Not So Black and White – How are YOU supposed to feel in Citizen?

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?

5 thoughts on “Not So Black and White – How are YOU supposed to feel in Citizen?”

  1. Hi Noel! Great post, I really relate with your bonus point because I also strongly dislike Piers Morgan and everything he does makes me uncomfortable. When I was reading the first 18 pages, I felt guilty and it made me think about a lot of things. The word “you” really stuck out to me because it was making you think of yourself in every situation the auther had mentioned. For example, when Rankine stated, “The girl, looking over at you, tells her mother, these are our seats, but this is not what I expected. The mother’s response is barely audible- I see, she says. I’ll sit in the middle”, made me feel like I was put in that situation. “You” is such a small word, but in this case, it has so much power and effects on the audience reading the story.

  2. Hey, Noel, wonderful blog post: your attention to how Rankine conveys the emotions of Serena Williams is spectacular! The last example in the first 18 pages of the novel stuck out to me most. It amazes me that her therapist jumped to so many conclusions before even considering that the woman on her porch might be a patient instead of somebody trying to rob her: “the woman…yells at the top of her lungs, Get away from my house! What are you doing in my yard?” (18). This example shows the attitude many Americans have in response to people of color. They take all the biases and stereotypes ingrained in white society towards people of color and let that cloud any rational thought.

  3. Hey Noel, great blog post! At first,I thought the interactions were just simple misunderstandings, but when I experienced the interactions all together I realized just how frustrating it all really is. A quote that really stuck out to was “I had to hire a person of color when there are so many great writers out there” (pg 15). This stuck out to me just because of how mean and rude this statement is. The word “had” was said which implies that he had no other choice, and he is not happy about it. This statement implies that people of color can not be good writers.

  4. Hello Noel! I loved your post and your presentation today, that was amazing! And you are completely right, the fact that the narrator is constantly relating to us, the readers makes us feel guilty along the whole book, and I feel that is something fascinating. I did not feel comfortable reading these pages but I honestly liked it, I like the way it makes us realize even more the privilege we have, I like how it makes us feel ashamed and understand the situations that sometimes can be seen as not as important as they are.
    The parts that made me feel worse were (as I told in class) the ones about the Starbucks situation and the photo of the tennis player… honestly that made me want to punch her in the face.
    Answering your question about Serena, she is of course a joykill, and I completely understand the way she reacted and I think she even controlled herself, as I said this afternoon in class, it is so hard to keep calm when you’ve been suffering and you know people is treating you in a rude way.
    I can’t wait to keep reading and see what is waiting for us, this is being such an interesting journey, I love it!

Leave a Reply