Course Hero Logo

Citizen: An American Lyric | Study Guide

Claudia Rankine

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "Citizen: An American Lyric Study Guide." Course Hero. 22 Nov. 2019. Web. 7 Feb. 2023. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2019, November 22). Citizen: An American Lyric Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved February 7, 2023, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2019)



Course Hero. "Citizen: An American Lyric Study Guide." November 22, 2019. Accessed February 7, 2023.


Course Hero, "Citizen: An American Lyric Study Guide," November 22, 2019, accessed February 7, 2023,

Citizen: An American Lyric | Summary



Chapter 1

Chapter 1 is primarily a collection of vignettes about the speaker's experience of racism. These experiences range from microaggressions (comments or actions that subtly express prejudice) like being told by a classmate that she has "features ... like a white person," to the outright racism of a white man calling teenagers "niggers." Interspersed among these vignettes are prose poems that use metaphor and sensory language to describe the pain and confusion caused by these interactions.

Chapter 2

In Chapter 2 Claudia Rankine explores the difficulty of being a black artist in a white-focused society. She discusses the ideas of YouTuber Hennessy Youngman, who has a video series on black artists and anger. Much of the second half of the chapter explores the struggles of American tennis professional Serena Williams. Williams experienced racism from umpires, other players, and media. Rankine uses Williams's story to explore the struggles of black artists and professionals.

Chapter 3

Chapter 3 is a chapter of microaggressions. Each passage in this chapter details a different microaggression toward the speaker. In one situation the speaker's friend uses language that hurts and surprises her. In another experience a friend doesn't speak up when the speaker experiences a microaggression from a cashier. In this chapter Rankine also explores the contradictory nature in the experience of racist or hurtful language. In one sense, racist language seeks to "to denigrate and erase you as a person." However, in another sense, racist language hurts a person because they are present and addressable.

Chapter 4

Chapter 4 is a series of prose poems that investigate the internal effects of experiencing daily racism and erasure. The speaker explores issues of pain and identity. She struggles with the pain of history and the past but finds it even more difficult to let go of either. Racism, the speaker points out, attempts to erase both past and identity. She investigates the problematic nature of being told to "let go" and "move on," because she sees this as being told to let go of part of her identity. Rankine alludes to how the advice to "let go" is an attitude of convenience for white society.

Chapter 5

In Chapter 5 most of the passages are poetry, with a few vignettes about microaggressions toward the end of the chapter. The primary focus of this chapter is the examination of the pronoun "I" and why it is problematic for the speaker. The poems explore the speaker's struggle with identity and her use of words and poetry to try and understand this struggle.

Chapter 6

Chapter 6 is a series of poems that deal with different incidents involving the black community. The first poem focuses on Hurricane Katrina and the government's and public's failure to help the poor black communities most devastated by the storm. The second poem is written for Trayvon Martin, and the third for James Craig Anderson. The fourth poem in the chapter explores the factors in play around the Jena Six, and the fifth criticizes Louisiana's "Stop and Frisk" laws. The sixth poem addresses President Barack Obama's inauguration, while in the next poem the speaker discusses Mark Duggan and the surrounding riots with another writer. The poem "Black-Blanc-Beur" uses quotes interspersed with Rankine's own words to highlight the racism in play at the 2006 World Cup. In "Making Room" a woman sits next to a man whom everyone else avoids. The final poem is a single three-line stanza about black deaths caused by white men unable to "police their imagination."

Chapter 7

The poems and prose of the final chapter focus almost entirely on the themes of identity and erasure. In the first passage the speaker struggles with the question "who is this you" and with society telling her that she is "nobody." The speaker also examines the problematic nature of being told to "move on" from the past and "let go" of her feelings. For the speaker it is nearly impossible to ignore or let go of the powerful and often painful feelings that she experiences.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about Citizen: An American Lyric? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!