"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.
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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.
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.