The first part of “Citizen” is told in the second person, which seems both a way of distancing the speaker from herself and of forcing the reader to be included, to be put in the position of “you,” the person who is at the center of this experience. You have a line in a later section of the book: “You said ‘I’ has so much power; it’s insane.”


That’s what I was trying for, the play on the idea of the second person, the idea that there’s another America. I also wanted readers to always have to position themselves relative to the pronoun. Who was talking about whom? Where do you stand relative to the information that’s being communicated? Because the “I” either puts you in that voice or allows you to reject that voice immediately: “That’s not me.” And I was trying to destabilize the immediate ability to say, “That’s not my experience. That’s not me.”

I also wanted to put a little bit of pressure on the sense of who has power, who can stand in that “I” versus who can’t, and, talking specifically about African-Americans, on the notion that we started as property. The notion that personhood came after objecthood, that the move into the “I” was actually—insanely—a step that had to be taken legally.

From ⇢ “On Being Seen: An Interview with Claudia Rankine from Ferguson,” ALEXANDRA SCHWARTZ, AUGUST 22, 2014, The New Yorker