A review by jheinemann287
Just Us: An American Conversation, by Claudia Rankine


The primary issue I take with Just Us: An American Conversation is that it's printed on really thick, glossy paper that seems blasphemous to dog-ear or write on but also doesn't photograph well. This is problematic since I wanted to mark on pretty much EVERY SINGLE PAGE. That's not an exaggeration. I have probably, like, 58 unreadable photos in my phone right now. Rankine crams an insane amount of stats and figures and research into this brick of a poetry(?) book, and it feels irresponsible not to have it all at the ready to reference the next time your townie cousin tells you that police brutality isn't racialized.

This is a dumb, overly simplistic thing to say, but I'm going to say it anyway. Citizen: An American Lyric was one of my favorite books of the 2010s, and I'm trying to figure out why this next one, as essential as it is, didn't rip out my heart in the same way, and the stupid analogy that popped into my head (the head of someone who teaches rhetorical analysis to high school juniors every day) is that Citizen lives in the realm of pathos, aiming for the heart, whereas Just Us lives in the realm of logos. Even the structure of Just Us supports this vision: Rankine's essays, poetry, and conversation transcripts are all on the right side of each spread while the left side fact-checks, listing citation after citation after citation. I appreciate that she lets us into her brain: how she breaks down conversations with strangers and friends, how she second guesses herself and scrutinizes her own feelings, how she cites information and then needs to check whether she's remembering correctly, how she bravely challenges her friends and documents their responses and is honest about how it's all tangled up and she doesn't know how untangle it.

In short, I definitely need to reread this. In the meantime, I feel grateful for Rankine and for everything that went into Just Us, but I miss the art pairings and poetic micro-anecdotes and genre blending of Citizen.