cover image Just Us: An American Conversation

Just Us: An American Conversation

Claudia Rankine. Graywolf, $30 (352p) ISBN 978-1-64445-021-5

MacArthur Fellowship recipient Rankine (Citizen: An American Lyric) combines poetry, prose, and imagery in this unique and powerful meditation on the challenges of communicating across the racial divide in America. Drawing on her own experience as a Black woman married to a white man, Rankine highlights the necessity of having uncomfortable conversations in order to understand both the experiences of other people and one’s own needs and beliefs. In the essay “liminal spaces i,” she recounts asking a white stranger about his understanding of white male privilege after he complained that his son couldn’t use “the diversity card” to gain early admission to Yale, where Rankine teaches. In another essay, she contemplates asking her mixed-race daughter’s white teachers about their “unconscious inevitable racism and implicit bias” at a parent-teacher conference. “José martí” features Rankine grappling with the limits of her own knowledge as she talks with a new friend about anti-Latinx racism. The discussion hits several snags, yet Rankine persists: “I still have questions, and the way to get answers is to bear her corrections.” Other pieces incorporate commentary from Rankine’s conversational partners and “fact checks” of her own assertions. The result is an incisive, anguished, and very frank call for Americans of all races to cultivate their “empathetic imagination” in order to build a better future. Agent: Frances Coady, Aragi, Inc. (Sept.)