Can We Imagine a Better Way to ‘Be’ Americans?

October 30, 2020  • Aspen Ideas Now

“It’s not cutting it to say my intentions are good,” says Claudia Rankine, author of Just Us: An American Conversation. As white supremacy becomes increasingly vocalized and often without reproach, how should we deal with it? One of the things Rankine set out to do with her book is interrogate the conversations we have with each other and “show how what seems like an inconsequential moment is tied to systemic patterns in our country.” She and Eric Liu, CEO of Citizen University, discuss the urgency of imagining a different way of being American. A way, as Liu puts it, “that’s not bound to an old power-laden notion of whiteness.” Liu leads the Citizenship and Identity Program at the Aspen Institute.

About the Speakers

Eric Liu is the founder of Citizen University, which works across the political spectrum to foster a culture of powerful citizenship. Liu served as a White House speechwriter and later as deputy domestic policy adviser to President Bill Clinton. His books include The Gardens of Democracy, The True Patriot, and A Chinaman’s Chance. Liu lives in Seattle and is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for

Claudia Rankine is the author of six collections of poetry, including Just Us: An American Conversation,  Citizen: An American Lyric and Don’t Let Me Be Lonely; three plays including HELP, which premiered in March of 2020 at The Shed, NYC,  The White Card, which premiered in February 2018 (ArtsEmerson/ American Repertory Theater) and was published by Graywolf Press in 2019, and Provenance of Beauty: A South Bronx Travelogue; as well as numerous video collaborations. She is also the co-editor of several anthologies including The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind (FENCE, 2015). In 2016, she co-founded The Racial Imaginary Institute (TRII). Among her numerous awards and honors, Rankine is the recipient of the Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry, the Poets & Writers’ Jackson Poetry Prize, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, United States Artists, and the National Endowment of the Arts. Rankine teaches at Yale University as the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry. She lives in New Haven, Connecticut.