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Thank you very much, Timisoara. Hello and welcome to How to Fail with Elizabeth Day.


The podcast that celebrates the things that haven't gone right. This is a podcast about learning from our mistakes and understanding that why we fail ultimately makes us stronger, because learning how to fail in life actually means learning how to succeed better. I'm your host, author and journalist, Elizabeth Day. And every week I'll be asking a new interviewee what they've learned from failure.


Claudia Rankine is a poet, playwright and essayist. Her life's work has ceaselessly interrogated race and white supremacy with trademark lyricism and powerful curiosity. Her sentences can make you feel both simultaneously punched in the gut and warmly caressed. She is, by her own definition, accusative and loving.


Rankin is also genre defying, blending poetry with reportage and textual analysis. Her 2014 book, Citizen An American Lyric, is the only poetry book to be a New York Times best seller in the nonfiction category. It also won the Forward Poetry Prize.


Born in Jamaica, Rankin immigrated to America with her family at the age of seven. Her father took a job as a hospital orderly, her mother as a nurse's aide. The first poem Rankin knew by heart was Emily Dickinson's Because I Could Not Stop for Death, which her mother read to her a year after their move to the Bronx. After school, she and her B.A. from Williams College and a master's in poetry from Columbia. In 2016, she was given a MacArthur genius grant, which she used to found the Racial Imaginary Institute half think, half dreamspace, where artists and writers can wrestle with race and the issues surrounding it.


Her latest phenomenal book, Just US, explores a series of real encounters with friends and strangers, examining whiteness and its legacy in everyday moments of interaction.


Its essays, images and poems spanned everything from Beyonce to airport lounges and the implications of women dying their hair blonde.


The relationship between public engagement and private thought are inseparable for me, Rankin said in a 2016 interview with the Paris Review. There's no private world that doesn't include the dynamics of my political and social world. Claudia Rankin, welcome to Had to Fail.


Oh, thank you for having me. It's an honor to have you.


It really, truly is. Thank you for making the time.


And I wanted to start off the back of that quote from the Paris Review about the fact that there is no difference between public engagement and your private thought, because the cliched, stereotypical image of a poet is that they are not quite out of this world. And yet your work concerns the power of making those kind of private anecdotes public.


How difficult is that for you? I don't see it as difficult because it is the closest thing I know. You know, what's in front of me couldn't be closer. But, you know, a funny thing that has happened in the United States for African-American poets and I don't know how it works in Britain, but there is a way in which they have been separated out from poetry so that their work is sociology and not actually considered lyric because it's so grounded in the history that goes contrary to the fantasies put forward by White Poets in the United States.


Not all of them, obviously.


But this idea that that the real world is not connected to what is it almost in a sense, a privilege to be able to dream? And that's that's a nice way to think of that. Whiteness has the ability to turn fantasy into reality.


Yes, I'm behind you on that one, because I suppose, you know, I speak to you as a white woman. And part of my privilege as a white person is not having constantly to think about my private self in the public world. I don't have to interrogate it because the world isn't constantly asking me to frame or explain or defend my presence in it. And I think that that's what you do so beautifully.


And I suppose when I asked if it was difficult, I wonder if you find it exhausting. I don't find the writing exhausting, I find the life exhausting. If anything, the writing allows me to stand back and look at it and circle it. But, you know, the constant killings in this country of people just because they're black, the proximity of African-Americans to death by covid is devastating. Just this morning, the first thing I did was read a piece by Jasmine Moore, the writer, about her husband dying and covid.


And it's soul killing. People have the term whether to refer to a constant assault of systemic racism on the black population. It wears you down. It really does.


You wrote this line because white men can't police their imagination. Black men are dying. Explain that line to us, because, as you say, it is distressingly relevant day after day after day in both the United States and here, but most recently in the wake of the killing unlawfully of George Floyd. Explain that line for us.


Well, the line because white men can't police their imagination. I really didn't want to locate it only with the police. There is a sort of generalized understanding that black people are inherently criminals. And sometimes that means the police get away with shooting somebody, you know, seven, nine times in the back. Sometimes it means they can sit on their neck until they can't breathe. Other times it means your bra on a tail in your house and you're shot dead or you're a child in the hospital and a doctor refuses to take care of you.


So across the board, the policing is happening. But specifically, what is it has been in the news is the overpolicing of the sort of militarized police in this country who are allowed to kill us and then claim that they were afraid of us even as they're shooting us in the back. And when they do that, they can say things like what I saw was a demon and that's considered justified. And so it is a projection of something that happens before I or any black person walks into the room or on the street.


And it's as if they're waiting for you. And once they kill you, they're allowed then to make an argument that they were afraid. They thought you were going to kill them. They thought a gun existed as a Skittles, a candy bar. So it was the attempt to get that word policing and police to do the work of a verb, not a noun. I'm not talking about individual policemen, but a whole system inside that verb.


And when you quote language Cordia, you do so precisely so that quote thereabout I thought I saw Deman is an actual quote. And it's something that you do very beautifully and just asks you annotate your text with supportive footnotes that are placed side by side on the page.


Why is that important for you to do? Well, it's almost a defensive move on my part, because I think people like to tell black people that they're making things up, that they're oversensitive, that they are involved in fake news if we use our president's language, you know. And so for me, that desire to be able to back things up with facts is a way to have a real conversation rather than a conversation that is defensive. Somebody might say, well, nobody ever calls black people demons.


I'm like, OK, yes. In Michael Brown's case, here's the quote. And it happened. So can we go on from there? So it's a way to go in an odd way to speed up the conversation. Yeah. So that we don't have to spend our time fact checking. Here are the facts.


One of the textual footnotes that really struck me in just us was in the essay where you're discussing big little lies and the TV adaptation of that book specifically.


And you talk about how the median wealth of white households in America is ten times that of black households now.


Talk to us about why it is important that we realize whiteness is an economic system, not just a cultural one.


Well, I think one of the arguments that have been leveled against the black population is why can't. They catch up. Why can't they build their own wealth and there's not a real sense regarding how the system has prevented black people from gaining wealth, owning property, having certain jobs, living in certain places.


And is that why you prefer the phrase white living to white privilege? Exactly, because I think the tendency for white people is to believe that white privilege equals economic privilege. Now, the two things are tied together, but they're not tied together simultaneously. When I say white living, I mean the ability simply to stay alive, to take for granted the ability to walk around without being stopped and asked to account for why you're present in your own home. And there's certain examples of that where people have been stopped trying to enter their house or into their car and asked to account for whether or not they lived there or prove that they own the car.


And so I think when you say to people, look, I'm talking about your ability to just move freely in a space and be accepted by that space, they think immediately that I'm talking about them being rich or poor, that ability to move around, to be able to go where you want to go and do what you want to do sometimes is tied to your ability to attend a certain school to get a certain job. And that might lead to economic privilege.


But certainly it's not you know, it's it's not an immediate marriage. I'm not interested in the economic part of it. But in the piece Big Little Lies, I am specifically talking about how because of racism, black people can never really catch up to white inherited wealth. And that's where you get the differential in that 10 times as much wealth for a white person than for a black person. I mean, the friend that I'm talking about in that piece and the woman I'm talking to is somebody who had the same education that I had and also does the same thing that I do.


And we're very good friends, but came from generational wealth so could make different choices in her life than I have had to make. She got a she, but she doesn't teach because she doesn't need to.


For example, you talk about Brett Kavanaugh as well and the fact that he said in front of is it the select committee or the British Library when he was asked to account for himself, one of the things he said was that he got to Yale through pluck and hard work.


And you make the point that his grandfather went to Yale.


So it wasn't entirely in a vacuum. Exactly. We all know that legacy helps in those situations. And there is a kind of willful denial of that by whites. But if you look at the statistics in terms of many of our institutions, if your grandfather went, then you got in and then your dad got in and then you got in and then you go, it just happens that way.


It feels to me that we live in an age and Donald Trump has not helped in this regard where we confuse opinions with facts. And I wonder how much you feel that people counter lived experience with their own opinion so you can have a difference of opinion, but ultimately, you cannot disagree with someone's lived experience, yet people are trying to do that.


Well, I think what Trump has done is attempt to destabilise history and facts and science in order to shift a narrative in ways that serve him from day to day. So there's not even a sense of a system that he's put in place that he doesn't remains consistent to. It's just whatever facts work on that day, according to him. And I didn't really realize how important leadership really is because then people take those things on as true. So you hear people saying after the election, covid is over, it's only a political thing.


I'm like, no, no, it's a real thing. We're heading towards two hundred thousand deaths in the United States. It's a real thing. But people are willing to believe what he says based on the fact that he said it rather than based on any kind of science, any kind of sense of of what's actually happening. It's a kind of. A depressing moment when you look around and think about people's willingness to divest from their own common sense, we will move on to your failures because they are, I think, some of the most profound failures I've ever been sent.


So thank you for that. But I wanted to ask you about airports, because I, like you, find airports fascinating.


And many of the interactions that I described in the introduction in just us and some in citizen take place in airports, on airplanes.


Why do you think these interactions happen in those spaces?


I think partly because people don't feel accountable to the people they meet in liminal spaces. I am not going to run into my cousin in the hallway of my house and say some things to her. You know, these are anonymous people in an in-between space that you can be yourself with in a kind of funny way. You can just be mindless and rude and or kind. You can be a lot of things. So I'm really interested in liminal spaces for that reason, because there are neither here nor there.


You're not with your colleagues. Usually you're not with your friends. You're just in this waiting zone trying to get to this other thing. And then you have these encounters with random people and you're allowed to experiment and do things and say things that you might not be asked about two days later.


Can you recount one of those incidents for us?


Once I was waiting on line to board a plane, it was Southwest and they do this thing where you're loaded onto the plane like rear cargo not loaded. You're allowed by being given numbers. And I think I was number 10. A man comes, a white man comes up to me and he says, What number you? And I said, I'm number 10. He says, OK, I'm number eight. I didn't want to get in front of you.


And then he gets in line and he starts chatting and he says to me, you know, I love airplanes. I love them. I it's like I can just float in them. I don't have to deal with the phones. I don't have to deal with the news. I don't have to deal with everything that's going on. And I'm listening to him and I say to him, you shouldn't have voted for him.


And it was, you know, bold. It was bold.


And he turned to me and he said, it's not just him. And then he turned his back to me and he wouldn't speak to me again. I mean, I didn't try to speak to him. And then we got on the plane and he was sitting a row ahead of me in the next aisle throughout the entire flight. He would just turn around and sort of look at me for periods of time and then move back. And I've always thought, you know, it was a risk, but it wasn't really a risk because sixty two percent of white men in this country did vote for him.


And that's one of the things that I think people don't understand, that he was carried in on the shoulders of our colleagues and our neighbors. Why?


There's another incident in just us which isn't yours, but is a Facebook post. And it's from a woman who was standing in line in the first class line for an airplane and was shot in front of. Would you tell us about that story as well, particularly the way it ends with the shoes, I think was really interesting.


One of the reasons I wanted to include that Facebook post is because I've had exactly the same thing happened to me. And white women have their own way of behaving with their privilege. And often these women, they come rushing up to the line. And in this case, she came to the line and she stood in front of this reverend. And the reverend said to her something like, I'm just wondering why you got in front of me on the first class line.


And I don't think it's because of the way I'm dressed. You seem to be dressed casually as well. So then the woman gets in behind her. But in doing that, she then gets in front of the other person who was the first line, and then she eventually goes to the back of the line. But the way that post ends is the woman. Then she approaches the black woman and says to her, you know, I like your shoes.


And that is an attempt to sort of to say one way of hearing it is I want to apologize for what I just did, but I can't apologize for what I did. And what I did was disregard you as someone. Who would be standing in this line and again, we see that thing about weakness in the collapsing of space, that if it's their space, then you don't belong in it. And it's like, I see your shoes. I didn't see you.


It's so uncomfortable.


And one of the things that I most admire about you is your ability to confront discomfort because discomfort. I mean, he's got time for that, like the schist. I just applaud you for that. But have you always been like that? Have you always been able to call something out?


You know, I don't think so, but I don't know if that's what my friends and husband would say. But I definitely feel that I have gotten bolder over the years.


I think you have to know the consequences will come with what you say, and I know that. So each utterance is a choice. That is true. And I'm willing to take it because my other option is to be complicit with my own erasure. And that's not going to get me anywhere complicit with my generation.


I mean, the way you speak as poetry, it's so phenomenal.


Let's get onto your I say get onto your solutions other than failures. What a beautiful Freudian slip. But actually, your first failure is I failed at Solutions. I'm so interested and intrigued by this. What did you mean when you said that?


Well, I think that I am good at thinking about a thing, but it's really difficult for me in this climate to understand next steps. I mean, I'm I'll show up for every conversation, but what can we really do? I have been crippled by this, especially recently. We are quarantined in our homes. Everybody is frightened. We're not allowed to grieve as a country, even though people are either being killed or dying from covid. Grief is everywhere and it's just hard to know what to do.


I really applaud the protesters going out there and especially people who are able to then come up with solutions like LeBron James and the NBA and WNBA. You know, this idea that we are now going to use arenas for voting stations and use young people to do that so that the older population is at risk for covid. That's the actual solution. And I was very impressed when I heard it. And so that is not among my skill set.


By the way, I agree with you, but I also respectfully disagree with you because the work that you do is so important in changing mindsets. And I'm just flicking through just ask because I'm trying to find this quote that I loved when you were in a marriage counseling session. And it's about the structures might not change, but the feelings around the structures change if I got that right. Yeah, yeah. That's what I think you do. What is the actual quote?


Do you remember that? I marked it and I can't find enough.


You're ahead of me and you marked it. Well, I only told you I only because I love this book so much.


It's actually a beautiful thing. I would never market with pen, but I have done by folding down a corner.


No, no, no. I would mark it with this. It doesn't answer your question, but one of the things I love about books that belong to you as opposed to the library is that you can be in conversation on the page and that you can write things in the margins. I'm a great fan of marginalia. Yeah, and there is a page actually I wanted to include in the book, but I couldn't get the rights and it was James Baldwin and I found it in the archives at Yale at the basic library.


I was James Baldwin just writing his name over and over and over again in the marginalia.


It was really stunning. I find it closure. I found OK, people feel hurt when you point out the reality that forms experience because the reality is not their emotional experience. The counselor reminded us that day the structures that inform our lives are the predetermined architecture we live in or against. But I am beginning to know that feelings can change structures.


Oh, you see, that's what you do.


Well, thank you. I just had another lesson in that actually with Amy Cooper. You remember Amy Cooper? She's the woman in Central Park who. Yes. Yeah. Was asked to put her dog on the leash like Kristen Cooper. I love the overlap of that. It's almost Greek, isn't it? The fact that he's a Christian as well, maybe be more allegorical. Yeah, exactly. And, you know, it was funny because. She kept saying, I was afraid, I was afraid, and yet nothing she performed performed fear.


And when I discussed this with my therapist, she said to me, you know, Claudia, just because she's making a thing up doesn't mean she doesn't believe it. Oh, wow.


Yeah. Yeah, that's mind blowing.


Yeah. It was a moment where it really because, you know, I kept thinking, look, look at her at this moment and at this moment and this moment, clearly she is making the whole thing up and we all could see that. And yet the next day when she's interviewed, she said, I was afraid. Is your therapist.


This is a very, very intimate question, by the way. So feel free to not answer it. Is your therapist a black woman?


No, she isn't. When I started work on this book, I wanted somebody who could look at me and my actions and my statements objectively and say, well, one of the reasons you might have said that would be this. And that's not a service I could get from my friends, you know. So that's why I thought to go to her therapist for that. So I asked around and I said, you know, does anybody know somebody who they think is really good at thinking about these kinds of issues?


And she was recommended to me and it was interesting because she was somebody close to retirement and she had done a lot of work on gender issues in her career. And so it was an excellent marriage, I think.


I love that you are unafraid of interrogating yourself as well as everything around you.


Let's talk about solutions, because one of the things that you wrote in your email to me was that you were relying on grassroots activists like the women who founded Black Lives Matter.


And I find it of note that it was women who founded that movement and it is a deliberately non-hierarchical structure. Do you have a hope that that movement will change things?


Well, I think it already has. I think that the work that Black Lives Matter has done in the last four years is what allowed for the protest, the most integrated protest I have ever seen in my entire life. And I'm approaching 60. In fact, my birthday is in two days.


And I'm so sorry. I thought you were born on the 1st of January.


No, no, no. September 4th. I mean, you and me and Beyonce. And that's talk about the fact that I could not be more perfect. Yeah. So, you know, I think that what they have managed to do in terms of having chapters around the country without a centralized leader allows people to move effectively within their communities to know what is needed, specifically where they stand. There's Bryan Stevenson, the lawyer who has done such incredible work here in the States.


He always says the best thing you can do is remain proximate proximity rules. And I think Black Lives Matter gets its power from allowing people to work from where they they live, work within the communities they live in. And so when the protests started, after the killing of Floyd, people were able to mobilize their people. And so we saw people coming out in organized fashion in a way that we have never done before. And then you had other groups like Surge showing up for Social Justice, which is a group that is made up of people of color, but mostly white people.


And those people and the Black Lives Matter people were able to work together along with Kimberle Crenshaw, say her name and other organizations. So I think that they have been extremely effective. The question is, can their assets and agenda shift systemically our institutions? Yeah, because that is what is needed. That's what remains to be seen.


What did you make of Black Out Tuesday on social media where people posted black squares in support of the Black Lives Matter movement?


I think that every attempt to bring attention to these issues is good. I think there was a confusion and this was, I think, a technological confusion because the corporations were then blocking actual Black Lives Matter posters that needed to be seen. But that was cleared up. I think it was something that wasn't anticipated then. It was a problem and then the problem was solved. But I will, as I said, as I fell on solutions, I'll take any.


Yes. Yeah.


I mean, I think you really replicate how very many people felt on that day because you don't want it to be a hollow gesture. But you also want to show that it's meaningful to you in some way and and better something than nothing. One could argue. Exactly.


You said something you wrote in a New Yorker article that there really is no mode of empathy that can replicate the daily strain of knowing that as a black person, you can be killed simply for being black.


And it really struck me that phrase, because I think that we live in a climate where we're sort of encouraged to be empathetic, which is a good thing, obviously, and also sort of be kind. But for me, that always seems quite nebulous. And it just really struck me with some force that you're absolutely right. However much we might try and think and imagine, we still can't do it. That's still not going to pre-empt the action that we need.


And that's why you can't do something for somebody else. You really have to be doing it for you. You know, you really have to feel like this is unacceptable for you. You know, when I wrote that piece for The New York Times, it was a time when black people were out on the streets, but it was rare to see white people join them. And today, I don't think I could have written that same piece, because you know what?


The mothers in Portland have been doing, what suburban white moms have been doing is fantastic. And probably in many cases, these women are having to understand that their own collusion has carried things this far. So empathy is good, but it's not the same as really showing up. I mean, I think here is a case where self-interest is not a bad thing. Equity and social justice should be something you do for yourself.


Yeah, I suppose you've answered my next question, really, which is, have you ever encountered a white person who has truly got it? Well, I think that the answer is probably yes and no, because I think that there are white people out there who have done things I couldn't do that have put themselves on the line that have shown up in ways consistently that prove that they have got it and that they understand that their whiteness allows them to do certain things that other people perhaps couldn't do.


There are many this is not one or two people. Historically, there are many people. But that's not the same as saying they really can know the weathering that African-Americans and black people have gone through in this country day to day. But they don't have to. They don't have to. They can understand. They can see corruption when they see this episode is going to air.


So we're recording in September. In fact, it's literally the day before your birthday, isn't it?


So thank you for making the time.


And it's going to air the week before the election in the United States. What do you think is going to happen at that election?


I don't know. I know what I want to happen. I know what would be best for all of us, even those people who claim the reverse, you know, I mean, I think even for them, it would be the best thing if Biden and Harris were elected.


The election of Biden is really the only chance we have to reroute the trajectory we're on towards a fascist government. And what I feel like I'm being tested by my ability to have faith in white Americans. Black women as a group have shown up, you know what, something like ninety six percent of us voted for Hillary Clinton. We have shown up. We understood where we were going. We understood what would happen if Trump was elected. None of this is a surprise in a sense, because he was clear and pretty explicit about his agenda and that white people dismissed it and still voted for him is astounding.


So what I feel like the election is asking me is, can I have faith in white people come November? And I don't know, everything points to the fact that he should be defeated. Everything, and yet, I don't know.


Have you ever felt so misaligned with the people around you?


Well, let's say I've always suspected that the misalignment existed, but now there is a clear and present danger of it being rooted in in the government in a way that would just take us back centuries. And it's not up to me. It's not up to black women, maybe not up to black people. This is why I'm so interested in those suburban moms at this point, because they are going to have to break with their husbands. They are going to have to go out there and save our democracy for their children, for themselves.


Forget about me.


Yeah. Your second failure is your failure at losing your curiosity. Again, I'm very intrigued by this because I'm extremely grateful for your curiosity.


How do you define that as a failure?


Well, the failure of losing it is a fear. Actually, I hope to always be curious about other people, about other ways of being in the world, the potential that is inherent in all of us. But it's difficult to approach the same conversations over and over again to throw the facts forward and have them dismissed to see the kind of justification in the face of the brutality of this country. While covid is going on. There's no talk about all those kids and people that were caged at the border.


I have no idea what's happening with them. You know, that was in the news and then it went out of the news, but they didn't disappear. So I find myself sometimes getting a little bit exists. Well, what would be the right word? A little tired by the openness to go down the road of certain trajectories. Do you sleep much? You know, one of my gifts is sleep. I am one of those people who at nine o'clock, I just go to bed.


That is a great gift and I'm blessed with it.


Exactly. I really feel like it's a gift that was given to me. And then I get up at four. I do the bike.


Well, you know, I hang on, you get up at four and this is where we part ways for you do the bike. Is that a pallet. It is it but it's similar.


And then I start working and I'm usually good to about noon.


Were you always curious? I mean, what were you like as a child? Were you the child who was always asking why? I think so.


My mom tells a story. I mean, obviously something I remember, but she tells the story of how I would read the newspaper, even though I could read, I would just hold up the paper.


But my first memory in Jamaica, actually, because I left when I was seven. But my first memory and in a way my only memory is of walking to school with my cousin and asking her why I had to go to school and her telling me that most people go to school.


I remember distinctly.


Yeah, it's a good question. What did your parents make of your desire? In fact, I don't know when you started thinking you wanted to be a poet, but what was their reaction? Well, it's funny.


My parents and many other people, they were not alone in this. Being a poet didn't really mean anything. So I would say I wanted to be a poet and they would say, oh, you want to get it in English. You want to teach and be like, I want to be a poet. And they're like, oh, so you're going to go to grad school in English. So there was always this thing of collapsing poetry into the field of English because it didn't sound like a job.


Yeah. So I just had to kind of go along and let the misunderstanding hold the place of patience. And did they come around recently? I mean, my mom, it wasn't that long ago, maybe ten years ago. She said to me, are you still going to go and get that?




But now you're a professor at Yale. It's a proper job.


I know.


But you know those trajectories that people understand.


I know that you've met Serena Williams because you did a fantastic interview with her for The New York Times. And you have written amazingly about how for you she represents something so crucial, which is the capacity and the unapologetic frankness with which she is fully herself and portrays so many different sides of who she is as a black woman.


Have you met Beyonce? No, I've never met Beyonce.


I've met her sister, Solange. Oh, because Solange has said that citizen was the basis of one of the things she was in conversation with in her last album. But Beyonce's work, you know, I do find an affinity with her work. I think lemonade was an astounding exploration of what it means to be a black person in this country and the way in which she sampled in historical documents and information I think she had. Now I can tell you the specific ones, but it's sort of the musical version of citizen or just us in a sense, you know, to keep the history present, even as you're looking at something as personal as trouble in your own marriage, which that album Lemonade started out investigating.


I cannot agree more. It taught me so much, that album.


And obviously I come to it very differently. From your experience of it, the whole examination of infidelity and her decision ultimately to keep on being married was super interesting for me.


I find that sort of personally challenging because I. Think I wanted a narrative of and now I'm better on my own, and actually it was so much more interesting for her to do the opposite, the hard work of.


Yes, of working it through. Yes, you do want to, Lizzo.


You want to. Yeah. I mean, who doesn't want as I know this is true. Doesn't want to listen to you.


What do you think of what by the way. What is no say. What is Cardi B's new song it stands for.


I'm actually embarrassed. I'm asking you this. I'm sorry. It's me. It stands for Wet Ass Pussy and the video that accompanies it. It's Canipe Be in the rapper making the Australian and the video that accompanies it is seen as a kind of reclamation of a lot of the hip hop tropes the male rappers used.


Yes, I have read about it.


I haven't seen it, but I read about it, OK. It was on my list of things to look up. OK, well, let me I'm actually I am mortified that I brought that up and that in this conversation because it is the culture is one of the things about culture makers, which I put myself in that group, is that you are able to have a conversation with existing ideas and tendencies and beliefs. And if Cardi B is able to shift someone's understanding around that, that's pretty incredible.


I need you to watch it and then I need you to tell me what you think about it, because I'll be so interested in your third failure is that you fail at suspending analysis sometimes.


And you wrote to me, sometimes you have to just know what you know. I'm the one who keeps looking if something different is going to happen. And that's not always a good thing. And what did you mean by that?


The tendency to want to read a thing to do the close reading is a writer's job in a way, but in life it could stall action. So we get back to the solution. And I'm not proud of this moment. But sometimes I'll be sitting in the car with my husband and we should have turned and he won't have turned. And then oddly, I find myself interested in where he's going. And then he'll say to me, I think we've passed our exit.


And I said, yes, we did. And he said, well, why didn't you tell me? I said, Oh, because I thought you were doing something else. But it's that it's that that would be the problem, because I get interested beyond the practical moment and sort of thinking that somebody actually is making some other kind of decision. Does that mean that you're bad at life admin? Oh, yeah. But, you know, I have managed, but I am fascinated by why people do the things they do.


And I don't like presuming that I know what they want or, you know, a lot of people. One of the pieces and just does is about being at the theatre and being with a white friend who doesn't get up when the play we're watching asks white people to get up. And somebody said to me, well, you know, I was in the theatre with a black woman and the white woman who didn't get up next to us just sat there.


And the black woman said to her, you need to get up. And then she got up. And I could never imagine doing that because even as I'm affected by what she's doing, I'm waiting for her to make another decision without me telling her I don't want her to do what I tell her to do. I want her to come to it because it is a thing to come to. And so I've always seen that as a little bit of a hiccup.


In many ways.


You're an anthropologist as well as a poet. I'm curious. Yes. One of the passages and just ask which really stayed with me.


We touched on it briefly earlier. Was the marriage counseling session you had with your husband?


It stayed with me for several reasons. One was that you mentioned in that passage that you had breast cancer.


And I wanted to ask you about that separately and how that changed you. But specifically with this question, I wanted to ask you about the bit in that essay where you talk about it, sort of like the realisation that you're.


Married to a white man, so how can he exist separately from white maleness and that it almost seems to sort of suddenly struck you in that session that although you'd be married to this individual who you collaborate with, you do incredible work with that he was still a white man. So what does that mean to you?


And how do I express that correctly? Mm hmm. We are married. We have been married approaching 30 years, but we have never ceased being who we are. And he is a white man and I am a black woman. And that fact comes to us often, actually. And I do feel lucky that I am married to somebody who is able to see when it happens. So, you know, when we were pulled over and the police ask him, how do you know her, for example, which has happened a number of times.


How do you know her? When our alarm went off accidentally and the police came, they came to the door and they said to me, Do you live here? And I said, yes, it's my house. And then my husband arrived and they said to him, she says she lives here. And he was like, oh, she does want to God. And even, you know, we have people working in the house and this could be sexism and could be racism.


But there is a way in which they will say something like, you know, thank you so much, John will get back to you. And John will say, John and Gloria and you know, and then we'll all laugh. Oh, yes, John and Klaudia. You know, so that dynamic is a real one. And the knowledge of it is one that brought us together. So it wasn't a conversation that we needed to keep having. I think we shared that to our marriage.


But when we got to the point where I had had breast cancer and felt like I wanted to change things up and I think, you know, you should never do anything drastic after you've had the news that you could possibly die.


That was the one time when he was not willing to think about our racial differences than that. And luckily he didn't because I got over that. But it's a real thing in our lives.


Has he ever apologized on behalf of what he represents? There's no judgment in that question one way or the other. I'm just interested.


No, I mean, I'm not I don't think he needs to, but I do think he is very aware of what he represents in the world. And that's probably what attracted me to him in the first place. He's always the guy who who allows the person, the woman to go ahead. You know, he's a person who's willing to wait his turn. So that, I think, was something you can see in action. Yes. And that I appreciated.


Well, he sounds great talking about your breast cancer.


I heard you being interviewed by the magnificent Krista Tippett on her podcast on being and you said this beautiful thing about how emboldened you even further in a way. So you wanted to say your piece rather than rest in peace.


And that was just off the cuff, Claudia.


I mean, again, speaking in poetry, but do you think surviving that has given you even more fuel?


I do think so. I think that when you think you will live forever, I think we believe that we need to hold on to the structures that have given us what we have amassed in the world. And I think having breast cancer was the first time that I understood that there are things more important to me than just achieving in my life, you know, and that I actually belong to the human race. I am a citizen. There are people in this world who need to hear the truth, including me, and it's really our responsibility to show up.


And it's amazing to see my daughter's generation the way they are willing to have conversations and do things and show up just normally. And I feel like a. Took me a lifetime to learn that. A lifetime in cancer to learn that you are not risking anything if you're calling for justice. Oh, Claudia Rankine, I just can't think of anywhere better to end this extraordinary conversation than with that. I cannot thank you enough for the woman that you are and for the work that you do and for finding time to come on this piddling little podcast to talk about such important, profound and lyrical things.


I cannot thank you enough for coming on hard to fail. Well, Elizabeth, thank you for having me. And I would excise that word piddling.


I'll see if I added to that.


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