“Citizen” is an interesting collection of writing. The works, which vary in length, mainly tackle to the problem of segregation and the race struggle in America. Whether just free writing, or describing the events of Hurricane Katrina and the shooting of Trayvon Martin, Rankine is able to successfully make the reader feel the oppression that existed and be able to understand what happened regardless of their personal life story.
One moment in “Citizen” that intrigues me is the 2 page spread at the beginning of the book that has the lines “I DO NOT ALWAYS FEEL COLORED…” and “I FEEL MOST COLORED WHEN I AM THROWN AGAINST A SHARP WHITE BACKGROUND.” These two lines would be powerful if they were written out in a regular font on the page as black text on a white page. Yet Rankine decides not to follow the “norm” for writing and insteads gets very creative in her writing out of these lines. The writing resembles that of a student in middle school who has done something wrong and is now copying their sin down on the chalkboard over and over. The first page which contains the line “I DO NOT ALWAYS FEEL COLORED” is interesting without the addition of the second page. The lines are slowly blurred as the reader moves down the page and the ink appears to smudge more and more eventually making it very difficult for the reader to differentiate between the text and the smudged ink. In the first few lines it is apparent that the stark contrast between the dark and the light make the writer feel colored. They literally stand out against the rest of of the page. However, as the page gets darker they start to feel more comfortable as they are surrounded by the darkness. This could be more a comment on the comfort that blacks felt within their own communities contrasted with the negativity they felt directed at them by the whites.
Additionally, the second page only reinforces the first page. The line stresses what we already know, which is that the whiteness made Rankine feel different, and clearly not in a good way if it has to be mentioned, whereas among people similar to her she felt comfortable and not like an outcast. Similarly the use of the word “Thrown” in these lines indicates that she is being forced onto this white background and if it were up to her she would not be forced onto the “SHARP WHITE BACKGROUND.” What interests me most about this is that the rest of the book is then written in black text on a white page. This would normally not carry any significant value as printing white text on a black page for example would just be very cost inefficient. It is interesting that she makes such a distinction at the beginning of the book and then proceeds to write about the struggles of black people in the face of white oppression in the back text on white page.
I see a connection between Rankine and Hughes’ “I, Too, Sing America.” Both Hughes and Rankine describe their struggle as blacks living in America and the harsh segregation they experience in their lives. Both Rankine and Hughes are proud of their ancestry and yet it seems that while Hughes embraces his Rankine has more difficulty with hers. On those same pages I discuss above the smudging of the ink could be a sign that Rankine is losing her own identity and is fitting the non A-Type personality that the whites would have wanted the blacks to have. In contrast, Hughes embraces his ancestry and skin color and shows a more proactive approach in his seeking equality, “When company comes./Nobody’ll dare/Say to me.”Eat in the kitchen,”/Then.” (10-15). Hughes has embraced his ancestry and is ready to move past what the white people tell him who he should be.
Questions for the class:
- Do you see the smudging of ink at the bottom of the page as a sign of lost identity or as something different?
- Do you think that Hughes and Rankine share a connection or is Rankine more closely connected to another poet?