Skip to main content
US Macmillan Tradebooks for Courses

We Can't Breathe

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

Jabari Asim


We Can't Breathe Download image

ISBN10: 1250174538
ISBN13: 9781250174536

Trade Paperback

208 Pages



Request Desk Copy
Request Exam Copy


Sign up to receive information about new books, author events, and special offers.

Sign up now

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.


Praise for We Can't Breathe

"Jabari Asim takes a deep look at African-American history and culture and its present-day manifestations through a collection of eight uncompromising essays. Ranging from the personal to the broad, Asim writes about the resilience of black Americans."—Wilder Davies, Time

"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 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...A sharp vision that challenges readers to shift perspective and examine conventional narratives."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"The author of The N Word upends the standard narrative of African American history and culture in America, told from the perspective of whites, and offers a more accurate understanding of that culture by emphasizing its vibrancy."Library Journal

"In this small but expansive collection of essays, writer and cultural critic Asim draws on the full breadth of black history in the United States, illuminating the story of black resilience through the centuries....Melding the personal with the national and cultural, this collection is a must-read."Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt


In my childhood home, we were not allowed to call each other liars. It fueled my father’s indignation. Slung with the casual malice that only bickering siblings can summon, Liar! somehow set off a warning...

About the author

Jabari Asim

JABARI ASIM was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. For eleven years, he was an editor at The Washington Post, where he also wrote a syndicated column on politics, popular culture and social issues, and he served for ten years as the editor in chief of Crisis magazine, the NAACP's flagship journal of politics, culture and ideas. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in Creative Arts and the author of six books for adults, including The N Word, and nine books for children.

Shef Reynolds II

Jabari Asim

Official Links

Author Bio at the Poetry Foundation