Stepping in Her Shoes

By Samantha Brigandi

In Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, the reader takes the personal perspective of second person point of view through varying examples of racism. Rankine uses this unique style and couples it with modern day examples to really invite readers to experience the text more personally. Specifically, in this blog I will be focusing on how she uses the example of Serena Williams and catalogs some of the injustices over her career. By using the second person point of view she makes it feel as if we really are watching Serena and that emphasizes our ability to sympathize. More than that, it helps us turn that sympathy into empathy.

Serena Williams and her sister Venus are household names, world champions and record breakers, however, the events Rankine writes about are not common knowledge. Serena is also a great example, if not the best, because she’s a strong black woman playing on a stage considered “the most lily-white place in the world.” (Rankine, 32) This is to emphasize how, despite her unquestionable talent and superiority in the sport, she is still discriminated against and discredited. The world of tennis has been a white bourgeois sport since the dawn of the game, and for a girl from Compton to be the best there’s ever been it reveals the ugly side of the system. As Rankine quotes Zora Neale Hurston, “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.” (Rankine, 25) It becomes very clear how Serena stands against this sharp white background. She is too often portrayed by the media as an angry black woman and her outbursts have been over dramatized and punished harshly.

Rankine uses multiple examples to catalog the almost endless list of gross injustices faced by Serena. Specifically, it is her example of the match against Kim Clijsters that stood out most to me. It is the way that Serena reacts which is rooted in justified anger and by result she is penalized to an excessive degree. As Rankine writes following the outburst to the umpire, “now Serena’s reaction is read as insane. And her punishment for this moment of manumission is the threatened point penalty resulting in the loss of the match, an $82,500 fine, plus a two-year probationary period by the Grand Slam Committee.” (Rankine, 30) The punishment is more like a persecution, the excuse the Committee had been waiting for in an attempt to discredit and degrade Williams. Her outburst and rage were justly founded in the face of unfairness of the calls against her. An unfairness we can all understand and relate to, the feeling of anger at the person perpetuating this injustice. In Rankine’s words, “perhaps this is how racism feels no matter the context-randomly the rules everyone else gets to play by no longer apply to you,” (Rankine, 30) really strikes true and draws an emotional response. This is a really powerful example because it sheds light on a moment that was contextualized by the “sharp white background.” This kind of punishment should really be reserved for serious offenses, but a black woman’s anger is seen as seriously offensive to the Grand Slam Comittee. As Audre Lorde in her essay “The Uses of Anger” points out, “women responding to racism means women responding to anger, the anger of exclusion, of unquestioned privilege, of racial distortions, of silence, ill-use, stereotyping, defensiveness, misnaming, betrayal, and coopting.” (Lorde, 278) Serena Williams is exceptional, in her abilities and her victories, but we are reminded that in the face of racism there are no exceptions for her. The racism and sexism she faces are not exclusive to her but they are universal to black women everywhere.

 In conclusion, Rankine does something very unique by inviting us to personally experience the story and the effect is very powerful. By stepping into the shoes of women of color we can better understand the way these experiences cut so deeply. Following the story of Serena, we can understand and empathize with her anger, her anger at the game and the system and feeling rightfully angered by it ourselves. Overall, her ability to personally invite us into the story really allows us to step into someone else’s shoes and open our eyes.

Questions:

How did Second Person Point of view effect your experience reading the book?

Did the Serena Williams example remind you of any racial injustices you have seen in the sports world in recent years?

Works Cited

Rankine, Claudia. Citizen: an American Lyric. Graywolf Press, 2014.

Lorde, Audre. “The Uses of Anger.” Women’s Studies Quarterly, vol. 25, no. 1/2, 1981, pp. 278–285.

13 Replies to “Stepping in Her Shoes”

  1. Sam,
    I am literally in constant awe of your writing skills! You seriously pull me in with every piece of writing you create and I was so excited to see that your blog post was today. I really liked that you chose to focus on Serena Williams, because that part of the chapter definitely struck me the most. Like you said, these examples of racism she’s faced aren’t commonly known. One quote I found that was very sad to me was when Rankine says “She has grown up…as if responding to the injustice of racism is childish and her previous demonstration of emotion was free-floating and detached from any external actions by others” (35). When Serena finally stops sticking up for herself, she is admired by commentators for keeping it together. However, she probably just realized that reacting was only hurting her, and it was easier to just back down and play the game. However, this is a mentality that is very harmful and affects many black women who face microaggressions. They are forced to just quiet down or risk being seen as the angry, black woman. They can never win, and that is really demonstrated in Serena’s story.

  2. Samantha your post was very insightful! The topic you chose is so important to this book because the point of view is a strong writing technique. Focusing on Serena Williams is fantastic because, as an audience, we can really see how unfairly she was treated over her career through the first few chapters. To answer your question on the point of view, once I started reading I realized that this text is very interactive with the reader. This puts the audience in the shoes of black people. As Rankine says, “You never really speak except for the time she makes her request and later when she tells you you smell good and have features more like a white person” she takes us through one of many everyday racist scenarios (5). Going through these experiences, you are right, makes the readers empathize with the black population because they are treated so incorrectly.

  3. Sam, this post was very well done and made me go back and think about how Rankine used the second person perspective and made me feel quite involved and closer to the topic of unjust treatment in Serena Williams career as a tennis player. Seeing how Serena Williams was unfairly treated in this sport dominated by whites brings out the ugliness in the world in the past and even today. I personally have not really seen many unjust treatment in professional sports today. I do however, notice big differences in the amount of races in sports. Some sports are sometimes more dominated by a single race. I suspect this is because of the cost to play some of these sports.

  4. Sam, I liked how you focused your blog post on this idea from the book because it really allowed you to completely analyze it. I agree with you when you say that Rankine’s use of the second person point of view impacts the way we read this. The very first thing I noticed when I started reading was that she addresses her audience directly. By starting the book by saying, “When you are alone and too tired to even turn on any of your devices, you let yourself linger in a past stacked among your pillows,” Rankine is able to pull the reader in by intriguing them (5). It’s almost as if she’s accusing them of doing this, and they want to hear more of what she has to say about it. Because she continues to utilize this point of view as she goes on, I was able to better understand where she was coming from, and therefore almost feel like I was watching this injustice against Serena Williams myself, like you said. It also made me start to feel anger myself because she almost puts the reader into the story, too.

  5. Hi, Sam! I love your blog. You made a lot of insightful points about the reading. I love that you chose to talk about the second person writing technique because that’s what stood out to me right away. You don’t get to see a lot of second person point of view in literary work and I think it can be very useful as it was in this reading. In response to your question, “How did Second Person Point of view effect your experience reading the book?” I think it made it more powerful. I felt like I was there in the moment and it held my attention. It is a great way to reach out to many types of audiences. For people who have never experienced racism firsthand, they are still able to relate to certain emotions through the second person view. For example, when I read, “When you are alone and too tired even to turn on any of your devices, you let yourself linger in a past stacked among your pillows.” (Rankine 16) I was immediately able to relate to that feeling even though my situation that created that depressed state was different than Rankine’s. I find that to be a beautiful aspect to writing in second person. It creates a lot of empathy for the reader which makes what they are reading about all the more important and intriguing.

  6. Hey Samantha, I really enjoyed reading your blog post! I like how you focused on the topic of the persecution and racist actions towards Serena Williams in the world of tennis. She is 100% one of the best female athletes of our time, and she has seen more than her fair share of racism while in her professional career. To answer your first question, the use of second person point of view certainly did impact my reading experience. It seemed to draw me into the story much more, and second person works to show the racism much more to the reader, opposed to 3rd person. This is seen when Rankine states, “Serena in HD before your eyes becomes overcome by a rage you recognize and have been taught to hold at a distance for your own good” (online book, page 32). The previous quote exemplifies how second person point of view is being used to speak to the reader. In this instance it is being showed that expressing emotion towards persecution is okay… even as it may come with consequences. To answer your second question, the injustices toward Serena Williams most compare to that of Tiger Woods in my opinion. Although Tiger did not see that many racist calls during his play, during his scandal it seems like he was treated much poorly due to his race. There are many popular athletes and celebrities who are not loyal, yet that seems to go unnoticed.

  7. Hi Sam! I thought that your blogpost was very good and the topic that you chose to focus on is also something that I have been interested with as well. I think that it is unfair for people of color to always get judged as the “crazy” or “aggressive” person in a situation when they decide to stand up for themselves. This part of the book struck me the most and definitely made me angry. When the American media reported that Serena was “‘Crip-walking all over the most lily-white place…'” (Rankine 33) while doing her victory dance, I thought it was a great example of the racism that is still in the media today and it made me feel Serena’s frustrations and anger even more. If I had heard a comment like that about me after I had done something great for myself, I would be extremely mad and in discomfort.

  8. Hey Sam! I deeply enjoyed this blogpost a lot, one thing that really stood out to me was the second person technique. In response to your first question, as I was reading the book, this stood out to me the most because it is kind of unusual for me to see this in the books that I read. I found this to actually help my experience reading because it made me very curious and intrigued me to read more. I have come to the conclusion that a lot of authors use different techniques in order to keep the reader hooked into the content that they are producing. On page 9, Rankine states “you want to walk out and stand among them. And the light as the rain seems, it still rains down on you”. This stood out to me because it is such a deep quote and it feels as if she is directly speaking to you. It makes the reading experience intimate between the reader and the author.

  9. Hey Sam! This was a great blog post, I found it super insightful. I enjoyed how you spoke about Serena. The chapter not only focused on how she was treated and spoken about by others, but also how she viewed herself. This technique was very useful in getting to know Serena.”For years you attribute to Serena Williams a kind of resilience appropriate only for those who exist in celluloid”(26). This quote was very powerful because it allows us as the reader to understand how many obstacles she had to overcome in her life to get to where she is, as much as people may believe that she has her life together as a famous athlete.

  10. Hey, Samantha your post was very insightful and eye-opening! The reason the topic is essential to the book because of the effective writing technique. When Rankine focuses primary on Serena Williams in the beginning is also important because as an audience, we can really see how she was mistreated and how she had to deal with it.
    To answer your question on the point of view, As I started started to read the beginning, I was already engaged and I felt as if I was talking with the reader. When Rankine says, “You never really speak except for the time she makes her request and later when she tells you you smell good and have features more like a white person” She introduces us and leads us to misogyny and racism scenarios (5). Listening to these experiences, makes the reader empathize with the black population because they are treated so unfairly and that is an ethical concern.

    Rankine, Claudia. Citizen: An American Lyric. Graywolf Press, 2014.

  11. Hey, Samantha your post was very insightful and eye-opening! The reason the topic is essential to the book because of the effective writing technique. When Rankine focuses primary on Serena Williams in the beginning is also important because as an audience, we can really see how she was mistreated and how she had to deal with it.
    To answer your question on the point of view, As I started started to read the beginning, I was already engaged and I felt as if I was talking with the reader. When Rankine says, “You never really speak except for the time she makes her request and later when she tells you you smell good and have features more like a white person” She introduces us and leads us to misogyny and racism scenarios (5). Listening to these experiences, makes the reader empathize with the black population because they are treated so unfairly and that is an ethical concern.

    – Makense Garcia

    Rankine, Claudia. Citizen: An American Lyric. Graywolf Press, 2014.

  12. Hi Sam! I really enjoyed your blog post. I think that Serena displays how colored people have it very bad in this world. “When you are alone and too tired even to turn on any of your devices, you let yourself linger in a past stacked among your pillows.” (Rankine 16) I loved this quote because it shows the realness of being alone and having the world against you. I love how we got to see the view of a colored womens view and to see their struggle in life.

  13. Hi Samantha! Your blog post was very well written and I really enjoyed reading it. I really liked how you focused on Serena because she is such a well known athlete worldwide. I think it is important to think about the way Serena feels and has been portrayed because it also makes you think about how often this could be happening to others in the sports world as well. It was very interesting and insightful to get to see Serena’s point of view because it gives you a look at how so many people may also be treated.It is really important to acknowledge that racial inequalities are still relevant today, and even extremely successful people like Serena Wiliams experience it.

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