WE CAN'T BREATHE by Jabari Asim
Kirkus Star

WE CAN'T BREATHE

On Black Lives, White Lies, and the Art of Survival
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A collection of essays that go wide and deep into the black experience in America.

As a former editor and columnist for the Washington Post and editor-in-chief of the NAACP’s The Crisis, Asim (A Taste of Honey, 2009, etc.) brings an impressive breadth of experience to these pieces. He places current events within the context of a legacy that is literary, political, and cultural as well as racial, with a voice that is both compelling and convincing. “In ideal circumstances, the human body flows in a state of strut,” he writes of the body confidence that white people too often find menacing in black males. “A jauntiness, an ease. A response to the rhythms that animate the earth….Strut is the body in motion, occupying, manipulating and moving through space. Strutting requires freedom, the liberty to flex and stretch.” This prose struts in an inherently musical way that also seems integral to the black experience as the author delineates its rhythms. Some of these pieces are more ambitious than others and pack more of a punch—particularly “Getting It Twisted” and “The Elements of Strut” as well as the concluding “Of Love and Struggle: The Limits of Respectability,” which counters Michelle Obama’s strategy of going high when they go low. Others are slighter, such as one on black representation in children’s literature, or more personal, like “Color Him Father,” about Asim’s family. Perhaps most problematic is the longest essay, “The Thing Itself,” which ultimately offers a nuanced illumination of cultural appropriation but spends too much space on the old battle over William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner. Nonetheless, the author shows throughout how the past informs the present and how age-old fears and prejudices present themselves in new guises.

A sharp vision that challenges readers to shift perspective and examine conventional narratives.

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-250-17453-6
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Picador
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2018




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