Poking the blind-spot: Claudia Rankine’s Paris Review Interview

The Paris Review’s interviewed the poet/BS-eschewer Claudia Rankine in their latest issue. Rankine’s been in headlines recently because she’s using her 625,000 MacArthur Genius Grant to study concepts of whiteness through an organization of her founding, the Racial Imagery Institute. The study of whiteness is literature’s largest blind-spot (ask Jonathan Franzen how he struggles with being a white author and get ready for silence). Rankine’s TPR interview powerfully elucidates her motivations for the institute, her keen thoughts on poetry, and the process behind her books. I was most struck by Rankine’s articulation that “people forget that white people are just people, and that we’re all together inside a system that scripts and constructs not just behavior but the imagination.” That system impacts (if not dictates) every race. In the States, black people are well aware of these scripts, but not so much white people, hence white privilege–the privilege of ignorance. Rankine’s effort, like any great writer, is to erase a blind-spot with a vision of real relations. She did so brilliantly in Citizen, and I look forward to seeing how her Racial Imagery Institute will further our understanding of “whiteness”–not in any power-grabbing or finger-wagging fashion, but in the honest search for truth.

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