From the four sets of student questions relating to the book CITIZEN by Claudia Rankine, a response to 3 questions of your choosing is required. Please make sure you pick questions from at least 2 different sets.
Question 1: Rankine frequently blurs the lines between poetry and prose within Citizen. What effect does that achieve within the novel? What is the signifigance of her unique stylistic choices and form in the context of resistance, memory, and trauma?
Question 2: As she is exploring the racism that undercurrents the perception of Serena Williams, Rankine introduces Zora Neale Hurston’s quote “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background”. What is Rankine saying by centering this quote in the context of Serena William’s career? Can you make any outside connections to celebrities or individuals whose experiences mirror that of Serena Williams?
Question 3: Rankine writes that, “Yes, and the body has memory. The physical carriage hauls more than its weight. The body is the threshold across which each objectionable call passes into consciousness—all the unintimidated, unblinking, and unflappable resilience does not erase the moments lived through, even as we are eternally stupid or everlastingly optimistic, so ready to be inside, among, a part of the games”. How does this “bodily memory” manifest itself in the rest of the novel? In what ways does this theme interact with ideas within Morrison’s Beloved?
Question 4: Select a piece of artwork that speaks to you the most within the novel and analyze it in the context of the black experience Rankine is describing. What does it represent? Why was it placed specifically on the page that it was within the novel? How does this image develop your personal takeaways from the novel? What are you left wondering about the piece?
Question 5: During the section titled “Stop-and-Frisk”, Rankine asserts that “In a landscape drawn from an ocean bed, you can’t drive yourself sane—so angry you can’t drive yourself sane”. What might a “landscape drawn from an ocean bed” look like? How might this relate to her repitition of “you are not the guy and still you fit the description because there is only one guy who is always the guy fitting the description”?. How does Rankine use this metaphor to explore perspective?
Throughout the work, especially in early segments, there is frequent use of “Yes, and” to start sentences. Considering the discussion the speaker mentions on page 8, what is the significance of this phrase? What about “Yes, but”? Where have you heard these terms in your own life in relation to the discussion of serious topics such as misogyny, racism, and homophobia?
Tennis is a motif throughout the work, one Rankine relates to race saying “Perhaps this is how racism feels no matter the context—randomly the rules everyone else gets to play by no longer apply to you, and to call this out by calling out “I swear to God!” is to be called insane, crass, crazy. Bad sportsmanship.” (30). Black people, especially black women, are often hyper-criticized for their every move in ways people would praise their white counterparts. How does this theme show up in other sections of the text? This was written in 2014, where do you still see examples of this hypocrisy today?
How does this work connect to the themes of loneliness introduced in Don’t Let Me Be Lonely? How does Zora Neale Hurston’s quote, “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.”, connect to this idea? How does the loneliness of being the only one that looks like you when you’re surrounded by others differ from loneliness where you have no company at all?
On page 156 Rankine writes
“That’s the bruise in the heart the ice in the heart was meant to ice.” Compare and contrast this icing of the heart to her writing on the liver in Don’t Let Me Be Lonely. Does the liver act as a form of numbing from bruises? Or does it have a different function for processing personal pain?
How do you interpret the divides between the different chapters? How does Rankine use this as part of her work? Are there ideas that bleed over from one chapter to another? What about forms of writing? Which of Rankine’s multimedia styles did you resonate with the most: Her poetry, prose, images, scripts for situation videos with John Lucas, or something else?
Throughout the book, Rankine brings up many instances of racism she has faced like the girl in her class calling her by the name of her black housekeeper or the employer saying “his dean is making him hire a person of color when there are so many great writers out there” (Rankine, 10). She struggles with calling out these moments of racism and gets frustrated with herself when she doesn’t. Where else in the book do we see these scenarios? Why do you think she doesn’t react? What are some moments where she fights back and subverts the societally constructed order? How does this racism affect her?
2. When Rankine addresses the rapper who exposes the expectation of black people, specifically black men, she notes that anger is one of the main sources expected by society. She delves deeper on page 24 stating that “the anger built up through experience and the quotidian struggles against dehumanization every black or brown person lives simply because of skin color.” What do you think Rankine means by this statement? How do her definitions of the type of anger show the human experience? What type of anger do you believe is most common and why?
3. Rankine includes Serena and Venus Williams as a model for subverting the societally constructed order of race. Serena and Venus, being in the public’s eye, have experienced a lot of racism in the sport that they love. What is the significance of Rankine including Serena and Venus’s stories of racism? How does Rankine relate to the women?
4. What do you believe the images and photos represent throughout the book? Give specific examples. How does this inclusion contribute to the power of Rankine’s message? Specifically, on pages 52 and 53, interpret the images.
5. Language becomes a focus of concern for Rankine. Rankine describes words her friends have said to her, getting mistaken by the wrong name resulting in an apology note, and being othered by language. On page 49, Rankine dives into how language affects everyone and can be negative. Why do you think Rankine decided to focus so deeply on language? Are there any other instances we see in the book where language plays a significant role? What are the effects of harmful language as pointed out by Rankine?
“If this were a domestic tragedy, and it might well be, this would be your fatal flaw—your memory, vessel of your feelings” (pg 7). How does the memory as a vessel show up throughout the work? Specifically, how does it show up in the section, In Memory of Trayvon Martin (pg 88)?
In both Citizen and Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, Rankine divides her work into sections. What is the significance of the numerical division in Citizen? How does it relate or differ from her use of the TV as the divider in Don’t Let Me Be Lonely?
On page 33 there is an image of a body covered extensively in fiber art. Did you feel as though the image gave resolution to the passage preceding it? Similarly, on page 147 there is a collage of a reconstructed body. What is the intention of ending these two passages with images of the body? How do they differ or relate in meaning?
Rankine repeatedly brings up the theme of breath. In the tribute to victims of police brutality, the names of those murdered gradually begin to evanesce. Do you think this is related to the theme of breath? What else could the choice imply?
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