In Claudia Rankine’s Citizen An American Lyric, the first section works to put the readers in an uncomfortable situation while reading, in order to help them better understand the ways in which everyday racism is perpetuated in a multitude of forms against Black Americans. She does this by highlighting instances of microaggressions. Small moments of racism that may go over someone’s head if they are not paying close attention. Rankine shows us that although small, these moments of everyday racism can be severely degrading for marginalized groups of people. Rankine seeks to make the white reader more aware of this mundane racism, so that they will be less likely to perpetuate it onto marginalized people.
Rankine shares a memory from her childhood where she experienced an act of microaggression from another child, in hopes to portray how the impact of another child’s seemingly innocent words can leave a damaging effect on one’s view of themselves. After she lets the student cheat off of her, Rankine recalls the girls usual response “You never really speak except for the time she makes her request and later when she tells you you smell good and have features like a white person” (5). The classmate of Rankine’s was not purposefully attempting to be malicious towards her, however, it is quite clear that the comment is very much so offensive and hurtful, as it implies that Rankine having features like a white person is somehow inherently better than having more traditionally African American features. The comment, although subtle, stuck with Rankine from childhood into adulthood, showing it has carried with her in a damaging way.
Another example of a microaggression experienced by Rankine was when a friend kept getting mixed up with her name “After it happened I was at a loss for words. Haven’t you said this to a close friend who early in your friendship, when distracted, would call you by the name of her black housekeeper? (7). A lot of people claim that they are bad with names, so what makes this girl mixing up Rankine’s name any different? Rankine’s friend not being able to get her name straight becomes a problem when she is getting it confused with possibly the only other black woman in her life. Whether the friend actually realizes it or not, she is reinforcing a stereotype. The stereotype that most people of color look alike is widely reinforced by white people who do not bother or take the time to match a face to a name, and Rankine’s friend is clearly a culprit of that.
Not only does Rankine point of the microaggressions she has faced in her own life, but she also brings to light those that have been hurled toward black sportswomen, such as Serina and Venus Williams. An example of that may be tennis officials abusing their powers and affirming their bias for other competitors over the Williams sisters, and they ways in which people react to Serina’s justified frustration. After Serina is subjected to unfairness by officials she stands up for herself and unleashes her anger. While Rankine sees this as an applaudable moment, the officials do not “Now Serina’s reaction is read as insane” (Rankine 30). If Serina had not been an African American woman, would she still have been read as being insane for her reaction? The commentators were able to side with Serina’s frustrating as with their tennis knowledge, they could tell something was off, however, her reaction to the unfairness was still looked down upon. The officials, the umpires, and many fans forced her into the angry black woman stereotype, furthering the notion that Serina’s anger was unjustifiable.
By pointing out the microaggressions she has faced in her life, and the ones faced by women of a high celebrity status, Rankine points out to the white audience that it is easier than originally thought to perpetuate harmful stereotypes and contribute to the oppression of marginalized groups.
- In what ways so far has the book either changed the way, or reinforce the way you think about what it means to be a culprit or an accomplice to racism?
- What are some other examples of microaggressions scattered throughout the book?
Rankine, Claudia, 1963- author. Citizen : An American Lyric. Minneapolis, Minnesota :Graywolf Press, 2014.
8 Replies to “The Harmfulness of microaggressions-Brooke Christman”
Hey Brooke, I really enjoyed reading your blog post!! You made so many good points and really opened my eyes to the microaggression throughout the story so far. I completely agree with you and feel as though it helps the reader understand how even the littlest of things can be perceived as racist, in hopes to make the reader more aware and prevent them from doing the same in their daily lives. I especially liked the first point you made about the subtle comment having such an impact on Rankine. Many people are unaware of the impact words have on others even to this day. Another example of this is when she states, “What did he just say? Did she really just say that? Did I hear what I think I heard? Did that just come out of my mouth, his mouth, your mouth?”(P.9) These are questions that should never be asked but are quite often. It is almost unbelievable that someone would really say these things mainly because they are saying them in front of their faces as if it’s no big deal at all. This book does an excellent job at making everyone realize that they should really stop and think before they speak because words can be very powerful and should be used wisely.
Hey Brooke! I loved reading your blog post, as it opened my eyes to many of the microaggressions in the book so far. You had many great examples and I thought I would answer your second question about other examples of microaggressions. Another example is from when Rankine was on a plane and she was discriminated against by a woman and her daughter. When the mother saw that Rankine was sitting in the seat she said, “I see, she says. I’ll sit in the middle.”(Rankine 12). The mother did not want her daughter to sit next to a black woman for some unknown reason. The daughter acted the same way to Rankine as her mother showing that racism is taught and that no one is born racist. Children only learn to be racist by watching what their parents do and I do not know any parent that would want their child to act that way. People need to teach children to be accepting and not discriminatory or else they are going to grow up and continue the path of racism through generations. Racism will never stop if parents continue to raise their children to be racist. Overall I loved your blog post once again and I am excited to hear what you have to say in class about the microaggressions in class.
Hi Brooke! I really enjoyed reading your blog post! It was very thought-provoking and interesting to read. Claudia Rankine has a very unique way of writing and grabbing her reader’s attention. She uses her writing to demonstrate problems of racism still going on in today’s society that people don’t even realize is still going on. Something that stuck out to me was when she wrote, “Your neighbor tells you he is standing at his window watching a menacing black guy casing both your homes. The guy is walking back and forth talking to himself and seems disturbed. You tell your neighbor that your friend, whom he has met, is babysitting… Anyway, he wants you to know, he’s called the police” (15). Reading this really shocked me and it just shows that people still judge based on someone’s race even to this day. The neighbor wasn’t trying to be racist but was assumed a situation because her friend is black. Rankine does a great job to make people more aware of their actions. Good luck with your presentation! -Deirdre Lynch
Hi Brooke, I really enjoyed reading your blog post! I loved the way you incorporated examples of Rankine’s childhood to give a further description of what microaggression is. Reading the book so far has definitely opened my eyes to what it means to be a culprit to racism. Unfortunately, I have made comments and I have had comments made to me that were subtle but degrading. A huge example of microaggression in the book shows on page 21. “A man in line refers to boisterous teenagers in the Starbucks as ‘niggers’. You say there’s no need to “get all KKK on them,” to which he responds “now there you go”. It is obvious that incidents like these happen way too often. People say things that may or may not be intended to be harmful, but it leaves an effect on people. I believe that the cause of this issue starts at home. Parents need to be mindful about what they say around their children because children imitate. I also believe that parents should raise their kids to be more aware and excepting of people that are different from them.
Hi Brooke! I really liked your blog post. I agree that Rankine’s pointing out of microaggressions that not only she but celebrities face/faced in life is very effective in demonstrating the range and power of stereotypes. To answer your second question, there are many examples of microaggressions throughout the book, which are indirect, subtle, or unintentional acts of discrimination among a marginalized group. One example in particular is when Rankine recounts the time she was discriminated against by a white mother and daughter on a plane. When the mother noticed that Rankine was sitting in their small row, the mother said, “I’ll sit in the middle,” in attempt to separate her from her daughter (12). The daughter behaves similarly to her mother, indicating that racism is learned and taught. While miniscule, this was still a notable form of discrimination that occurred often in real life. Rankine’s exposure of such microaggressions and the second-person point of view in which they are presented contribute to her greater point; this behavior has been prominent within all walks of society for too long, and something needs to be done.
Hello Brooke, I thought your blog post was very insightful. The only thing I am stuck on is your strict definition fo the audience. from what I read, I didn’t see or read anywhere that the book was specifically for a white audience so I would be carful when defining what her audience was without clear evidence. As for you analysis of the micro aggressions, she is trying to raise a specific awareness. Rankine states “And though our joined personal histories are supposed to save you from misunderstandings, they usually cause you to understand all too well what is meant”(82). She is highlighting the fact that while our past shows progress in the relationship between races it also makes the blatant racism clear, and even more painful. I think this would be helpful to your argument about why its important to watch for microagressions.
Hey Brooke! i found your blog post to be really insightful. I think microaggression is an extremely important theme in the book so far, and I love that you focused on it. The microaggressions seen in Chapter 1 must be noted. They are harsh, passive-aggressive, and they are based on race. Due to the unfortunate fact and historical indecencies, these micro aggressions have become normalized in society to the fact where people do not even realize what they are saying to affect these people until they are called out for being wrong. Rankin offers the example when a therapist mistakes ‘you’ or the reader for an intruder: “Oh yes, that’s right. I am sorry. I am so sorry, so, so sorry” (18). This racial profiling is suddenly normalized, and society only really apologizes for when they realize they are mistaken.
Hi Brooke! I really enjoyed reading your blog post and how you focused on the different acts of microaggression all throughout the first two parts of this book. While reading, something that stood out to me right away is the layout of how Rankine has written this book. She intentionally separates different stories on separate pages, which is very important in fully appreciating the importance of each story and understanding the racism that underlies throughout each story. To answer your second discussion question, another example of microaggression that stood out to me the most is when Rankine describes the moment when her neighbor has called the police on her friend who is babysitting. Rankine states “Your neighbor tells you he is standing at his window watching a menacing black guy casing both your homes. The guy is walking back and forth talking to himself and seems disturbed.” (21) Rankine explains this man is a friend that he has met before, and he is there because he is babysitting. Her neighbor refuses to believe that he has met this man and that no harm will occur in this situation. Her neighbor has assumed that since he is unable to recognize this man, and since he is a man of color, he should call the police; which shows an extreme example of stereotyping. Throughout this book, Rankine brings to the attention of others how often racist actions and comments are made every day, no matter how subtle or large they may be.