Citizen: An American Lyric Summary & Study Guide

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Citizen: An American Lyric Summary & Study Guide Description

Citizen: An American Lyric Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

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Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine, is a work in progress (it's been updated many times now). The author writes in a free form, half poem, half prose format, which also includes pictures from current events, historical events, and historical civil rights emblems and paintings. Taken as a collective whole, the work exposes the inadequacies that still exist globally, and not just in the U.S., as well as offers a hope for the future.

Initially, the book begins with a young 12-year-old black girl who is attending a Catholic school. She is not given a name in the story, but the white girl that cheats off of her is named Mary Catherine. Sister Evelyn, her teacher, also gets a name. The black girl allows Mary Catherine to cheat off of her. Thinking that she will be nice to the black girl for allowing her to cheat, Mary Catherine tries to compliment her, but it comes out more as a racial slur. The black girl feels even worse about herself than before. She is also angry -very angry. She hates feeling invisible.

Another scenario, told in the first person, is offered to the reader. A successful African American woman has taken her seat by the window on the airplane, when a white woman with her child approaches the same row. They see that they are going to have to sit next to the black woman, and the mother, with a sigh offers to sit next to the black woman so that her daughter won't have to.

In another scenario, a woman joins another woman for lunch. They are strangers, but both have children that have just gotten into prestigious schools. The white mother is upset when she learns that the black mother's child got into the school that the white mother had wanted her child to get in to. The white mother blames affirmative action for not allowing her child to have a spot at the other school. The black mother wonders what the big deal is since the white child got into another Ivy League school that was just as good.

There is an angry black artist on YouTube named Youngman, whose videos tell young black artists that they need to embrace all of the rage and anger that they have from being black and project it into their work. The author suggests that the anger can be channeled like that to make positive change, but that Youngman doesn't go far enough with his ranting. It is called saleable anger. The author states that this type of anger only leads to alienation and loneliness, not solutions.

The author illustrates her point by sharing an event with Serena Williams in 2004 when Serena believed that the line referee had purposely called against her on several occasions simply because she was black. The author talks about how black Serena and her sister, Venus, must have felt against the backdrop of so much white in the tennis world. She quotes a Zora Neale Hurston saying about blackness. The rules that everyone else has to play by don't apply to you, the author suggests, especially if you are black.

A woman is standing in line at a drugstore front counter when a white man cuts in front of her and puts his things down to be checked out. The cashier alerts him to the fact that he's just cut in front of the woman. Shocked, he turns around and claims that he didn't see her standing there. The author uses this story to illustrate how some white people can't see black people unless they are a reflection of themselves.

A woman goes to a bar for a drink and to wait on her friend. While there, she sees a man drinking alone. He pulls out his phone and shows her a picture of his wife. He says that she is beautiful and the woman smiles. Her smile fades and she leaves without waiting for her friend, when the man follows up his comment about his beautiful wife with, 'She's black like you."

The author includes an essay section where she examines perspective. How is she supposed to view all of the injustice in the world? Is she supposed to wear sunglasses, to remove the harsh glare of that reality? What if everyone just turned one shade of blue and were absorbed into the blue of the sky? Then would it matter? She talks about how Words, used as instruments of education, of protest, as a release, can open doors between intention and gesture.

Hurricane Katrina is examined by the author, shown to be more than a terrible natural disaster, but rather was a disaster of epic social and moral proportions. The water came and showed that no one cared, one man is shown to say. Those that were hardest hit were those that were too poor to leave, who lived too far out for the buses to reach them, and who were too black, the author suggests, for anyone to want to rescue them.

The Trayvon Martin case, James Craig Anderson case, Jena Six case, Mark Duggan case, are all offered as proof of continued racism, not only in the U.S., but globally. The author then quotes famous author James Baldwin, a civil rights activist and author. He suggests and the author continues an essay on the questions that go with the answers, and who will dare to ask the questions or develop the right questions to ask.

A white woman is standing on a bus. There's one seat left, but it would mean sitting next to a black man. She starts to stand the entire way, but then realizes that this is silly thinking and, overcoming her racism, she sits next to the man. A woman and her daughter come on board and begin asking if someone might give up their seat. The white woman decides that if they ask them to give up their seats, she will claim that she and the black man are family, traveling together, themselves. The author uses this to illustrate her belief that in the future, a realization that mankind are all one large family might be embraced. This is, she suggests, mankind's only, and best hope, for the future.

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