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Just Us
Cover of Just Us
Just Us
An American Conversation
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FINALIST FOR THE 2021 ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL FOR EXCELLENCE IN NONFICTION
Claudia Rankine's Citizen changed the conversation—Just Us urges all of us into it
As everyday white supremacy becomes increasingly vocalized with no clear answers at hand, how best might we approach one another? Claudia Rankine, without telling us what to do, urges us to begin the discussions that might open pathways through this divisive and stuck moment in American history.
Just Us is an invitation to discover what it takes to stay in the room together, even and especially in breaching the silence, guilt, and violence that follow direct addresses of whiteness. Rankine's questions disrupt the false comfort of our culture's liminal and private spaces—the airport, the theater, the dinner party, the voting booth—where neutrality and politeness live on the surface of differing commitments, beliefs, and prejudices as our public and private lives intersect.
This brilliant arrangement of essays, poems, and images includes the voices and rebuttals of others: white men in first class responding to, and with, their white male privilege; a friend's explanation of her infuriating behavior at a play; and women confronting the political currency of dying their hair blond, all running alongside fact-checked notes and commentary that complements Rankine's own text, complicating notions of authority and who gets the last word.
Sometimes wry, often vulnerable, and always prescient, Just Us is Rankine's most intimate work, less interested in being right than in being true, being together.

FINALIST FOR THE 2021 ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL FOR EXCELLENCE IN NONFICTION
Claudia Rankine's Citizen changed the conversation—Just Us urges all of us into it
As everyday white supremacy becomes increasingly vocalized with no clear answers at hand, how best might we approach one another? Claudia Rankine, without telling us what to do, urges us to begin the discussions that might open pathways through this divisive and stuck moment in American history.
Just Us is an invitation to discover what it takes to stay in the room together, even and especially in breaching the silence, guilt, and violence that follow direct addresses of whiteness. Rankine's questions disrupt the false comfort of our culture's liminal and private spaces—the airport, the theater, the dinner party, the voting booth—where neutrality and politeness live on the surface of differing commitments, beliefs, and prejudices as our public and private lives intersect.
This brilliant arrangement of essays, poems, and images includes the voices and rebuttals of others: white men in first class responding to, and with, their white male privilege; a friend's explanation of her infuriating behavior at a play; and women confronting the political currency of dying their hair blond, all running alongside fact-checked notes and commentary that complements Rankine's own text, complicating notions of authority and who gets the last word.
Sometimes wry, often vulnerable, and always prescient, Just Us is Rankine's most intimate work, less interested in being right than in being true, being together.

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About the Author-
  • Claudia Rankine is the author of Citizen: An American Lyric and four previous books, including Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric. Her work has appeared recently in the Guardian, the New York Times Book Review, the New York Times Magazine, and the Washington Post. She is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, the winner of the 2014 Jackson Poetry Prize, and a contributing editor of Poets & Writers. She received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2016. Rankine is the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale University.
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    Starred review from May 15, 2020
    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.

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from July 6, 2020
    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.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from July 1, 2020

    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

    Copyright 2020 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from August 1, 2020
    Six years after her groundbreaking Citizen: An American Lyric, Rankine presents another arresting blend of essays and images, perfectly attuned to this long-overdue moment of racial reckoning. In language all the more devastating for its simplicity, Rankine analyzes the overwhelming power of whiteness in everyday interactions. Whether it's the white airline passenger who steps confidently in front of her in the first class line ( I understood my presence as an unexpected emotion for him ) or a college friend who has no memory of a campus cross burning, whiteness erases Black lives and perceptions, stranding Black people in a nebulous gaslight dimension, their Blackness a most disagreeable mirror. A white man chides the flight attendant for serving him while ignoring Rankine, yet fails to make the racial connection; Rankine wryly observes that white people can see the results of white privilege yet stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the cause. The lack of an integrated life meant that no part of his life recognized the treatment of black people as an important disturbance. It's hard to exist and also accept my lack of existence . Touching on Beyonc�, blondness, skin lightening, and the inherent tensions in her own interracial marriage, Rankine once again opens a literary window into the Black experience, for those willing to look in.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2020, American Library Association.)

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