MacArthur Genius Author Claudia Rankine Is Investing Half a Million Dollars in Whiteness Study

Claudia Rankine, author of the award-winning Citizen: An American Lyric received a $625,000 stipend as her MacArthur genius grant. And she's using it all to found the Racial Imaginary Institute. The goal of the "interdisciplinary arts and cultural laboratory," according to Rankine, is to "dismantle white supremacy."

"One of the things I think the culture needs is an actual location where writers and artists and thinkers can come together and put pressure on the language that makes apparent white supremacy and white dominance," Rankine told the LA Times. 

Rankine wants to know specifically how white supremacy influences American spaces. 

"If you’re a writer, you have the benefit of talking to other artists who are interested in the subject," Rankine said of the institute.

"What are we missing? What isn’t getting said? What are the narratives of white greatness that disallow other things to be brought to the surface?" Rankine asked.

When she's not writing, Rankine explores these narratives through video.

"After [Hurricane] Katrina I recorded all of the CNN coverage and was fascinated by how racism colored the reporting," Rankine said of her pieces. Since then she's begun to focus her video work on other places of American injustice, such as police shootings of unarmed black men.

"We collected all of the police shooting videos that are out there and brought them together into a continuous narrative," Rankine told the MacArthur Foundation.

In doing so, the Citizen author urges Americans not to forget about the harsh realities of police brutality, regardless of whether or not they make headlines that day.

"I feel like one of our American peculiarities which is not serving us is our amnesia around trauma," Rankine said. "I’m very excited about the creation of the institute... to actively look at the absences and the erasures around the construction of race, especially the construction of whiteness in America."


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