make. Rankine does a great job pointing out realistic situations and making the reader uncomfortable. If someone has ever been involved in and or witnessed a high racial- tension situation, they would know exactly what Rankine was talking about.

  2. I agree with the idea that Rankine’s pronoun use of ‘you’ is essentially forcing us as readers into her viewpoint. And for those that can easily identify with the situations she presents us with, it can be seen as a sort of affectionate term (or maybe not, I shouldn’t assume, but just my opinion). I saw it as Rankine saying: I am placing you in this moment for a reason; you are going through this, but I’m here with you because I went through it too.
    Many of these stories left me speechless. To me, they weren’t even microaggressions, but full on aggressive racist behavior. I felt the pain and confusion she must have experienced in those situations, almost as if it had actually happened to me. I really enjoy the way Rankine writes.
    Good job on the post, and leaving us with some great questions to consider, and the last line of your post is a great ending sentence!

    1. “To me, they weren’t even microaggressions, but full on aggressive racist behavior.”

      Great point, Paige, especially if we consider all of the research on the detrimental effects of microaggressions on Black women’s health. They start to seem a lot let “micro.”

  3. Nice blog post! I completely agree with what you are saying. I didn’t noticed that Rankine makes us feel such an intense feeling of disgust, almost as if you were in the situation, until you had pointed that out. She puts us in these uncomfortable settings that has happened to her and makes it seem as if we are there feeling these things with her. One situation in particular really annoyed me and made me scowl in disgust, “When the door finally opens, the woman standing there yells, at the top of her lungs, Get away from my house! What are you doing in my yard?… And though you back up a few steps, you manage to tell her you have an appointment” (Rankine 18). This scene is just awful. It makes me feel so angry. She treats Rankine like shes an animal she doesn’t want on her property. No one should ever feel like that. Rankine creates a very successful scene based on imagery. I’m excited to see where Rankine takes us through the novel!

  4. Hi Steph!
    I really loved reading your blog post! Personally, I do not commonly read novels that contain a second-person point of view. So, when I first started reading the novel, I was slightly confused with the purpose behind Rankine’s pronoun use of “you”. I really liked how you mentioned Rankine “wants the reader to feel the discomfort she experiences on a daily basis” and if the reader feels this discomfort then, “Rankine succeeds in her goal of forcing the reader to connect to experiences”. This completely clarified my confusion I found myself having at the beginning of the reading. I completely agree with you that Rankine tells her memories in the second-person point of view to force the readers to experience her racist interactions firsthand. Often, I found myself becoming angry with the interactions and they made me a little ashamed of my own skin color. As I was reading the scene that Katie mentioned above, I literally became so embarrassed to be associated with another white person who could act in such an inhuman way. What really was the cherry on top of this situation for me was when the woman pauses to think if Rankine does have an appointment. When she realizes that Rankine does, all the woman has left to say is “oh, yes, that’s right. I am sorry. I am so sorry, so, so, sorry” (18). The woman was so quick to judge Rankine simply based on the color of her skin to the point that she becomes disgusted that a black person is even close to her house. Then, the woman tries to apologize for her absurd action however, it definitely does not change or make up for her racism. Since Rankine uses the second-person point of view in this memory, I literally felt as though I was the one being discriminated. I felt so disgusted that another human, who has the same beating heart as me could treat me in such a manner. This got me thinking, I wonder how different if any, life would be if the black were seen as a more superior race and white people were the ones being discriminated.

  5. I love your explanation as to why Rankine uses “you” in the way she does. One of stories told that truly made me feel the discomfort and anger that the narrator must have felt in that situation was when the woman and narrator were getting lunch. The last sentences of the paragraph, “this exchange, in effect, ends your lunch. The salads arrive” (Rankine 13), show how much of an impact conversations can have on one person, and the other actor in the conversation may not even notice it. The woman possibly could have never thought about their interaction that day ever again, but the narrator is obviously affected by the statements she made. When I read that the exchange has ended “my” lunch before the food had even arrived, I felt the amount of anger that must have been present in order for one to make a statement like that. Personally I have never been so disgusted in a conversation before that I felt like it was over before it even truly got started, which I believe is exactly what Rankine wanted to happen. Like you said, she wants us to feel uncomfortable and spark an anger in her readers, and most likely the main audience she wants to provoke are the ones who have never had these experiences, like myself. She wants to open an eye to the blind and make us realize that although some of us may not experience it, interactions that would make me scowl in disgust happen to some others on a daily basis.

  6. Hey Steph!
    I really enjoyed reading your blog post, I gained a deeper understanding of how you interpreted the first two chapters and it really helped me develop a similar interpretation as well. At first I didn’t think too much into the narrator saying “you” and referring to the reader so much. However, after reading your blog post I looked more in depth in the reading and how the “forcefulness” of the narrator putting us into the novel almost made us the victim as well, I could really connect. I connected in a way where after I read an example of a racist experience the narrator went through, I connected that feeling one one I have felt before. This helped me relate a personal feeling to the feeling the narrator was feeling as well, therefore, the inclusion of “you” and the narrator throwing us, the reader, into the text as well was a very important stylistic choice. For example, the narrator brings up a scene in which a store clerk was complaining and he said he had to hire ” a person of color when there are so many great writers out there” (15). The store clerk is indirectly saying those of color are incapable of doing “great” that white writers are the only ones capable of doing great work, and with the new employment of a person of color their specific writing company won’t flourish, compared to if a white writer took their place. After reading this specific quote, I just felt sorry for the clerk, I felt sorry for his ignorance. This clerk had no way of knowing that the white writer applying for the job would even be better than the person of color applying for the job. Overall, after reading these chapters, I was just left with a sense of pity for the people who were too ignorant to acknowledge someone who isn’t exactly like them with a sense of decency.

  7. Hi stephanie! I thought your blog post was very well written. The use of the pronoun “you” really shows how she wants everyone to see her argument. I believe you have to view and try to understand what she is explaining from every side. Most people don’t realize how their words can hurt another person and the extent to which it can affect someone. I found that most of the racist remarks that were made towards her from white people were comparing her to them. For example the quote “You never really speak except for the time she makes her request and later when she tells you, you smell good and have features more like a white person” (pg 8). This shows two things. The first is how no one would really speak to her due to her color unless they needed a favor. The second is how the white girl was so ignorant as to compare her to other white people and not even worry how she might feel by being compared.

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