At present, our society is facing various social inequalities. A significant problem is discrimination against minorities in the community and workplace. These minorities are neglected and concealed of these inequalities also by the media. Citizenship is crucial to this issue because it has always been a key factor in creating equality and inequality for equality assumes that all citizens, rather than aliens, have equal status, regardless of wealth, capabilities, and social class. Because citizenship guarantees equal rights, citizenship has always been a center of controversy. Despite some people are lawfully citizens, they are not socially citizens, facing discrimination from the society. It is therefore the struggle of those who are excluded, such as women and people of color, to gain their rights as citizens. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen and Shakespeare’s Othello both highlight relationships between citizenship and equality. By examining modern and 17th century perspectives, one can see oppression of minorities’ citizen rights used throughout history till the present day. While Citizen focuses on the inequalities at present, Othello demonstrates the differences of citizen’s and minorities’ rights in the Renaissance. This essay will discuss how true citizenship depends upon one’s equal rights compared to the others: one cannot receive full recognition as a citizen without equality.
In Citizen, Claudia Rankine reveals the cruel or hopeless cycle of the American treatment of blacks; It demonstrates Rankine’s belief that under such unequal treatment, a person or a group cannot be considered to have complete citizenship. In other words, even though one is recognized as a citizen in the legal sense, the lack of social recognition leads to the inequality of this “citizenship.” Rankine reveals the inequality in our daily life. Rankine demonstrates how racism is ubiquitous in society and how politics and the media undermine black people’s rights. Rankine explained that the racist language used to humiliate the black community was a proven tool of oppression. She points out that ‘Language that feels hurtful is intended to exploit all the ways that you are present’ (49). When a group is under oppression, society acquiesces in the emergence of such hurtful language, because the words have become a vague pronoun of the oppressed group, and are deeply rooted in people’s minds. For example, Rankine used second person throughout the book, dehumanizing the group: “You assuming she thinks she is thanking you for letting her cheat and feels better cheating from an almost white person” (5). Rankine also demonstrates the invisibility of black identity by listing the dead, and “because white men can’t police their imagination black people are dying” (49) Personally, by naming the dead, she uses her books to publicize the truth that the media does not report and will not report. On the contrary, for example, American media describes Serena Williams, an American black tennis player, as an ‘angry nigger exterior'(36) in the U.S. Open, and the media even used the words “lily white” (33) to compare Serena with the Olympic arena.
Rankine also illustrates the universality of white privilege and the corresponding black oppression. For example, she says “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” (105). This uniformity of black identity reduces black society to limiting stereotypes. She also made it clear that such inequality was ruthless and even invaded institutions that offered hope for equality, such as higher education institutions. Rankine illustrates this by stating: “when the woman with the multiple degrees says, I didn’t know black women could get cancer, instinctively you take two steps back though all urgency leaves the possibility of any kind of relationship as you realize no-where is where you will get from here” (45). It can be concluded that, after the media and the public, if those who are supposed to be more open-minded or so-called elites in society are also guided by public opinion, then this phenomenon is not regional, but the tone of the whole society, and once this is determined, the daily differential treatment of minorities, cannot be regarded as normal behavior, but as discrimination. Rankine doubts what citizenship means for minorities surrounded by daily attacks and slanders, and she wrote, “What did he just say? Did she really just say that? Did I heard what I think I heard?” (9), “What do you mean? Exactly what do you mean?” (47), “What is wrong with you?” (54) “Hold up, did you just hear, did you just see, did you just do that?” (55). These questions, using the sense of insecurity that minorities are facing at all times, ask the whole society: what is the citizenship of minorities? Rankine answers self-deprecatingly, ‘Yes, and this is how you are a citizen: Come on. Let it go. Move on. ‘ (151). This irony further illustrates that civil rights should be based on dignity and respect, and equality in the legal sense should also be applied to daily life. In Rankine’s view, citizenship in the legal sense are different from real citizenship, that is, equality among citizens.
Similarly, in Shakespeare’s Othello, Shakespeare demonstrate his opinion on citizenship through the characters in the play, that is, subconsciously, one will recognize citizenship and race as their own identity like other citizens equally, and make it rational to distinguish from oneself with non-citizens with this identity. Venice in the 17th century seemed to be an open city-state. It is portrayed as a free society, welcoming strangers with open arms, because they have something to offer its development and security. To some extent, Othello is popular, but only as a foreigner and mercenary, and it was a common sense that foreigners who choose to stay in Venice do not enjoy all the privileges of Venetian citizens. Therefore, Brabantio was embarrassed that Othello had the courage to propose to Desdemona, a white daughter of the Venetian aristocracy. By doing so, he has violated Venetian society by enjoying the same rights as other ordinary people, even the upper classes. It can be said that Othello did not abide by the unwritten rules, which posed a serious threat to the stability of Venetian society. According to Roderigo, a pursuer of Desdemona “In an extravagant and wheeling stranger of here and everywhere. Straight satisfy yourself. If she be in her chamber or your house, Let loose on me the justice of the state for thus deluding you.”(51) When citizens of Venice face the possibility of equal rights with other people, they naturally regard the marriage between Othello and Desdemona as a crime. From the current discussion, we can see that race is a basic problem in Shakespeare’s Othello in 17th century Venice, and it is the pivot around which the plot of the play revolves. Othello’s skin color determined his identity. Good people, Othello’s friends and families, such as the Duke, Desdemona and Cassio, call him ‘the Moor'(66); and his enemies, such as Iago, Brabantio and Rodrigo, call him ‘an old black ram'(49), ‘a Barbary horse'(50)and ‘a lascivious Moor'(50) Othello can therefore be interpreted as a synonym for different race and color in the play. This factor prevented him from enjoying the same citizenship as others, so once he crossed the bottom line of Venetian society and made himself equal with other citizens, the order of Venetian society in which Othello existed and acted was catastrophic to majorities, which also proved in Shakespeare’s cognition, no matter how much power and personality charm a person possesses, if he has different racial and non-citizenship status, he will not be recognized by the public, nor will he have the same rights as others, and because of the need to use discrimination to reduce the rights of non-citizens, the equality of citizens is a vital factor in citizenships
Gender discrimination revealed in the play also suggests that gender takes place in citizen rights. During 17th Century, According to Hall, “A woman was primarily defined by her status within the household as a wife, mother, daughter, or servant”(14). Desdemona shows her rebellious spirit as a female citizen, but we can also see the remains of patriarchy in her mind. “My noble father, I do perceive here a divided duty. To you I am bound for life and education. … I am hitherto your daughter. But here’s my husband . . . Let me go with him.” (66). From these words, Desdemona escaped the fate of obedience to her father, but failed to avoid the traditional concept of wife in marriage: “Patriarchal marriages create bonds between men as well as affirm male possession of woman’s sexuality” (14). This patriarchal idea was rooted in Desdemona’s mind at the beginning of the marriage, which could explain why when Othello stigmatized her infidelity, she did not make a direct defense or resistance, but blindly blamed herself with a low attitude and asked her husband to believe in her fidelity. “Alas, what ignorant sin I have committed(135)” From the text we can conclude that Desdemona did not resist this patriarchal consciousness until her last breath. Therefore, I believe Shakespeare is limited by his times and fails to realize the irrationality of inequality between male and female citizens, but from his writings, as well as the literature and evidence provided by Kim Hall, it can be concluded that female citizenship can be regarded as a low-level version of male citizenship, i.e. second-class citizenship. Desdemona’s performance in the play also proves that she does not enjoy equal citizenship. Under such circumstances, it is not permissible to act inconsistent with this constrained identity. It also proves Rankine’s point of view from the side.
Rankine and Shakespeare both believe that the one of basic factor of citizenship is the equality of citizens. Citizenship represents the two-way identity of a person and his society, which makes him have the same rights as others in his country. If certain groups are treated differently, their identities cannot be viewed as equal. Therefore, these texts show that all discrimination is a symbol of the malicious way of oppressing citizenship, and this is one of the biggest obstacles to equal treatment of these groups. Rankine and Shakespeare both believes all groups of people regardless of their gender or skin color should be able to enjoy their rights without fear of discrimination.