Just Us: An American Conversation

Claudia Rankine
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Kirkus Reviews

September 8, 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 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 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.