Jabari Asim: We Can’t Breathe, On Black Lives, White Lies, and the Art of Survival
Wednesday, March 20 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Jabari Asim is an author, poet, playwright, associate professor of writing, literature and publishing at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts.The author of six books for adults and nine books for children. His most recent works are Only The Strong (Agate, 2015), A Child’s Introduction To African-American History(Hachette, 2018) and We Can’t Breathe (Picador, 2018).
His poetry, drama, and prose have been widely published in various periodicals and anthologies. He was an editor for 11 years at the Washington Post, where he also wrote a syndicated column on politics, popular culture, and social issues. Formerly the editor-in-chief of Crisis magazine, the NAACP’s flagship journal of politics, culture, and ideas, he received a 2009 Guggenheim fellowship in Creative Arts. Most recently, he has taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he was a scholar-in- residence.
Asim’s new book, We Can’t Breathe, On Black Lives, White Lies, and the Art of Survival are Insightful and searing essays that celebrate the vibrancy and strength of the black experience in America. It is a sharp vision that challenges readers to shift perspective and examine conventional narratives.
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.
“We Can’t Breathe is, itself, a useful antidote—for the complacency and ignorance of white Americans. It stands next to Howard Zinn’s work as a supplement to an educational system that teaches the textbooks of the victors. I can imagine thrusting it at any number of well-meaning but inadequately informed acquaintances when they use the phrases “not that bad,” or “post-racial era,” or “who’s Ida B. Wells?” It’s all right here, Asim assures us. Everything we turn away from, he turns back to us, patiently, intelligently. Relentlessly.” -Katharine Coldiron