Even though African Americans gained a number of constitutional rights after the passage of the Thirteenth through Fifteenth Amendments following the American Civil War (1861–1865), they still were not treated equally in Southern states, and even nationally. Almost one hundred years later during the post–World War II period, continued racial oppression, sanctioned by the segregation laws in the South and de facto segregation in the North, gave rise to the modern Civil Rights Movement.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 sought to remedy inequality by prohibiting discrimination in schools, public facilities, and employment. Revisions to that act legally prohibited discrimination in other areas, such as housing and the work place. Despite these legal measures, racism and discrimination still persist in this country. Claudia Rankine’s 2014 poetry collection Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press) recounts a number of situations in which racism, either blatant or subtle, is evident today. “from Citizen, VI [On the train the woman standing]” is one such poem.
The activities that follow allow your students to enter the poem with a visceral understanding of the situation, help them understand the poem and its structure, and lead them into reasoned discussion about ways to make all members of the American community equal, not only in the eyes of the law, but in the eyes of one another.
These activities are also designed to level the playing field among diverse learners by including multiple ways to enter, experience, and explore the meaning of the poem. Feel free to adjust them to meet the particular learning styles and needs of your students.