Coping the quote
30+ quotes from Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Quotes from Citizen: An American Lyric

Claudia Rankine ·  169 pages

Rating: (18.7K votes)


“because white men can't
police their imagination
black men are dying”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“The past is a life sentence, a blunt instrument aimed at tomorrow.”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“Then the voice in your head silently tells you to take your foot off your throat because just getting along shouldn’t be an ambition.”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“Perhaps this is how racism feels no matter the context—randomly the rules everyone else gets to play by no longer apply to you, and to call this out by calling out “I swear to God!” is to be called insane, crass, crazy. Bad sportsmanship.”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“When you arrive in your driveway and turn off the car, you remain behind the wheel another ten minutes. You fear the night is being locked in and coded on a cellular level and want time to function as a power wash. Sitting there staring at the closed garage door you are reminded that a friend once told you there exists the medical term—John Henryism—for people exposed to stresses stemming from racism. They achieve themselves to death trying to dodge the buildup of erasure. Sherman James, the researcher who came up with the term, claimed the physiological costs were high. You hope by sitting in silence you are bucking the trend.”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“Yes, and the body has memory. The physical carriage hauls more than its weight. The body is the threshold across which each objectionable call passes into consciousness—all the unintimidated, unblinking, and unflappable resilience does not erase the moments lived through, even as we are eternally stupid or everlastingly optimistic, so ready to be inside, among, a part of the games.”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“Memory is a tough place. You were there.”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“Nobody notices, only you've known,

you're not sick, not crazy,
not angry, not sad--

It's just this, you're injured.”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“Another friend tells you you have to learn not to absorb the world. She says sometimes she can hear her own voice saying silently to whomever—you are saying this thing and I am not going to accept it. Your friend refuses to carry what doesn’t belong to her.”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“Perhaps the most insidious and least understood form of segregation is that of the word.”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“What does a victorious or defeated black woman’s body in a historically white space look like? Serena and her big sister Venus Williams brought to mind Zora Neale Hurston’s “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.” This appropriated line, stenciled on canvas by Glenn Ligon, who used plastic letter stencils, smudging oil sticks, and graphite to transform the words into abstractions, seemed to be ad copy for some aspect of life for all black bodies.”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“Did you win? he asks.
It wasn't a match, I say. It was a lesson.”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“A friend argues that Americans battle between the “historical self” and the “self self.” By this she means you mostly interact as friends with mutual interest and, for the most part, compatible personalities; however, sometimes your historical selves, her white self and your black self, or your white self and her black self, arrive with the full force of your American positioning. Then you are standing face-to-face in seconds that wipe the affable smiles right from your mouths. What did you say? Instantaneously your attachment seems fragile, tenuous, subject to any transgression of your historical self. And though your joined personal histories are supposed to save you from misunderstandings, they usually cause you to understand all too well what is meant.”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“That's the bruise in the heart the ice in the heart was meant to ice.”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“Not long ago you are in a room where someone asks the philosopher Judith Butler what makes language hurtful. You can feel everyone lean in. Our very being exposes us to the address of another, she answers. We suffer from the condition of being addressable. Our emotional openness, she adds, is carried by our addressability. Language navigates this. For so long you thought the ambition of racist language was to denigrate and erase you as a person. After considering Butler’s remarks, you begin to understand yourself as rendered hypervisible in the face of such language acts. Language that feels hurtful is intended to exploit all the ways that you are present. Your alertness, your openness, and your desire to engage actually demand your presence, your looking up, your talking back, and, as insane as it is, saying please. Standing outside the conference room, unseen by the two men waiting for the others to arrive, you hear one say to the other that being around black people is like watching a foreign film without translation. Because you will spend the next two hours around the round table that makes conversing easier, you consider waiting a few minutes before entering the room.”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“You begin to think, maybe erroneously, that this other kind of anger is really a type of knowledge: the type that both clarifies and disappoints. It responds to insult and attempted erasure simply by asserting presence, and the energy required to present, to react, to assert is accompanied by visceral disappointment: a disappointment in the sense that no amount of visibility will alter the ways in which one is perceived.”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“Hey you —

All our fevered history won't instill insight,
won't turn a body conscious,
won't make that look
in the eyes say yes, though there is nothing

to solve

even as each moment is an answer.”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“Yes, and the body has a memory. The physical carriage hauls more than its weight. The body is the threshold across which each objectionable call passes into consciousness—all the unintimidated, unblinking, and unflappable resilience does not erase the moments lived through, even as we are eternally stupid or everlastingly optimistic, so ready to be inside, among, a part of the games.”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“How to care for the injured body,

the kind of body that can't hold
the content it is living?”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“Again Serena’s frustrations, her disappointments, exist within a system you understand not to try to understand in any fair-minded way because to do so is to understand the erasure of the self as systemic, as ordinary. For Serena, the daily diminishment is a low flame, a constant drip. Every look, every comment, every bad call blossoms out of history, through her, onto you. To understand is to see Serena as hemmed in as any other black body thrown against our American background. “Aren’t you the one that screwed me over last time here?” she asks umpire Asderaki. “Yeah, you are. Don’t look at me. Really, don’t even look at me. Don’t look my way. Don’t look my way,” she repeats, because it is that simple.”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“You are you even before you grow into understanding you are not anyone, worthless, not worth you. Even as your own weight insists you are here, fighting off the weight of nonexistence. And still this life parts your lids, you see you seeing your extending hand as a falling wave— I they he she we you turn only to discover the encounter to be alien to this place. Wait. The patience is in the living. Time opens out to you. The opening, between you and you, occupied, zoned for an encounter, given the histories of you and you— And always, who is this you? The start of you, each day, a presence already— Hey you—”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“She has grown up, another decides, 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.”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“Hold up, did you just hear, did you just say, did you just see, did you just do that? Then the voice in your head silently tells you to take your foot off your throat because just getting along shouldn’t be an ambition.”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“It is the White Man who creates the black man. But it is the black man who creates.”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“Memory is a tough place. You were there. If this is not the truth, it is also not a lie.”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“Why do you feel comfortable saying this to me? You wish the light would turn red or a police siren would go off so you could slam on the brakes, slam into the car ahead of you, fly forward so quickly both your faces would suddenly be exposed to the wind.”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“Yes, and though watching tennis isn't a cure for feeling, it is a clean displacement of effort, will, and disappointment.”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“Do not say I if it means so little,
holds the little forming no one.

You are not sick, you are injured--

you ache for the rest of your life.”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“Now that there is no calling out of injustice, no yelling, no cursing, no finger wagging or head shaking, the media decides to take up the mantle when on December 12, 2012, two weeks after Serena is named WTA Player of the Year, the Dane Caroline Wozniacki, a former number-one player, imitates Serena by stuffing towels in her top and shorts, all in good fun, at an exhibition match. Racist? CNN wants to know if outrage is the proper response.”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


“And still you are not the guy and still you fit the description because there is only one guy who is always the guy fitting the description.”
― Claudia Rankine, quote from Citizen: An American Lyric


About the author

Claudia Rankine
Born place: Jamaica
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