Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.

~ Zora Neale Hurston from How it Feels to Be Colored Me (1928)


Printed in Citizen: An American Lyrics by Claudia Rankine
Printed in Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Nashville has changed me. In this space where liberalism excuses itself and distances itself from explicit racism, but still participates in the subtle prejudices couched in the racism they claim to disavow, it becomes very difficult to come and go. Any space you enter could be filled with people wearing masks of acceptance, secretly more comfortable with your absence and silence. And they will smile. They will engage you in debates about the issues of our day. You will avoid these conversations until you don’t and your opinion is overridden by the deep understanding they have of the ways people of color move through the world—information they have gathered within the walls of their white world.

And in this same space, there will be a moment when they wear their racism around you and point it at you accusingly with no fear of retribution. And the people who witness this moment will feign surprise and create distance, but the truth would have already been uncovered. And you’ll relive the emotions, anger and frustration in the pages of a book you were recommended by a black woman who walked through this space and actually saw you.