Stuart Fort

ENG 495

Professor L. Thomas

October 28, 2016

Conflicts in ‘Citizen’

In Claudia Rankine’s critical novel, we are exposed to a myriad of social injustices, all within the confines of the United States. The pattern of referring to the ‘body’ as a perverted description of the lives of African-Americans occurs in a multitude of scenarios throughout the book. Citizen, An American Lyric, is a first hand account of a handful of injustice committed against African Americans. Soon after the beginning of the book, we come across a series of images that provoke quite a bit of analysis. The dichotomy of this portrayal covers the intricate aspects of the average American’s everyday life. In addition, we see multiple examples of successful African Americans being portrayed in a negative context. Through our mass consumption of media, we can be lead to draw insensible conclusions. Though through analysis of Claudia Rankine’s, Citizen, we can begin to draw conclusions about the author’s opinions.

Within the first twenty pages of the book, we see an example of Rankine’s expression of the body. On page nineteen, we are confronted with an image, an expression of social injustice in America. Though it yields a significant amount of analysis to understand, the wordless page contains one of the most influential images in the book. The image is a photograph of Kate Clark’s sculpture. It consists of taxidermy, a fusion between a human and animal. Though it appears to be simply a fawn, a closer examination reveals a human face, stitched upon the upmost and most prominent surface. The exegesis of this image draws us to a conclusion that Rankine is concerned with the body of African Americans and more accurately a misconception of the bodies. A consistent theme throughout the book, the possession of the ‘body’ is a subject of analysis from beginning to end.

Another occurrence of imagery depicting racial prejudice in the book is shown on page 37. Serena Williams was closing in on the championship, but was met with stark criticism. We see filling the page, an image of Caroline Wozniacki mocking the figure of her opponent. With protruded breasts and buttocks, the Danish tennis player mocks the natural body of Serena. Combined with Serena’s actions, which resulted in a $82,500 fine, the portrayal on behalf of Wozniacki put Serena in an uncomfortable light. Historically, tennis was an upper class sporting activity. The presence of a black body on the court was, for some, unsettling. Rankine’s representation of Serena Williams, through the lens of Caroline Wozniacki, further exercises her thesis that the African American body is supposedly under siege from external forces.

Another important point that Rankine brings to light is the portrayal of African Americans and their bodies in our widespread media. In a reference to the past, the author refers to something as simple as the ‘sigh’ as an important point of contention. As prominent of an example as Rosa Parks could be distilled down to the effect that causes the common ‘sigh’. As Rankine refers to it, this common phenomenon is described as a relaxing exertion of air from ones lungs, regularly in a fashion to relax. Social frustration is a subject of Rankine’s analysis, and we see it expressed in multiple situations. This simple action, a mere expression of frustration, is often met with stark criticism.

These multiple example of Rankine’s expression of an African American’s body illustrates her opinion of the state of our social rights and how we have progressed. The pattern that we see over and over again is the anti-personification of the body, making it more an object than a living thing. The analysis of the aforementioned concepts drawn out in Citizen show us Rankine’s opinions.