Citizen, Pt. 1: GROUP 4

{Posted by Kasey}

One theme presented in this book is that of the historical self and how we are defined by cultural and political history through skin color, oppression, and/or invisibility. Do you think we are defined by the actions of those in the past? Why or why not? Use passages from the book that showcase this theme of the historical self to help answer the question.

3 Replies to “Citizen, Pt. 1: GROUP 4”

  1. I think that Rankine is arguing that we are defined by the actions of those in the past. This argument is made throughout the book with various examples of well-known people who experienced racial prejudice, however, one passage stands out to me more than the others. On page 63, Rankine writes, “The world is wrong. You can’t put the past behind you. It’s buried in you; it’s turned your flesh into its own cupboard. Not everything remembered is useful but it all comes from the world to be stored in you” (63). This passage is arguing that you cannot forget the past. The past impacts people, even in ways that they do not realize it does. Rankine explains that the past is buried, meaning you may not always notice its impact, but it is still there, nonetheless. This book draws a strong connection between the people of the past who share the same culture. This theme continues into part 6, where she tells the stories of racist events in the recent past. The recent past connects to the further past, and it all connects to the present. Even though we may not always actively acknowledge what has happened in the past, it is always there, somewhere inside us, molding us into the people we are today.

  2. I believe that we are defined by actions of those in the past because the past is never forgotten especially when considering race and cultural history. We may tend to think that what has been done in the past does not affect our present societal dynamic, but it surely does because people look to the past, to act on the present, in making a change in the future. Whether the change they intend to be is positive or negative, one could argue that it is subjective and that is why many things are misconstrued in contemporary culture. The world seems to be much different from the day before, in other words, the most recent past would be the day before the current one and even then, a-lot of things change. Rankine illustrates this on page 63 where she states, “you cant put the past behind you. Its buried in you.”

  3. I think that Rankine establishes in the book that the past holds weight and importance in the present, especially the actions of others in the past. While she gives examples throughout the book of the past, she also discusses the immediate past and how recent situations are influenced by a long history behind them. For example, on pages 15 and 16, Rankine recalls a story when a person believed their snap judgments and called the police on a black man that was doing nothing wrong, just acting in a way that made the person uncomfortable. These sorts of immediate memories are tied to a long history of racism that Rankine unravels throughout the book. I think that Rankine is arguing that the actions of those in the past are what have caused the perpetuation of these problems that are entangled in our society. The past haunts the present because, while many examples of systematic racism are not persistent in our contemporary society, the ideas and thoughts behind them still have a presence.

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