MacArthur Fellowship recipient Rankine (Citizen: An American Lyric) combines poetry, prose, and imagery in this unique and powerful meditation on the challenges of communicating across the racial divide in America. Drawing on her own experience as a Black woman married to a white man, Rankine highlights the necessity of having uncomfortable conversations in order to understand both the experiences of other people and one’s own needs and beliefs. In the essay “liminal spaces i,” she recounts asking a white stranger about his understanding of white male privilege after he complained that his son couldn’t use “the diversity card” to gain early admission to Yale, where Rankine teaches. In another essay, she contemplates asking her mixed-race daughter’s white teachers about their “unconscious inevitable racism and implicit bias” at a parent-teacher conference. “José martí” features Rankine grappling with the limits of her own knowledge as she talks with a new friend about anti-Latinx racism. The discussion hits several snags, yet Rankine persists: “I still have questions, and the way to get answers is to bear her corrections.” Other pieces incorporate commentary from Rankine’s conversational partners and “fact checks” of her own assertions. The result is an incisive, anguished, and very frank call for Americans of all races to cultivate their “empathetic imagination” in order to build a better future. Agent: Frances Coady, Aragi, Inc. (Sept.)
[Claudia Rankine] is one of our foremost thinkers, and Just Us is essential reading in 2020 and beyond.”BookPage
“In this genre-defying work, [Claudia Rankine], as she did so effectively in Citizen, combines poetry, essay, visuals, scholarship, analysis, invective, and argument into a passionate and persuasive case about many of the complex mechanics of race in this country. . . . Rankine writes with disarming intimacy and searing honesty. . . . A work that should move, challenge, and transform every reader who encounters it.”Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“An incisive, anguished, and very frank call for Americans of all races to cultivate their ‘empathetic imagination’ in order to build a better future.”Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Rankine presents another arresting blend of essays and images, perfectly attuned to this long-overdue moment of racial reckoning. . . . [Analyzing] the overwhelming power of whiteness in everyday interaction . . . Rankine once again opens a literary window into the Black experience, for those willing to look in.”Booklist, starred review
“Rankine seeks to find a space beyond white defensiveness and guilt where meaningful discussions can take place. . . . A must-read to add to the conversation on racism, antiracism, and white fragility.”Library Journal, starred review
“This brilliant and multi-layered work by Claudia Rankine is a call, a bid, an insistent, rightly impatient demand for a public conversation on whiteness. . . . A rare honesty toward a potential affirmation. Anyone who turns away from this bold and vital invitation to get to work would be a damn fool.”Judith Butler
“In my work, well-meaning white people consistently ask me how to recognize racism. Yet we might ask, ‘How have we managed not to know?’ The information is everywhere, if we care to listen. Indeed, here is illuminating testimony that is both poetic and well beyond the abstract. With clarity and grace, Claudia Rankine delivers a gut punch to white denial. Just Us is stunning workaudacious, revelatory, devastating.”Robin DiAngelo
“With Just Us, Claudia Rankine offers further proof that she is one of our essential thinkers about race, difference, politics, and the United States of America. Written with humility and humor, criticism and compassion, Just Us asks difficult questions and begins necessary conversations.”Viet Thanh Nguyen
“Fiercely intimate, rigorous. . . . [Just Us] lets all of us in on the conversationswith others and the selfthat are necessary for survival, which, attested by this all-too-human account, is rooted in the vigilance that racially imagined people must maintain for their very being.”Nuar Alsadir
“In Just Us, Claudia Rankine continues her remarkable and brilliant interrogation of the language, culture, and history that have shaped America, forging through poems, essays, and documents a literary archive that is utterly original and desperately needed.”Dinaw Mengestu
Esteemed poet, playwright, and essayist Rankine (Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry, Yale Univ.; The White Card) explores whiteness in a hybrid collection of essays, poetry, photographs, and documents. A frequent traveler, Rankine writes in the section "liminal spaces i" on the assumptions white businessmen make about her as a Black woman. With mixed results, she attempts to engage them in conversation about their white male privilege. "To converse is to risk the performance of what's held by the silence," she writes in "liminal spaces ii." The entire book becomes a conversation that probes and questions more than it answers. Like a conversation, it circles around, moves from one topic to another and back again. From pieces on the media whitening of tennis phenom Naomi Osaka to dyed blond hair to "Ethical Loneliness," a stunning essay interleaved with a keynote speech by Audre Lorde, Rankine seeks to find a space beyond white defensiveness and guilt where meaningful discussions can take place. VERDICT "How does one say/ what if/ without reproach?" asks Rankine, and proceeds to show us. In the end it is "just us" wanting "justice," which will require whiteness to be visible and interrogated. A must-read to add to the conversation on racism, antiracism, and white fragility.—Stefanie Hollmichel, Univ. of St. Thomas Law Lib., Minneapolis
A cross-disciplinary inquiry into race as the determining construct in American life and culture—and how it is perceived and experienced so differently by those who consider themselves white.
Rankine—a Yale professor, renowned poet, and MacArthur fellow whose groundbreaking book Citizen: An American Lyric (2014) won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award—resists being pigeonholed, particularly by white critics. “Another white friend tells me she has to defend me all the time to her white friends who think I’m a radical,” she writes. “Why? For calling white people white?...Don’t defend me. Not for being human. Not for wanting others to be able to just live their lives. Not for wanting us to simply be able to live.” In this genre-defying work, the author, as she did so effectively in Citizen, combines poetry, essay, visuals, scholarship, analysis, invective, and argument into a passionate and persuasive case about many of the complex mechanics of race in this country—especially how white people barely acknowledge it (particularly in conversation with other white people) while for black people, it affects everything. Rankine writes with disarming intimacy and searing honesty about pointed exchanges with white friends and colleagues, fissures within her marriage, and encounters with white strangers who assume some sort of superiority of rank. Throughout this potent book, the author ably conveys the urgency of the stakes regarding race in America, which many white people fail to acknowledge as an issue. The way she challenges those close to her, risking those relationships, shows readers just how critical the issues are to her—and to us. Rankine examines how what some see as matters of fact—e.g., “white male privilege” or “black lives matter”—seem to others like accusation or bones of contention, and she documents how and why this culture has been able to perpetuate itself.
A work that should move, challenge, and transform every reader who encounters it.