In her latest book, Citizen: An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine exposes the nuances of racism and violence that run so rampant in the United States, and in an interview with The Guardian, she’s further explained just how much a problem racism is not only for people of color, but white Americans as well.
Speaking on how racism isn’t just black people’s problem, but an issue for everyone, Rankine said:
Racism is complicated. White people feel personally responsible for racism when they should understand the problem as systemic. It is interfering as much with their lives as with the lives of people of colour. And racism can lodge in them. It isn’t them yet it can become them if they are not taking notice.
Asked if there’s a denial of racism among black people, she added:
I don’t think black people are in denial. They just need to lead their lives. They are going to shut things up and there will be repression. I include myself in that.
And on why it’s so hard to call out racism, she said:
Because making other people uncomfortable is thought worse than racism. It has taken me a while to train myself to speak out.
While some may expect Rankine, who was born in Jamaica, to see race issues through the lens of a Caribbean American, the acclaimed writer said her pride is in being black — and human.
I am a black person, it has made me into the person I am. I grew up with Jamaican parents and came here when I was seven. My parents came to the US, as all immigrants do, for economic betterment. We lived in the Bronx. My parents worked as hospital orderlies. I know it’s not the image people have of the Bronx but we had a comfortable, regular working-class life.
Speaking specifically on her line in Citizen, “Because white men can’t/ police their imagination/ black men are dying,” Rankine explained:
When white men are shooting black people, some of it is malice and some an out-of-control image of blackness in their minds. Darren Wilson told the jury that he shot Michael Brown because he looked “like a demon”. And I don’t disbelieve it. Blackness in the white imagination has nothing to do with black people.
Check out Rankine’s full Q&A here. What do you think about her take on racism?