Just Us is about intimacy. Rankine is making an appeal for real closeness. She’s advocating for candor as the pathway to achieving universal humanity and authentic love ... Rankine is vulnerable, too. In 'lemonade,' an essay about how race and racism affect her interracial marriage, Rankine models the openness she hopes to inspire. 'lemonade' is hard to handle. It’s naked and confessional, deeply moving and, ultimately, inspirational ... Just Us, as a book, is inventive ... Claudia Rankine may be the most human human I’ve ever encountered. Her inner machinations and relentless questioning would exhaust most people. Her labor should be less necessary, of course.
The book, fittingly, feels utterly of the mind, with its anxious inquiries and connections and diversions, not to mention all of Rankine’s brilliance—but for that same reason it can feel incoherent, insulated and disconnected from the world it depicts ... there isn’t really a Black 'us' at work in Rankine’s book, only the space carved out and defined by whiteness ... the book feels like a sociological study meant for the classroom ... an interrogation, constantly unwinding a spiral of questions ... Rankine’s interior world is often suffocating. For paragraphs on end we’re stuck in her mind, her internal search for answers and clues ... there’s less sense of balance here between Rankine’s two prominent modes, poetry and criticism; her lyrics get short shrift. There are times when Rankine gets so mired in her sociological study that when she suddenly uses figuration and repetition to break a prose section out into a more poetic space, it’s welcome but jarring ... Not all of her ancillary materials are necessary; in fact, many are gratuitous, simply reinforcing the book’s function as an advanced thought exercise, plucking references to replicate the wanderings of Rankine’s mind ... even in Rankine’s inarguable genius, Just Us feels as if it skips a small step in the progression of the book, the movement from start to finish among the separate chapters ... Just Us is no doubt a work of acuity and insight. But ...Just Us can’t always overcome the bounds of its own imagination.
Employing her signature collagelike approach, she avoids polemics, instead earnestly speculating about the possibility of interracial understanding ... In Just Us, Rankine the poet becomes an anthropologist. If her mode of discomfiting those whom she encounters strikes readers as unexpectedly mild, it might be because the strident urgency of racial politics in the U.S. escalated while her book was on its way toward publication. She chooses her words carefully as she engages, positioning herself in the minefield of her interlocutors’ emotions so that dialogue can happen ... the notion that racial inequality can be challenged by fostering social intimacy and uncovering the reality of white privilege—risks seeming somewhat regressive ... this Rankine can often sound—at least to someone who’s followed, and felt, the anger of the spring and summer—as though she’s arriving on the scene of a radical uprising in order to translate it into language white readers will find palatable ... But Rankine’s probing, persistent desire for intimacy is also daring at a time when anti-racist discourse has hardened into an ideological surety, and when plenty of us chafe at the work of 'explaining' race to white people ... Just Us is most interesting when Rankine leans into this self-examination. In these moments, she suggests that the myopia of 'whiteness' is not necessarily an attribute limited to white people. It becomes a circulating ethos of willful ignorance, the right to live a life whose fundamental assumptions go unobserved ... But tireless questioning is never out of date, and she freely faces up to the limits of her own enterprise, embracing a spirit of doubt, mingled with hope, that we would all do well to emulate.
Claudia Rankine solidifies her position as one of our time’s most incisive, brilliant and necessary intellectuals. We often hear that a book is necessary; but Rankine redefines that term. Just Us is a work that challenges binary thought to such a degree as to break the world (and the reader) open in new ways, allowing space for real, considered transformation ... Rankine is at her most generous, empathic and radical, seeking to open up a dialogue beneath the veneer of easy language ... what is radical about Just Us is the range of Rankine’s empathy, which refuses dismissal in favour of conversation, rooting into the substrata of thought that exists behind everyday racism ... Just Us left this white reader with the sense that I had witnessed the raising of the moral and intellectual standard.
If these anecdotes illuminate nothing new, at least, for Rankine, they affirm the possibility of interacting with strangers ... The invocation of the power of conversation above more directly transformative mechanisms such as confrontation and refusal places the book within a liberal framework in which political stances are opinions, political education is information, and politics is policy ... Liberal thought on the subject of race exerts massive energy without forward propulsion, like a spin class, producing the same realization over and over again ... In Citizen, the pedagogical imperative with which all black writers have to contend felt secondary to Rankine’s powers as a writer, to the capacity to use language to irradiate the particular, contingent facts of a person’s life with shared meaning. By confining the problem of social change to dialogue between individuals, the type of anecdotal race-work foregrounded in Just Us tends to fillet out mass struggle and is left with a series of microaggressive vignettes floating in blank white space ... Little good comes of constantly questioning what you already know to be true, but doubt has its secret advantages. Just as indecision is the superficial appearance of a decision that you are not yet ready to own, Rankine’s ever-present uncertainty is a defense against unbearable certainties, against a white indifference ... Apparently 'American conversation' is, like American cheese, an ersatz of the original. At times it is hard to distinguish between outer and inner question, between a question demanding an answer and a question that Rankine has asked only herself ... The race-educational genre to which Just Us makes a contribution can only do so much to domesticate the wild strangeness of race, which is the experiential mode of the strangeness of history ... transgression and hypocrisy can be taken as given rather than exposed; their ubiquity is banal because we live in an extraordinarily violent society whose racial terms, however abstract, are enforced by police, poverty, and prisons. If Rankine could allow that, perhaps she and her work would once again become more savage and more joyful.
... an unusual mix of essays, narratives, poems, pictures and musings ... Rankine offers compelling stories that illuminate, often through conversations with white people, how they have benefited from their skin tone since birth ... Some of these talks are emotionally painful ... It’s impossible to read Rankine's book and not conclude that we must address, as Rankine writes, the elaborate 'set of assumptions, privileges and benefits that accompany the status of being white' ... To these and other truths of a past we have avoided reckoning, Rankine will be helping America understand itself, one conversation at a time.
... necessary and maddening. As anyone who has read her would expect, screenshots, tweets, historic civil-rights photos, demographic charts, and many other types of images are strategically interspersed throughout the text. What sets this book apart from her past work, though, is its overwhelming emphasis on straight prose instead of poetics ... What dominates these pages is Rankine’s personal narrative, smeared with America’s mess—leaving scant room for the stanza-like spacing that normally governs her pace. Her deployment of images that serve both as symbols and pieces of evidence is left to handle most of the dramatic tension, with an assist from real-time fact-checking. Situated next to many passages throughout the book are red dots that direct the reader to notes on the opposite side of the page. Often, the notes take on the structure of Hemingway’s iceberg—a slither of clean prose under which lies a massive body of feelings. What we are left with is the exhaustion of having to carry around reams of data in order to prove that racism still exists ... It’s not that Rankine doesn’t have an opinion about what individuals should do regarding their racism, just that she is more interested in showing what that racism looks like. All she is willing to propose is that people have difficult discussions, which is so deflating, yet so smack-your-forehead obvious, that one wonders whether the book will survive in the hands of anyone besides readers who already recognize themselves in those discussions ... Comfort, when so much in our vantage is in shambles, seems a luxury that should collectively be left on the shelf until civilization has worked hard enough to afford it. Which makes a strong case for Just Us as not only the most comprehensive articulation of the racial imaginary Rankine has ever put on paper, but as her magnum opus.
Rankine thinks associatively rather than sequentially, so the book is episodic rather than arranged as an argument or a narrative with a narrative arc like, say, Ibram Kendi’s polemic ... Rankine is more like a disgruntled but interesting guest at a dinner party who keeps turning the conversation back to subjects that make others uncomfortable but are well worth talking about and seriously examining ... It should be noted here that she calls the book 'a conversation,' and you may find yourself arguing with her. Aren’t there many beautiful Black celebrities, from Beyoncé to Lupita Nyong’o? She considers hair-straightening and Black women who bleach their hair blond and wonders what that might mean. She doesn’t always have answers to these questions ... Once you’ve read Just Us, order a copy of 2014’s Citizen: An American Lyric.
The book pierces the abstraction of whiteness as Rankine confronts it in real, fraught physical spaces—airports, schools and suburban neighbourhoods via emergency calls to 911 operators — by asking simple, devastating questions ... Rankine’s power as a cultural commentator stems not only from her lyricism but also from her range ... Just Us is an indictment but it is also a longing for conversation, and Rankine examines deeply personal struggles of navigating her own prejudices ... It is a text for the wounded, a timely acknowledgment and communion of grief.
If Rankine’s essays are wide-ranging (blondness, police violence, Latinx stereotypes) and well researched, they’re also conversational and personal ... These images and asides expand on the essays while offering a glimpse into Rankine’s process as a writer ... She is one of our foremost thinkers, and Just Us is essential reading in 2020 and beyond.
Rankine presents another arresting blend of essays and images, perfectly attuned to this long-overdue moment of racial reckoning. In language all the more devastating for its simplicity, Rankine analyzes the overwhelming power of whiteness in everyday interactions ... Rankine once again opens a literary window into the Black experience, for those willing to look in.
[A] unique and powerful meditation on the challenges of communicating across the racial divide in America ... an incisive, anguished, and very frank call for Americans of all races to cultivate their 'empathetic imagination' in order to build a better future.
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 ... potent ... A work that should move, challenge, and transform every reader who encounters it.