Claudia Rankine Interview: Black on White


“Anti-black racism is at the core. It is part of what makes America, America,” says the award-winning American poet and writer Claudia Rankine. In this powerful interview, she speaks openly about contemporary America – about Trump, whiteness as “a valued property”, and the inherent anti-black racism.

Donald Trump, Rankine argues, “has managed to regularize the outrageous, so that you no longer hold on to it. You just let it go.” What Trump is saying, however, is in no way new: “This politics of anti-immigration, anti-black racism, misogyny… those attitudes have gotten people elected from 400 years ago to now. Trump is the only one who says it both in public and private and uses it without retribution and shame.”

“If a white, blonde – and blonde is operative – girl goes missing, the entire country shuts down. You can kill as many black people as you want, and white people don’t even remember their names,” Rankine says. The legacy of that, she continues, is that “not only were black people considered property, whiteness then became a valued property in and of itself… and so now, whiteness is itself property. So, the space is white. And if a black person walks into the space, they have somehow entered a white space, even though it’s just a building.” The American poet, who teaches a class that deals with how white dominance has come to be perceived as normality, also expresses her admiration for the lawyer and social justice activist Bryan Stevenson, who talks about the idea of proximity – how we should “understand our capacities for change relative to the people around us. That it’s not over there, it’s here.” There’s always someone in your neighbourhood, in your community, you could be helping. It is our tendency to think that nothing we can do as individuals would make a real difference, that results in us doing nothing.

Claudia Rankine (b.1963) is a Jamaican-born American poet, essayist, playwright and editor. She is the author of several collections of poetry including ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ (2014) and ‘Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric’ (2004). Rankine’s numerous awards and honours include the Jackson Poetry Prize, the PEN Open Book Award, the PEN Literary Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. In 2019, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Cameras: Anders Lindved and Rasmus Quistgaard

Produced and edited by Kasper Bech Dyg

Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2020

Supported by Nordea-fonden

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