Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 198

Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric (published in 2014), insofar as it is an extended poem, does not follow a linear narrative structure, but rather comprises several anecdotes (many delivered in the second person), that all touch upon race, prejudice, and the experience of being black in America. The poem-novel begins at the level of the average individual, a school-age student at a Catholic school has another girl cheat off of "your" exam (a demonstration of oppression, in its own, modern and comparatively benign way). Then the discussions become more serious: Serena Williams is victimized by racist white spectators, causing her performance on the tennis court to suffer. The Jena Six group of black schoolchildren who were charged with attempted murder when they assaulted a white peer are evoked in Chapter 6. The narrator, too, discusses Zinedine Zidane, a soccer-player who dangerously head-butt an Italian opponent who made a racist comment during the 2006 World Cup final.

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Overall, the poem (divided into six chapters) is not a linear progression, but a series of personal anecdotes that collectively reflect the difficultly of reconciling an individualism (Rankine's "self self") while grappling with a racist past (an identity which Rankine term's the "historical self").

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