Just Us: An American Conversation

by Claudia Rankine

Hardcover, 2020




Graywolf Press (2020), Edition: Illustrated, 352 pages


"At home and in government, contemporary America finds itself riven by a culture war in which aggression and defensiveness alike are on the rise. It is not alone. In such partisan conditions, how can humans best approach one another across our differences? Taking the study of whiteness and white supremacy as a guiding light, Claudia Rankine explores a series of real encounters with friends and strangers - each disrupting the false comfort of spaces where our public and private lives intersect, like the airport, the theatre, the dinner party and the voting booth - and urges us to enter into the conversations which could offer the only humane pathways through this moment of division. Just Us is an invitation to discover what it takes to stay in the room together, and to breach the silence, guilt and violence that surround whiteness. Brilliantly arranging essays, images and poems along with the voices and rebuttals of others, it counterpoints Rankine's own text with facing-page notes and commentary, and closes with a bravura study of women confronting the political and cultural implications of dyeing their hair blonde."--Publisher's description.… (more)


(43 ratings; 4.2)

User reviews

LibraryThing member rivkat
Poems, photos and prose about whiteness and related topics. “notes on the state of whiteness” reproduces portions of an edition of Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, with text not about Blacks removed. It’s powerful. A lot of the prose touches on various ways in which whiteness
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enables not having to see, and thus not seeing or remembering, both overt racist violence and racist structures. Rankine deeply interrogates her own reactions as a means of interrogating the world’s.
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
Throughout this year I've read or listened to many different books on race, relationship, history, biases but this book had a bigger impact on me than all those others. The inside cover of the book jacket states, that the author invites us into a necessary conversation about whiteness in America,
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and indeed that is exactly what the book provided. A black woman married to a white man, with friends from both races, I found her viewpoint unique. She questions reactions, even her own to various experiences, thoughts and as a mother concerned about her daughter and her daughter's future. She made me think, see things I've never even thought implied racism and shows how complicated and twisted, the racial divide is, once again rearing it's ugly head under the current administration. Or more likely it's always been there but now once again brought into the open.

She is a professor of poetry at Yale and this books style is telling as it reads sometimes like poetry. It includes a poem, illustrations, examples, some history and a chapter on blondness that I found fascinating. She doesn't lecture, her purpose is to make us question what we take for granted, what we see and don't see and I felt this, at least for me, is what she accomplished. A special, eye opening book, one I hope many read.
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LibraryThing member villemezbrown
Despite agreeing with most everything in the book, I never fully engaged with it, and I suspect the distracting format played a part in that. Oddly, the text of the book is printed only on the right-hand page of each two-page spread. The left-hand page is reserved for photos, graphs, fact checks,
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notes on the text's sources, or, many times, it's just blank. The photos sometimes seemed a bit too random or dull, with a chapter about air travel offering bland shots out a plane window or passengers sitting in airports and another about hair giving way too many close-ups of dyed-blond locks. Still, at a certain point in the book, I found myself anticipating the left page more than the right, with its tantalizing social media posts and the original sources taking me down mental side roads more interesting than the occasionally too deeply introspective and too poetic main narrative.
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LibraryThing member Michael_Lilly
This book gave me new perspectives and some new insights on race problems in the USA and the world. It warrants a second read from me later this year.
LibraryThing member greeniezona
I read this immediately after reading the chapter on the KKK in Eric Foner's Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877, and this was an excellent follow-up to that despair. Not that Just Us is reassuring, exactly, or soothing, at all. It is more "the progress we have yet to make"
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than "the progress we have made," but still.

Maybe it's that this is something I can do something about? Not something removed from me by 150 years of history, but something I can engage with now. Because this book is a call to engage with whiteness.

While Rankine doesn't engage (exactly) the "look at all the white people behaving badly in this book, I do not do those things, look at how much closer I am to good already," she DOES directly engage the other big white response to books/workshops/etc. on race: "look, I took the white emotional roller coaster, I felt big things, and it was big work and I have DONE SOMETHING and I can rest now."

If there is a central thesis to this book it is that there is no one big action we can take and all be done with racism now. That it never should be about making people comfortable (especially white people), because it is inherently messy. There is no knowing/understanding/addressing it entire. That it's being able to exist in the conversation in discomfort, to do the close reading without knowing the answers, or even where the answers may take us. That there can't be one answer, but only done one by one, poem by poem, text by text, person by person.
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

352 p.; 9.16 inches


1644450216 / 9781644450215
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