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July 27, 2015
Listen to Claudia Rankine on Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon.
Listen above to Claudia Rankine on Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon. The conversation was sponsored by Boston Review.
In the time of Ferguson, Baltimore, and Charleston, the poet Claudia Rankine has been the lyric teller of our deepest hurt. Her new book, Citizen: An American Lyric, was a best-seller and something of a lifeline this year, mapping America’s racial traumas—from the Katrina travesty (2005) to the death of Trayvon Martin (2012) and the now-and-then travails of Serena Williams.
Rankine says that American life is made of these moments when race gets us “by the throat.” Only some are nationally noted tragedies. The rest: millions of episodes between friends and loved ones, errors of human interaction, when “citizens” of different races trip up, and damage each other, typically without realizing it.
She calls them microaggressions. An example:
A friend tells you he has seen a photograph of you on the Internet and he wants to know why you look so angry. You and the photographer chose the photograph he refers to because you both decided it looked the most relaxed. Do you look angry? You wouldn’t have said so. Obviously this unsmiling image of you makes him uncomfortable, and he needs you to account for that.
If you were smiling, what would that tell him about your composure in his imagination?
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