A Finalist for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay
Insightful and searing essays that celebrate the vibrancy and strength of black history and culture in America by critically acclaimed writer Jabari Asim
In We Can’t Breathe, Jabari Asim disrupts what Toni Morrison has exposed as the “Master Narrative” and replaces it with a story of black survival and persistence through art and community in the face of centuries of racism. In eight wide-ranging and penetrating essays, he explores such topics as the twisted legacy of jokes and falsehoods in black life; the importance of black fathers and community; the significance of black writers and stories; and the beauty and pain of the black body. What emerges is a rich portrait of a community and culture that has resisted, survived, and flourished despite centuries of racism, violence, and trauma. These thought-provoking essays present a different side of American history, one that doesn’t depend on a narrative steeped in oppression but rather reveals black voices telling their own stories.
In this small but expansive collection of essays, writer and cultural critic Asim (Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis) draws on the full breadth of black history in the United States, illuminating the story of black resilience through the centuries. "Along with brutality, torture, and murder, a principal step in oppression, American style has long involved getting between the oppressed and their stories," he writes. To combat this oppression, he discusses depictions of blackness in art, black fathers and father figures, the meaning of representation in literature, the racist roots of neighborhood watch squads, and the limits of respectability politics. In one heartfelt essay, he wonders at the power of a brick wall built in a Massachusetts town by an enslaved artisan in 1765 to act as a physical reminder of great sacrifice. In Asim's telling, Trayvon Martin, the black teenager who was murdered by a white neighborhood watch volunteer in 2012, lives alongside Pomp, the man who built that wall. Melding the personal with the national and cultural, this collection is a must-read for history buffs, activists, and students of societal power dynamics.