Citizen, An American Lyric

Citizen, An American Lyric book cover

Citizen, An American Lyric
| published February 22, 2015 |

Book review by Kristy Webster
Thursday Review contributor

Recently I came across the Banksy quote, “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” Such is the case for Citizen, An American Lyric, a brilliant work of poetry and prose by Claudia Rankine.

This book took courage, wisdom and sensitivity to write, and requires from its readers a willingness to be made uncomfortable by facing some inevitable and painful truths. Citizen asks that you experience offenses that range from thoughtless and ignorant to tragic and unjustifiable. Rankine’s unflinching observations are exercises in empathy and a wake- up call for those who are still in denial over the role that race perceptions have played in recent, widely reported on events in our country.

The following excerpt is from a script about Hurricane Katrina:

Pg. 85:

we are drowning here

still in difficulty

as if the faces in the images hold all the consequences

and the fiction of the facts assumes randomness and indeterminacy

He said, I don’t know what the water wanted. It wanted to show you no one would come.

He said, I don’t know what the water wanted. As if then and now were not the same moment.

      He said, I don’t know what the water wanted.

Rankine’s voice is powerfully compassionate as she artfully deconstructs blatantly racially motivated hate crimes as well as when she reports on personal instances where racism rears its head in ways that are slightly subtler and insidious but still culturally damaging. In the following excerpt she ponders why a colleague feels entitled to make a racially insensitive remark at her expense:

Pg. 10: 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.

Why do you feel comfortable saying this to me?

This book is an essential text for humans of all ages, cultures and backgrounds, not only because of its magnified relevance, but because of Rankine’s masterful storytelling, which has the power to incite a sense of personal responsibility and awakening from readers. It’s a call to action through understanding, an invitation to remove any residual blinders, and a testament of a beautiful and spirited will.