Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 726
Rankine's book addresses race and life in America in the twenty-first century. Published in 2014, Rankine combines poetry and critiques in her candid dialogue.
Providing a myriad of modern-day incidences of violence and racism, Rankine boldly shares her opinions on living in America as a black woman who commonly experiences microaggressions.
Then the voice in your head silently tells you to take your foot off your throat because just getting along shouldn’t be an ambition.
Language that feels hurtful is intended to exploit all the ways that you are present. Your alertness, your openness, and your desire to engage actually demand your presence, your looking up, your talking back, and, as insane as it is, saying please.
You begin to think, maybe erroneously, that this other kind of anger is really a type of knowledge: the type that both clarifies and disappoints. It responds to insult and attempted erasure simply by asserting presence, and the energy required to present, to react, to assert is accompanied by visceral disappointment: a disappointment in the sense that no amount of visibility will alter the ways in which one is perceived.
She is open and frank about interpersonal relationships and the reality of historical struggles between whites and blacks. She shares very raw emotions that she and her friends face at different times.
...sometimes your historical selves, her white self and your black self, or your white self and her black self, arrive with the full force of your American positioning. Then you are standing face-to-face in seconds that wipe the affable smiles right from your mouths. What did you say? Instantaneously your attachment seems fragile, tenuous, subject to any transgression of your historical self. And though your joined personal histories are supposed to save you from misunderstandings, they usually cause you to understand all too well what is meant.
In the first chapter, Rankine describes the subtle, but painful, injustices that black children have faced in America. Here, she describes how a white girl cheats off a black girl in school but downplays the injustice she brings to the black girl.
..later when she tells you you smell good and have features more like a white person. You assume she thinks she is thanking you for letting her cheat and feels better cheating from an almost white person.
Her writing calls for action and an end to unfair treatment of anyone.
Perhaps this is how racism feels no matter the context—randomly the rules everyone else gets to play by no longer apply to you, and to call this out by calling out “I swear to God!” is to be called insane, crass, crazy. Bad sportsmanship.
She also expresses a common desire for all people to feel and be known.
There are billions of souls in the world and some of us are almost to be touching the depths of how it is and what it is to be human. On the surface we exist but just beyond is existence. I write to articulate that felt experience.
Rankine's writing style appeals to many because it is so earnest and unaffected.
Nobody notices, only you've known,
you're not sick, not crazy,
not angry, not sad-
It's just this, you're injured.
Rankine does not shy away from addressing the violent and deadly clashes between police and African-American men in recent years, as well as the blatant injustices and profiling.
...because white men can't police their imagination black men are dying.
She also includes the known feelings of Serena Williams and her difficulties in the tennis world, referring to several specific events in Serena's successful tennis career.
What does a victorious or defeated black woman’s body in a historically white space look like? Serena and her big sister Venus Williams brought to mind Zora Neale Hurston’s “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background."
For Serena, the daily diminishment is a low flame, a constant drip. Every look, every comment, every bad call blossoms out of history, through her, onto you. To understand is to see Serena as hemmed in as any other black body thrown against our American background.
For Rankine, she explains that the wounds of African-Americans run deeply, affecting all aspects of life.
There is a belief among some African-Americans that to defeat racism, they have to work harder, be smarter, be better.