On Monday, Feb. 15, Colorado College kicked off the beginning of Sixth Block with a powerful first Monday from Award Winning Poet, Claudia Rankine. Her most current collection of poetry titled, “Citizen: An American Lyric,” has won multiple awards, including the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, and the NAACP Image Award.
Rankin’s work delves into the black experience in the white imagination.
At the First Monday event, Dr. Michael Sawyer, Assistant Professor of Race, Ethnicity and Migration Studies at CC introduced Claudia Rankine.
“If you aren’t familiar with her work, I suggest you fix that immediately,” said Sawyer. “These lyrics render the black body visible.”
Claudia Rankine started her presentation with a powerful video that paired poetic dialogue with footage of oppression and racism towards people of color. The video emphasized the importance of public trust and the consequences when societies lack that trust.
After the video, Rankine continued to pair poetry with visual stimulation by reading from her most recent work, Citizen, while showing the images she paired with the dialogue on a PowerPoint presentation. One of her images is the stomach-churning Souvenir Portrait of the Lynching of Abram Smith and Thomas Shipp on Aug. 7, 1930.
The slide displayed the photo with the black bodies, and, by its side, the same photo without the black bodies.
“They didn’t want to sell the image to me because they are afraid someone will use the image to promote what is in the image,” said Rankine. “I thought about it and thought, wait, I am not a white supremacist. How about I send you the book? They agreed to do that and about three weeks later they sold me the image. I later asked, is it ok for me to take away the bodies? For me, the interesting thing about the photograph are all the people in this photograph who see this as entertainment, I was interested in the picture without the body.”
Rankine formulates through her poetry and imagery the idea that people have responsibility over the current status quo.
“We, the people in this room, are legacies of white supremacy, we are the jurors, and we say it’s not a problem,” said Rankine. “We say the white imagination is justified in feeling afraid.”
The cover of “Citizen” is the image of a hoodie created by artist David Hammons, which was released after the beating of Rodney King. The image reminds the reader of the unjustified fear associated with black men and hoodies, and how the white imagination causes tragedies such as the Trayvon Martin murder.
Rankine ended her presentation by discussing how racism controls black behavior and how fear leads black citizens to limit their own citizenship.
“She pointed out specific instances where the black body is controlled by black supremacy, and I can relate,” said sophomore, Peter Derry. “She takes that experience and puts it out there artistically and metaphorically, which I really appreciate.”