The role of the narrator plays a crucial role in telling a story and how that story is interpreted. Claudia Rankine uses the less common method – by immersing the readers themselves into the story – in order to fully engage her audience in Citizen. Just as the other blog posters Lilly and Stephanie have addressed, this engagement with the readers disregards characteristics of the individuals such as their race, gender, sexuality, etc. Rankine places the readers in scenarios in which they’d feel uncomfortable, ostracized and ideally, give the readers an insight as to what racism feels like in all definitions of the word. The book challenges these feelings, particularly anger, and by placing “you” in the middle, one can’t help but wonder how to handle the situation.
The first eighteen pages demonstrate
awkward situations that should evoke many feelings from the readers, ranging from
humility to anger. An example from the text which evokes this feeling includes:
“You think maybe this is an experiment and you are being tested or retroactively
insulted or you have done something that communicates this is an okay
conversation to be having” (11). You are meant to feel angry by this situation.
People of color are being ostracized and deemed as not as “great” of writers as
the implied white people are. Perhaps the acquaintance is naïve in regards to
racism, or they find that you’re an exception because you’re not like other
people of color (yet another racist implication). Whether or not the acquaintance
in your situation is intentionally being racist, this still ignites anger.
Let’s imagine we’re in Serena Williams’ situation (or to follow along with Rankine’s narrative, let’s say you are in her situation). You’re talented, athletic, and to suggest you’ve worked tremendously hard to be where you are now is an understatement. You’re doing everything you physically and mentally can to win, however there are people who want to see you fail because of the color of your skin. They insinuate you’re making bad calls and yet no one notices this except for the umpire. How would you respond to that? How would you feel and how would you manage those emotions during an important play? You can’t pause life to react accordingly. Feelings aren’t black and white. Rankine writes “John McEnroe, given his own keen eye for injustice during his professional career, was shocked that Serena was able to hold it together after losing the match” (27). Serena did her best to compose herself amidst a racist fallacy. She later admits that she was “angry and bitter” and felt “cheated” (27). During her career she is notorious for outrages, throwing her racket, and shouting. She later learns to co-exist with her anger – the majority of that anger is most likely due to the racism and politics of the sport – but it doesn’t just occur in the court. It appears that Serena uses this racism as a driving force and despite it all, she wants to make America proud, and yet she must work twice as hard and control her somehow unjustified feelings in the meantime.
The ball is not in her court. How is someone supposed to react to this kind of racism? You’ve worked hard and dedicated your life to this sport, but something you have no power over is going to determine your success.
The two articles we read for Wednesday connect to Citizen. Which one do you think Serena Williams’ control on her anger connects to more? Which emotions did you feel (or if you didn’t feel much, what were you intended to feel) during the first eighteen pages of Citizen? How would you handle this kind of anger; would it be discouraging or would you use it as a driving force to prove them wrong?