Essay About Identity in Citizen: An American Lyric


From the moment the book Citizen: An American Lyric opens, it is apparent to the reader that this book is written using second person point of view. This theme continues throughout most of the book. Although this can seem like a small detail from the first glance, this word “you” has a great affect and is one of the reasons this book is so powerful. The word “you” invites the reader in to almost take part in this work with the author and all whom she has written about. The way Rankine uses the term “you” exercises a pathetic affect on the reader. The word “you” causes the reader to care and feel more because the work becomes more personal.

From the very first page, the reader is drawn in to what seems like an anecdote one can relate to. As the reader progresses down the page, it is apparent that not all readers can relate. Later down the page Rankine writes, “you assume she thinks she is thanking you for letting her cheat and feel better cheating from an almost white person.” The reader may feel and is meant to feel uncomfortable by this statement. “You” have barely ever spoken to this girl, yet have to assume she thinks she is complimenting you by telling “You” have features like a white person. The use of the word “you” makes this example possible for the reader to imagine that they could relate to it. From this one page the reader already realizes this book is not just about reading a novel, rather about feeling these painful stories that continue to happen. These accounts are not just big things that are on the news once in a while, but are small interactions that happen in daily life with lack of awareness.

This work brings awareness to the big and the small pains Black people go through. For example, “He tells you his dean is making him hire a person of color when there are so many great writers out there” (pg. 10). The narrative continues by showing “you” doubting yourself, right after this mysterious he offends your whole community. Rankine describes “you” wondering if "you” have somehow communicated that this was something that was okay to say to “you”, or if “you” are just being tested (pg.10). This one sentence brings up a lot of past trauma. Using the word “you” here, almost makes the reader feel some pain. They might wonder, why is this person attacking me and my community? Another astonishing microaggression can be seen from when Rankine describes “you” going to a therapy appointment and when the therapist opens the door she yells “Get away from my house! What are you doing in my yard?” (pg 18). The reader feels betrayed, thinking why would my therapist ever talk to me this way? This is not a normal reaction from anyone and really takes the reader down this dark offensive hole of things they may or may not have ever experienced. The reader knows they would never want to experience this ever. The term “you” used here transmits tremendous sadness and a feeling of loneliness to the reader.

Another aspect that the term “you” helps the reader begin to understand is the justified anger of the Black community. The reader is made aware of this when “the man at the cash register wants to know if you think your card will work” when he did not “ask the friend who went before you” (pg. 54). The reader becomes increasingly more irritated as they carry on with this paragraph. The reader gets filled with questions. Why are they assuming my card will not work? How could someone be so judgmental? With the use of the word “you,” the reader grows frustrated as if this event were happening to them.

This book also depicts the unfairness the black community has to deal with. The reader gets a glimpse of how unfair the system is. The reader feels for the man who is being provoked for no reason when the cops pull him over and out of his car and keep repeating that “you fit the description” (pg 108). The officers wrongly put this person into jail just because he allegedly fits the description. What the officers are failing to do is look beyond complexion. The author tries to let the reader feel how unfair this is. People are being placed under arrest who have committed no crime. They committed no crime but still have to do time. The use of the word “you” here helps the reader see this prejudice.

Rankine’s use of the word “you” invited the reader in to feel like the main character. It's almost as if the reader is in a “choose your own adventure” style book. Although, the reader can not choose whats happens in the books examples the reader can choose how to react. The reader is invited to think about what they will now do with this information, anger, and pain. For me, this was the first time I was introduced to this writing style. It made an impact on me, I now feel like I know much more and I can understand some of the pain a Black person goes through. I can not fully understand it, nor will I ever. I appreciate Rankine and that she wrote this book because I now feel more educated to choose how I react and know that staying quiet is reaction also.

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