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.
“In this genre-defying work, [Claudia Rankine], 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. . . . Rankine writes with disarming intimacy and searing honesty. . . . A work that should move, challenge, and transform every reader who encounters it.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“An incisive, anguished, and very frank call for Americans of all races to cultivate their ‘empathetic imagination’ in order to build a better future.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“This brilliant and multi-layered work by Claudia Rankine is a call, a bid, an insistent, rightly impatient demand for a public conversation on whiteness. . . . A rare honesty toward a potential affirmation. Anyone who turns away from this bold and vital invitation to get to work would be a damn fool.”—Judith Butler
“In my work, well-meaning white people consistently ask me how to recognize racism. Yet we might ask, ‘How have we managed not to know?’ The information is everywhere, if we care to listen. Indeed, here is illuminating testimony that is both poetic and well beyond the abstract. With clarity and grace, Claudia Rankine delivers a gut punch to white denial. Just Us is stunning work—audacious, revelatory, devastating.”—Robin DiAngelo
“With Just Us, Claudia Rankine offers further proof that she is one of our essential thinkers about race, difference, politics, and the United States of America. Written with humility and humor, criticism and compassion, Just Us asks difficult questions and begins necessary conversations.”—Viet Thanh Nguyen
“Fiercely intimate, rigorous. . . . [Just Us] lets all of us in on the conversations—with others and the self—that are necessary for survival, which, attested by this all-too-human account, is rooted in the vigilance that racially imagined people must maintain for their very being.”—Nuar Alsadir
“In Just Us, Claudia Rankine continues her remarkable and brilliant interrogation of the language, culture, and history that have shaped America, forging through poems, essays, and documents a literary archive that is utterly original and desperately needed.”—Dinaw Mengestu