Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 286
Citizen: An American Lyric is a book-length poem in 12 chapters by award-winning Jamaican-born poet Claudia Rankine. The book uses primarily the second-person ("you") mode of discourse, and uses the first person ("I") briefly at the novel's end. The first chapter is an anecdote of a collection of racist incidents experienced by Rankine and her friends (such as being used by a white student who cheats off of a black student's tests). The second chapter discusses YouTuber Hennessy Youngman's series of videos, and uses them to demonstrate how blacks are taught to cultivate a rough exterior. Serena Williams' anger on the tennis court is Rankine's example of whites projecting that exterior on blacks. The third chapter explains how MSNBC host Don Imus called the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy headed hos." The fourth chapter introduces the idea that there is a "Self Self" and a "Historical Self," the latter of which is an identity that can't help but conjure memories of racism. The fifth chapter explores the self-doubt and invisibility that a black person feels, for example, demonstrated by running on a treadmill with a secret, inner desire to become invisible. The sixth chapter comments on how Hurricane Katrina hit African American towns, as though nature itself valued African Americans lives less than those of whites. The seventh chapter presents an individual's reaction to the Trayvon Martin verdict. The book concludes with a first-person anecdote, recounting the experience of having a person in a parked car park farther away from the narrator, who never ask the person why.
There are many other historical incidents and personal experiences with micro-aggression in this lengthy, wandering poem, but all are concerned with the experiences of blacks in history and today.