Painting prejudice with too-broad brushstrokes

Emily Doran

This past week, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture given by Claudia Rankine to wrap up this year’s Community Reading Project at Grand Valley State University. While I was unable to participate in the program this year, I did manage to read some excerpts from Rankine’s book, “Citizen,” many of which she highlighted in her lecture.

Overall, I enjoyed the address she gave. It was brimming with substance and interesting commentary on relevant issues, and she delivered her ideas in an eloquent and compelling manner.

Rankine managed to shed some light on real problems facing victims of racism. What struck me the most were her stories of prejudice and microaggressions that happened, in varying ways, to her and to people she knew every day. While some instances were less severe than others, they were all nonetheless disturbing and blatant.

I particularly enjoyed the medium with which Rankine chose to write about these issues in “Citizen.” She read several passages straight from her book, and I could clearly imagine each scenario. Her writing style was descriptive and compelling, and her unique formatting fit well with her content.

Blurring the lines of genre, she used poetic language to describe real instances in stand-alone sections, in which she oftentimes referred to herself or to some other main character in the second person.

I did take issue with a few comments which Rankine made. Her broad and generalized condemnation of Caucasians was uncalled for and unsettling. She even went so far as to suggest that the present audience specifically was involved, in some way or another, with white supremacy—perhaps unknowingly, unintentionally, subliminally, but involved regardless. I think she failed to give credit to Caucasians who are well aware of racial issues and both cognizant and in control of their own actions and beliefs.

Not every white person believes and exercises ideals associated with white supremacy. Not every white person is a victim of a racist environment and incapable of breaking free and thinking on their own. While I can understand and appreciate the place of anger and frustration from which Rankine was coming, I think that she overcompensated in trying to get her point across by condemning audience members simply for being white. No one should be made to feel ashamed because of their skin color, and in that particular regard, Rankine failed to gain my sympathy.

Still, despite this issue, Rankine largely succeeded in conveying the seriousness of racism and the many different ways in which it manifests itself in the everyday lives of its victims. She showed a clip in which several individuals were the victims of police brutality or racial profiling, and she concluded by reading the closing of her book and stressing that there really was no ‘end’ to this issue. She left me, and undoubtedly the majority of her listeners, challenged and greatly affected by what she had to say, and I found myself mulling over her words long after the lecture had concluded.