Claudia Rankine’s Citizen recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in our twenty-first-century daily lives and in the media. Some of these encounters are slight, seemingly slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, on the tennis court with Serena Williams and the soccer field with Zinedine Zidane, online, on TV – virtually everywhere, all the time. The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person’s ability to speak, perform, and stay alive. Our accountability in these situations is tied to the state of our belonging, Rankine argues, as are our assumptions and expectations of citizenship. In essay, image, and poetry, Citizen is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, often named “post-race” society.
But what can we, as students, faculty members, staff, and administrators learn from Citizen, and, more importantly, what changes can we make after processing the deep, profound issues and messages that Rankine poses? As incoming freshman, you will take part in an ongoing dialogue with one another and with your mentors about both slight and overt racial aggression, and it is of the utmost importance that you learn how you might be contributing to or fighting back against these aggressions. Take the time to read and process Citizen, make an effort to understand how and why Rankine attempts to expose every day racism, and, most importantly, be ready to discuss this with your peers and mentors.
First Year Matters is an invaluable medium through which we can see whole new sides of issues like racism, and everyone stands to learn something about their own responsibility in our current racial moment. Citizen sheds light on everyday racism, both obvious and hidden, so in your discussions about Rankine’s message (or messages), take the time to appreciate how these mechanisms of racism play a role in your life, or, how they may not.
We hope you enjoy this First Year Matters selection, and we cannot wait for you to be a part of the ongoing discussion of 21st century racism and how we can effect change.
Aidan Winn ’18, Academic Peer Advisor