CLAUDIA RANKINE ON THE WAYS RACE HAUNTS HER IMAGINATION, AND AMERICA’S. “Fantasies cost lives,” Claudia Rankine writes in her new book, “Just Us,” a collection of essays and poems (and accompanying data graphs, photos, screenshots of social media posts and video stills) regarding all the ways preconceived notions of race take up residency in one’s thoughts. 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.
“Just Us” starts with an epigraph, a Richard Pryor quote from which the book takes its title: “You go down there looking for justice, that’s what you find, just us.” And the dedication follows, saying, “For Us.” It’s an interesting, though unintuitive, entry into this collection, because it seems to imply a book for and about Blackness — a book of solidarity. But there isn’t really a Black “us” at work in Rankine’s book, only the space carved out and defined by whiteness. That is, seemingly, Rankine’s point: Whiteness is dominant, so the question of “what is Black” must always follow “what is white?”