Yesha Callahan

Poet Claudia Rankine: Racism Interferes With White Peoples’ Lives As Much As With People Of Color

Photograph: Elizabeth Weinberg/Eyevine

Photograph: The Guardian/Elizabeth Weinberg/Eyevine

In her latest book, Citizen: An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine exposes the nuances of racism and violence that run so rampant in the United States, and in an interview with The Guardian, she’s further explained just how much a problem racism is not only for people of color, but white Americans as well.

Speaking on how racism isn’t just black people’s problem, but an issue for everyone, Rankine said:

Racism is complicated. White people feel personally responsible for racism when they should understand the problem as systemic. It is interfering as much with their lives as with the lives of people of colour. And racism can lodge in them. It isn’t them yet it can become them if they are not taking notice.

Asked if there’s a denial of racism among black people, she added:

I don’t think black people are in denial. They just need to lead their lives. They are going to shut things up and there will be repression. I include myself in that.

And on why it’s so hard to call out racism, she said:

Because making other people uncomfortable is thought worse than racism. It has taken me a while to train myself to speak out.

While some may expect Rankine, who was born in Jamaica, to see race issues through the lens of a Caribbean American, the acclaimed writer said her pride is in being black — and human.

I am a black person, it has made me into the person I am. I grew up with Jamaican parents and came here when I was seven. My parents came to the US, as all immigrants do, for economic betterment. We lived in the Bronx. My parents worked as hospital orderlies. I know it’s not the image people have of the Bronx but we had a comfortable, regular working-class life.

Speaking specifically on her line in Citizen, “Because white men can’t/ police their imagination/ black men are dying,” Rankine explained:

When white men are shooting black people, some of it is malice and some an out-of-control image of blackness in their minds. Darren Wilson told the jury that he shot Michael Brown because he looked “like a demon”. And I don’t disbelieve it. Blackness in the white imagination has nothing to do with black people.

Check out Rankine’s full Q&A here. What do you think about her take on racism?

  1. December 29, 2015 - Reply

    I think that the interview from Sister Claudia Rankine was very interesting and it shows a lot of insights that many people don’t get to see. She is a very intelligent human being. Racism is complicated. It is not just about a person saying slurs (which is racism too). It is about the systematic forces that prevents a black person (with great qualifications) from having a job or it involves a black person being followed in a store for no other reason but because of that black person’s race. Racism can exist in many manifestations. Many white folks know the truth. Some of them just don’t care. Some of them just want to either minimize racism and some just deny it outright. We have to speak out. Nothing changes unless we speak out and use action to fight back. That’s in our history from the slave revolts to the protests against oppression in the Deep South. We have resisted also in our generation in Ferguson, Baltimore, and in other places of America. We have resisted in Brazil when thousands of Afro-Brazilians stood up against sexism, racism, police terrorism, etc. in Brazil recently. That’s our history. Our history deals with resistance against evil. Darren Wilson calling Michael Brown a “demon” shows the anti-black bias and anti-black hatred found in many people.

    Her greatest point in the interview is how “Empathy is not a cure.” I certainly love that point. We, as black people don’t want to be treated as tokens and receive faux empathy from anyone. We want justice. We want the freedom to live our lives as we see fit without discrimination and without oppression. We want our descendants to see a world where a black child can walk down the streets and won’t be killed by a crooked cop. We want to live. We want to realize our dreams and aspirations by our own hands and by our own power. The power of self-determination and the power of our intellectual creativity relate directly to the hope, to the dream, and to the passion for liberty that we adhere to (and focus on) as human beings. We are human beings. We have the right to be liberated and have justice by birthright.

    • December 29, 2015 - Reply

      Good points Truth.

      • December 29, 2015 - Reply

        @Chazz A

        I appreciate your words Brother. Racism is a notorious evil and honestly exposing it is just the right thing to do.

        • December 29, 2015 - Reply


  2. December 29, 2015 - Reply

    i remember reading similar thoughts on how racism hurts white people on another site. white people do have their various problems/issues – especially when black people make them feel ‘uncomfortable’ talking about racism. poor souls.

  3. December 30, 2015 - Reply

    Systematic racism is because of while people. It was created by white people and it has been executed by white people.

    I’m not saying that all white people are responsible for what their past generations did. But they do benifit from it. And most white people are still carrying out the racist legacy of their ancestors.

    Why do blacks have the highest unemployment rate?

    White people are to blame because they are the system.

    We give white people too many exuses.

    So, if their “blackness” is a white mans imagination then what is “whiteness” to black people? A made up image as well?

  4. December 30, 2015 - Reply

    Seriously? The last thing black folks should be worrying about is how “white people suffered” from anything. But that is what you get when folks decide to “shut things up” and pretend bad things aren’t happening…….

    I don’t recall things going too well in nature when you roll over and play dead.

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