Diversity in Organizations, Communities, and Nations’s Updates

The New York Times Review of Books: ‘A New Way of Writing About Race’

nybooks.com | Article Link | by Nick Laird

Claudia Rankine’s Citizen opens:

When you are alone and too tired even to turn on any of your devices, you let yourself linger in a past stacked among your pillows.

The reader is forewarned: what follows will explore what happens when the “devices” are switched off, not just the smart phone or the iPad, but techniques of evasion and compromise that let the poet exist in the present. There’s also the suggestion that the repudiated “devices” are poetic, rhetorical tricks that ornament or soften. Accordingly, Rankine’s language is prose, plain, direct, conversational, though simultaneously uncanny and reverberant, continually wrongfooting the reader, swapping referents, mixing the physical and metaphysical at will. (It’s not just “you” “stacked among your pillows” but the past itself.)

Told mostly through a series of “micro-aggressions” (the term coined by Harvard professor Chester Pierce in 1970 to describe unconscious insults nonblack Americans aim at black people), Citizen is a circuitous and intimate descent into the poet’s past in order to examine race in America. Some of the incidents happen to the poet, some are reports from friends. Rankine writes almost exclusively in the second-person present, a tense that implicates as it includes, endowing events with a sense of immediacy and urgency.

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  • Rose Peter