The Importance Of Colorism In Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric

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Researcher Sherman James once said “There exists this medical term- John Henryism- for people exposed to stresses stemming from racism. They achieve themselves to death trying to dodge the buildup of erasure”(Rankine 11). People who live with this constant stress feel as if they need to work extraordinarily hard for their accomplishments to be recognized, and prevent all their hard work to be brushed off, and their entire life’s meaning erased. In the book Citizen: An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine describes her personal encounters of racism and inequality, and its ceaseless recurrence proves that both ideologies are still thriving today. Whether it be from a stranger, or a close friend, attacks on her person and identity are a repetitive …show more content…
She describes the conversation she had with a classmate, where she was asked to lean to the right so the classmate would be able to copy off of Rankine. Although this happened quite some time ago, and Rankine cannot remember the minor details, such as the girl’s name, what was said to her has been remembered. “She tells you you smell good and have features more like a white person”(5). Rankine assumes that the girl “Thinks she is thanking you for letting her cheat and feels better cheating from an almost white person”(5). This quote refers back to the theme that black skin is seen as insulting. It is insulting to Rankine because not only does it imply that those who have white skin are superior to those who have black skin, but it also makes it seem like Rankine should be appreciative that she has these features. In today’s society, colorism within the black community has become more prominent. Those who have lighter skin, or “have features more like a white person” tend to be more valued than those who have a darker complexion. These ideals not only divide the community, but is insulting to those who are valued less because of their black skin. Comments like this teach that those who have lighter skin should be grateful, while those who are darker should be ashamed, and strive for whiter skin. As we read further into the book, it becomes clear that Rankine, with her black skin, is going to be measured beneath …show more content…
At first Rankine is slightly confused because both she and the photographer thought she looked relaxed, she then comes to the realization that “This photo makes her friend uncomfortable and he wants her to account for that”(46). Her friend may not have intended to, but he did in fact place a racist stereotype on Rankine. He refers to the racist stereotype ‘black people are angry’. This idea portrays black people as being unapproachable and unfriendly. It paints them in a way that seems like their angry faces and unfriendly demeanor makes them dangerous and something that you need to stay away from. Even though Rankine thought she looked quite relaxed and was pleased with the photo, the endless cycle of being stereotyped still bled through. Expecting her to apologize because he had somehow been inconvenienced is not only preposterous but also

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