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Pathways: A Journal of Humanistic and Social Inquiry

Abstract

In Michelle Cliff’s No Telephone to Heaven and Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American lyric the concept of Black subjectivity rendered as symbol is represented through the narratives of Harriet and Trayvon Martin. By using Harriet’s explanation of becoming symbolic in Cliff’s No Telephone To Heaven as a lens to examine Trayvon Martin’s life and death as narrated in Rankine’s Citizen, I expand the conversation of symbolic rendering. In Cliff’s work, symbolic rendering is achieved through sexual violence in the post-colonial Caribbean context. For Rankine, the post-colonial carceral state in U.S. society becomes the site for the symbolic rendering of policy brutality and racial profiling. Using Saussure’s General Linguistics, Foucault’s concept of the PanOpticon, and bell hooks’s Loving Blackness as Political Action, I argue that Cliff and Rankine’s works illuminate how symbolism becomes violence against Black bodies by rendering the lived experiences of the individual as an object.

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