Donated Book Now Available at Samuels Public Library
Just Us: An American Conversation
By Claudia Rankine
“You go down there looking for justice, that’s what you find, just us.”
In this third book of her astonishing trilogy that includes Don’t Let Me Be Lonely and Citizen, Rankine invites us into a necessary conversation about whiteness in America. What would it take for us to breach the silence, guilt, and violence that arise from addressing whiteness for what it is? What are the consequences if we keep avoiding this conversation? What might it look like if we step into it? “I learned early that being right pales next to staying in the room,” Rankine writes.
This brilliant assembly of essays, poems, documents and images reaches into the comfort of our private and shared spaces – the airport, the theatre, the dinner party, the voting booth – where neutrality and politeness rarely create true engagement in our shared problems. Rankine makes art out of the actual voices and conversations she engages in: white men responding to questions about white male privilege; a friend clarifying her unexpected behavior at a play; and women on the street expressing why they chose to dye their hair blond. Alongside the essays run fact-checked notes and commentary that compliment Rankine’s own text and make us look clearly at our ideas of authority and who gets the last word.
In one episode Rankine describes a lively and open conversation she has with a kind and sensitive white man sitting next to her on an airplane. The man tells her he has been working on diversity inside his company. “We still have a long way to go,” he said. They he added, “I don’t see color.” Rankine, a well-educated black woman, heard the absurdity of this statement – she knew he wouldn’t be concerned about diversity if he didn’t see color. Rankine responds, “Aren’t you a white man, can’t you see that? Because if you can’t see race, you can’t see racism,” a sentence she had read not long before in Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. The man responded, “I get it. What other inane things have I said?” “Only that,” Rankine responded. How many of us, in our well-meaning but ignorant ways, have made similar mistakes?
Funny, vulnerable, and compassionate, Just Us is Rankine’s most intimate and urgent book, a crucial call to challenge our fraught reality. For Rankine, the consideration of race and identity in American provokes no easy answers but rather an ongoing set of questions that begin with the requirement that we look at – really look at – ourselves. “In my work, well-meaning white people consistently ask me how to recognize racism, “ Rankine writes. Yet we might ask, “How have we managed not to know?” The information is everywhere if we care to look and listen. With clarity and grace, Claudia Rankine delivers a gut punch to white denial. As Judith Butler writes in her praise for Just Us, “Anyone who turns away from this bold and vital invitation to get to work would be a damn fool.”
Claudia Rankine is a poet, essayist, and playwright. Just Us completes her groundbreaking trilogy following Don’t Let Me Be Lonely and Citizen, which was a New York Times best seller and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Forward Prize, and many other awards. She is the author of The White Card, a play; three previous book of poetry and co-editor of the anthology The Racial Imaginary; Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind. In 2016, Rankine cofounded the Racial Imaginary Institute (TRII), “committed to the activation of interdisciplinary work and a democratized exploration of race in our lives.” She is a MacArthur Fellow and the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale University.