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.