Starred Booklist review for Imani Perry's Breathe

May 14, 2019

*Breathe: A Letter to My Sons. By Imani Perry Sept. 2019. 176p. Beacon, $18 (9780807076552). 306.85

 

Perry, a Princeton professor and author of the award-winning Looking for Lorraine (2018), presents, in the

tradition of W. E. B. DuBois, James Baldwin, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, a letter her two sons, and to all Black

boys, encouraging them to stand back up in the face of stumbling. Voiced the way an African American

mom might say it when whites are not around, and told against the backdrop of police killings of Black

men (notably Eric Garner, whose words “I can’t breathe” ring in the title), Perry's missive may echo a

general American regret about the mismatch between Black crime and punishment. Perry shares well-told

and funny memories of family trips to Alabama, Chicago and Cambridge, which signal heritage and

privilege, and innumerable gems from Black cultural thinkers on perseverance. This mother’s striking and

generous admonition to thrive even in the face of white mendacity also is a meditation on parenting.

Reflective insights about injustice adjoin a few visceral apologies about every responsible parent’s regrets,

which might remind parents of the divide between “the deed of giving life” and “the social consequence of

the deed.” For Black boys and their parents who struggle to get childhood and mothering-along or

fathering-along correct: “Just always remember: even if you tumble. . .you must move towards freedom.”

— Sean  Chambers