Shaking up the Citizens – My Review

Rankine uses media presentations in her lyric to bring awareness to racism within the popular culture. Rankine creates a personal experience for the reader to Serena Williams and black male victims involved in police shootings. Rankine also structures these media presentations as the main foundation to her lyric. She draws on popular debates to using images taken from the media to help make her point.


Rankine relishes in heavy descriptive writing. She describes various events and even introduces each event by evoking our imagination. When we take a look at the opening lines of Citizens, she starts with “when you are alone and too tired to turn on any of your devices.” This tone is dominant in her lyric, and becomes the narrative thread that ties the entire lyric together. She goes on to say, “you think maybe this is an experiment and you are being tested or retroactively insulted”. The tone behind the language somehow places us in a state of vulnerability, evoking our senses and feelings with her use of emotive language. And this tone is what makes this work iconic, it makes the text somehow relatable to every reader, black or not, the tone allows you to experience a personal feeling created by the tone of the language.


The fact that Citizens is very visual, and heavily descriptive, in a sense its right to question why Rankine would flood her work with images. Rankine uses lots of images to support her descriptive writing. When she displaces you as the reader and talks about other victims, she references it with images taken from the media. Maybe the fact that the first opening paragraphs are shared cultural experience, the tone created sets a platform for all the images Rankine references later to her lyric. The tone almost dwells in you as you now look at the images of Jim Crow Road or of Caroline Wozniacki stuffing towel under her trousers to imitate Serena Williams. This combination now puts you in a particular state where no matter who you are, you can’t help but emphasise with the victim of the narrative. We can also look at the images as a form of visually identifying people in the lyric.



The text and font in her lyric seems to play an integral part. For example, in page 52 and 53:


The use of repetition with the bold capital fonts reinforces the alienation she feels for being black in a white cultural world. The text even helps us visualise this stigma as the text itself is on a white background. Another example can be found later in page 134 when there is the use of fading as the text repeatedly states, “in memory of”. The text acknowledges all the death of black men, creating almost a eulogy as it celebrates remorse and remembrance of the black victims. However, these victims on the page vanish visibly through the fading of the ink.


The fact that Rankine’s novel is heavily littered with references to popular culture may suggest that popular culture possess a significant amount of value to her work. For example, it’s quite random for Rankine to reference the 2006 world cup, particularly when Zinadane Zidane head-butts an Italian player during the finals. During the time, that was a highly memed event which spread across the globe. The fact that Rankine also references Mark Duggan and Trayvon Martin as well truly shows her appreciation to what is highly talked about in the popular cultural sphere.

When I was reading the lyric, as a black person, I felt as if I shared a common cultural experience, emphasising on the stories she tells in the lyric, and the racism faced, it being extreme or subtle. At the time, I brought it down to the fact that maybe because I’m black and that I became quite irrational and related myself entirely to the text. However, as I asked a friend of mine to read the lyric (have in mind she is Irish/English), she claims that she feels as though she can relate to the events Rankine talks about in her lyric. I guess it’s because the lyric’s entire language structure is second person, telling “you” to imagine this, imagine that, and because of this, the text somehow creates a bond to every single person that reads the lyric





  • Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric, Penguin Poems, 2014

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