December 2 – Citizen

On Saturday, December 2, Books and Breakfast featured Claudia Rankine’s poetry book, Citizen. In a gist, Citizen is a collection of poems exploring the mounting racial microaggressions in a time that is too often branded as a “post-racial society”. In essay, image, and poetry, Rankine’s work is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our current age, carried on from daily interactions to the media.

The morning brought together people of diverse age groups and races to discuss topics raised in the book. A significant portion of the attendees were Butler University students. After being split into three groups, attendees experienced a rotation of seminars exploring the book conducted by three moderators: Park Tudor English teacher and poet Allison Horton, local jazz artist Vicky Daniel, and Butler University’s Dr. Terri Jett.

Horton conducted a mini-workshop, in which attendees were encouraged to write their own haikus exploring their thoughts on the book in regards to racial relations in modern America. A Butler student wrote about how both her and her brother are biracial, yet she is more “white-passing” compared to her brother. The last line of her haiku was: “Is he white enough?” She explained that she is very aware of how people look at and treat him differently.

Vicky Daniel brought her musical skills into the mix by making attendees come together in song. Everyone in each group had to make a noise until they all came together and Daniel sang along to the collective sounds. Daniel explored the concept of visibility and what it means to be visible, and encouraged attendees to connect it to the discussion of the book. All groups came to the consensus that Black Americans have much less visibility than White Americans, except when it comes to negative things such as crime.

Dr. Jett conducted a discussion workshop, in which she provided passages and asked each group to respond to them. She touched on the subject of visibility again, by including passages about a young white girl in a Catholic School that would cheat off of a black classmate, yet the teacher never caught her due to the “invisibility” of the black girl in the classroom. An attendee pointed out that the same white girl later complimented the black girl on having “white” features when trying to be nice. Dr. Jett also provided passages about the media’s unfair coverage of Serena Williams, and white Americans refusal to give Williams the proper credit she deserves as a tennis player.

After each group went through the three seminars, the event was over. Despite this, attendees lingered and continued discussions about Citizen and the ideas that Rankine included in the book. This Books & Breakfast program was made possible due to the help of Indiana Humanities. It was facilitated and presented by, the Desmond Tutu Center, the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, Butler University Libraries, and the Butler University Department of Political Science.

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