LITERATURE

Just Us: An American Conversation

Graywolf. Sept. 2020. 352p. ISBN 9781644450215. $30. LIT
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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.

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