Here are a few paragraphs the class came up with in response to passages that may be useful for the final exam:

Alex created a superhero named El Coquí, who gained his superpowers after he received a box containing a vejigante mask. The mask belonged to his father and represents Alex’s ancestral connection to Puerto Rico. Alex relates El Coquí to his culture and identity. He wants to connect Puerto Ricans to himself and each other by making El Coquí the protector of the Nuyoricans (Puerto Ricans from New York). Alienation is expressed by Alex in how he negotiates his connection to Puerto Rican-ness even though he doesn’t speak Spanish.

In Scene 7 (ps. 29-30), Yesica explains to Alex (as El Coquí) that their neighborhood bodega has been turned into a French bistro due to gentrification. A place that was once familiar and welcomed the people of the neighborhood has been taken away from the community. Yesica argues that the bodega brought a sense of authenticity to the neighborhood. This passage is useful because it illustrates the cultural identity of those who live in Sunset Park. Yesica captures photos of the activities that took place in the bodega when it stood: guys trying out their freestyles, high school kids buying bacon-egg-and-cheeses for breakfast; Doña Consuelo buying her lottery scratch-off; and people buying loosies. The owner of the bodega knew everyone by their name and gave them a sense of belonging. Now that is being taken away and, as stated by Yesica, “Everything is gone.”

In Scene 13 (p. 51), Joe says in an advertising meeting, “I know the actress is Mexican, my point is she’s not a pepper.” This passage useful because, as a Latina, I feel like it encapsulates how the play critiques the complete ignorance about Latinx culture and the pervasive stereotypes by which it is represented in American culture. The media takes advantage of our status in society or decide to see us as a step lower from them and feel entitled to steal from our cultures, think that we’re all “loud” and passionate or “spicy.” This play is about the fight we as Latinx people have with society. Living in this kind of society, where  we have to fight for a way to be heard but this battle is also portrayed as being too sensitive, even though we’re talking about our identity and how we want to see ourselves. Alex and Joe show some of these issues in the play, in how they don’t feel connected to their roots, and I feel that this has to do with being surrounded by ignorance and exploitation. No one can come and tell me who I am: that’s my choice and they don’t know where we came from, how we’re here and the story behind our lives.



Here are the paragraphs you wrote in response to the “interpretive problems” considered last week. Good work, everyone!

1) Why does Rankine use a second-person speaker in Citizen?

A friend argues that Americans battle between the “historical self” and the “self self.” By this she means you mostly interact as friends with mutual interest and, for the most part, compatible personalities; however, sometimes your historical selves, her white self and your black self, or your white self and her black self, arrive with the full force of your American positioning. Then you are standing face-to-face in seconds that wipe the affable smiles right from your mouths. What did you say? Instantaneously your attachment seems fragile, tenuous, subject to any transgression of your historical self. And though your joined personal histories are supposed to save you from misunderstandings, they usually cause you to understand all too well what is meant. (14)

In Citizen, Claudia Rankine uses second person in order to make you accountable and a participant in this piece of literature. Citizen is a poem about how racism is articulated in American society and by using “you” she wants us to stop and question ourselves. Has this happened to me? She uses the second person in the quote from page 14, about meeting a person and interacting as a prospective friend: “Sometimes your historical self, her white self and your black self, arrive with the full force of your American positioning.” That word “positioning,” and the use of “you,” is all about where you, as a reader, stand in this situation, knowing someone for the first time and realizing “historical” differences due to many things: such as gender, race, and class.


2) How does Rankine’s depiction of Serena Williams relate to the book’s broader engagement with themes of American racism?

As you look at the affable Kim Clijsters, you try to entertain the thought that this scenario could have played itself out the other way. And as Serena turns to the lineswoman and says, “I swear to God I’m fucking going to take this fucking ball and shove it down your fucking throat, you hear that? I swear to God!” As offensive as her outburst is, it is difficult not to applaud her for reacting immediately to being thrown against a sharp white background. It is difficult not to applaud her for existing in the moment, for fighting crazily against the so-called wrongness of her body’s positioning at the service line. (29)

From this passage, we believe that the author is trying to use the situation with Serena Williams as a representation of how racism is built into the American system. When the phrase “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background” is said, it represented that the game of tennis positioned Williams’ body as not belonging on the court. The “white background” represented the tennis court, which is positioned as a “white” space. This shows how institutional racism is. The sport can be played by all, but because the umpire had issues with Williams’ “black body,” she was given five bad calls and was treated differently on the court. This could relate to stop and frisk, because the umpire had the power and was able to dictate how the “rules” should be applied even though it was unfair: just like how police can stop and frisk people because they have the power to enforce rules about which bodies “belong” in certain spaces, no matter how unfair.


3) What is the effect of creating a poem about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina using copy-and-pasted quotes from CNN?

Hours later, still in the difficulty of what it is to be, just like that, inside it, standing there, maybe wading, maybe waving, standing where the deep waters of everything backed up, one said, climbing over bodies, one said, stranded on a roof, one said, trapped in the building, and in the difficulty, nobody coming and still someone saying, who could see it coming, the difficulty of that.

The fiction of the facts assumes innocence, ignorance, lack of intention, misdirection; the necessary conditions of a certain time and place.

Have you seen their faces? (83)

The way CNN and other news outlets covered the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans is different from how other places would have been covered. If it was some place rich and white, the aftermath would have been described differently. The quotes Rankine uses describe the aftermath as a natural disaster, using words such as “ignorance” and “misdirection.” This language shows “invisible” racism because it ignores how neglect for black and poor communities preceded the hurricane and refuses to assign blame for that neglect.


4) Why does Rankine repeat so many phrases, sometimes with small variations, in the poem “Stop and Frisk?”

Then flashes, a siren, a stretched-out roar—and you are not the guy and still you fit the description because there is only one guy who is always the guy fitting the description.

Get on the ground. Get on the ground now. I must have been speeding. No, you weren’t speeding. I wasn’t speeding? You didn’t do anything wrong. Then why are you pulling me over? Why am I pulled over? Put your hands where they can be seen. Put your hands in the air. Put your hands up.

Then you are stretched out on the hood. Then cuffed. Get on the ground now.

Each time it begins in the same way, it doesn’t begin the same way, each time it begins it’s the same. Flashes, a siren, the stretched-out roar . . . 

Each time it begins in the same way, it doesn’t begin the same way, each time it begins it’s the same.

Go ahead hit me motherfucker fled my lips and the officer did not need to hit me, the officer did not need anything from me except the look on my face on the drive across town. You can’t drive yourself sane. You are not insane. Our motion is wearing you out. You are not the guy. (107)

Rankine repeats phrases to emphasize discrimination, the speaker’s confusion, and the aggression coming from the officer. Discrimination is displayed in the line, “You are not the guy and still fit the description because there is only one guy who is always the guy fitting the description.” Although the person being pulled over is not the person being sought, they fit the description of being a black man. When Rankine repeats the line, “Get on the ground. Get on the ground now,” it is to emphasize the aggression in the officer’s tone when addressing the person being pulled over. In the repeated contradictory lines, “Each time it begins the same way, it doesn’t begin the same way, each time it begins it’s the same,” there is a sense of confusion and disorientation. This disorientation puts the reader in the same position as the poem’s speaker.



One way of using research beyond only summarizing secondary sources is to use a text as a “lens.” In other words, you apply an idea from one text to another. The text you “use” is called a lens text; the work you apply ideas from the lens text to read is called the target text. 

In the best versions of this argument, the use of a “lens” text makes visible an aspect of the target text that is not obvious and difficult to see on its own.

Here are a few templates that show what a “lens essay” thesis might look like:

The author of the lens text lays out a helpful framework for understanding instances of ________ in the target text. Indeed, in the target text, one sees ________, which could be considered an example of ________ by the lens author’s definition. Therefore, we see a point of commonality concerning ________. This similarity reveals ________.

According to the lens text _______ tends to occur in situations where _______. By the lens author’s definition, ________ in the target text could be considered an instance of _______. However, this parallel is imperfect because _______. As such, we become aware of ________.

One sees ________ in the target text, which calls the lens author’s argument that ________ into question because ________.

If the author of the lens text is correct that ________, one would expect to see ________ in the target text. However, ________ actually takes place, revealing a critical point of disagreement. This discord suggests that ________. This issue is important because ________.

(Templates courtesy of Pomona College writing resources: https://www.pomona.edu/administration/writing-center/student-resources/general-writing-resources/writing-%E2%80%9Clens%E2%80%9D-essay)

Here’s an example: in The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander argues that “mass incarceration” does not only refer to the number of people in prison or racial biases in the criminal justice system, but “also to the larger web of laws, rules, policies, and customs that control those labelled criminals inside and outside of prison” (13). Using this definition as a lens, would it become possible to read Citizen as in part about mass incarceration in the United States?


  1. Why does Rankine use second-person narration in Citizen?
  2. How does Rankine’s depiction of Serena Williams relate to the book’s broader engagement with themes of American racism?
  3. What effect does Rankine create by making a poem about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina out of copy-and-pasted quotes from CNN?
  4. Why does Rankine repeat so many phrases, sometimes with small variations, in the poem “Stop and Frisk?”
  5. What does Rankine mean by the distinction between “invisibility” and “hypervisibility”?

Answer in the form of an “abstract”—that is, include both your answer to the question (ie., your thesis) and a quick summary of your reading of the text that supports your answer.


So, close reading: you’ve come up with an abstract and you’ve outlined a thesis. Now what?

Now your job is to walk the audience through your reading of the text. You’ll need to use evidence from the text to demonstrate how the text “works” to support your thesis—in this case, whether Magneto is right, wrong, or somewhere in between. In other words, show the audience how they will have to read the text in order to come to the same conclusion about it as you. Many of the key literary terms we’ve discussed in class so far will be relevant here.

The trick is not to just find lots of little examples that support your thesis, but to give close attention to one or two important passages that are “generalizable.” This means that you’ll want to find representative passages that demonstrate something that is true throughout the text as a whole. Close readers prefer quality over quantity.

(Again, we’ll need to willfully forget the “five-paragraph essay,” which requires you to find lots of little examples that back up your thesis. In a close reading, you don’t want to just point out lots of passages that support your claims, but rather to deeply engage with one or a few passages to show exactly why your argument is correct.)

Let’s give this a try. Continue working in your groups from last week and try to draft one or two body paragraphs building from your abstracts. (Treat your previous abstracts like an introductory paragraph.) Post your results here!


Understanding a poem always requires multiple readings. Let’s practice!

We’ll read Derrick Austin’s “Silver Millennium” and “The Lost Woods as an Elegy for Black Childhood” three times each. Each time, you’ll approach the poem slightly differently.

  • The first time, just listen to the poem.
  • The second time, choose one line of the poem and annotate it with a short question or comment.
  • The third time, the class will “explode”—meaning, you’ll share aloud what you wrote after the line has been spoken.

We’ll then follow up with some small-group questions:

  1. What did you hear during the explosion?
  2. What surprised you?
  3. What patterns did you notice?
  4. Which lines drew your attention and why?



Despite boasting a 50+ year history, X-Men as a series has always been defined by the conflicting political perspectives of Charles Xavier (a.k.a. Professor X) and Magneto.

Xavier created the X-Men to further his dream of peaceful coexistence between humans and mutants. He assumes that humans oppress mutants out of fear and therefore intends to build goodwill with humans by protecting both groups against violent threats to the world. To achieve mutant rights, he seeks to establish equality under the law within existing political institutions.

Magneto and his Brotherhood of Mutants, on the other hand, seek to overturn existing political institutions through revolutionary means. Though branded as villainous, from Magneto’s perspective they are simply acting realistically against structural violence directed at mutants. While desiring the same goal as Xavier——mutant equality——Magneto would say that Xavier’s program of equality under the law effectively maintains the existing systems of power that actively oppress mutants.

So: Is Magneto right? Use evidence from God Loves, Man Kills to support your answer.