... both an excruciating and exhilarating experience. It is not unlike raising a Black boy in America. It prompts a complex rush of emotions. I highlighted so many passages, lines that I wanted to remember, to use as inspiration—including those that made me wince in uncomfortable recognition—I simply decided to reread the book as soon as I’d finished it ... The book evokes so well the myriad ways in which Black parents and children alike must be intentional about how we inhale and exhale. And frankly, given this moment in which we live, the book reminds us all to take a deep breath. It is so startling and apt and timely that you will likely devour it the way a swimmer takes a giant gulp of air as she cracks the surface of the water—greedily and gratefully ... We’ve not seen this intimacy from Perry’s writing before ... That Perry can navigate so seamlessly between interiority and the interrogation of American culture is astonishing ... To be clear, we’ve never seen a book like this before. This is a beacon for any young African American trying to swim through the waters of that unique antagonism that America has long held for its Black citizens, be they man-child or woman-child ... Imani Perry also is not a romantic, but she is a woman of deep devotion, and that is what will bring you back to this slim, penetrating book many times, like rereading your favorite psalm; or perhaps more precisely like a morning meditation, deep breaths filling your lungs with air, leaving you in a state of grace.
... [Perry] forsakes the safe harbor of academic objectivity for the wilds of personal vulnerability. Her exhale feels overdue, and deep ... a testament to her long game, a refusal to let unwarranted and unpunished death frighten her sons from truly living ... Perry never reveals specific harms that her sons have endured, which is the book’s transcending quality; it is not about them. Instead, she insists that all black children be treated with dignity and kindness. Here her voice takes on an oracular quality ... a parent’s unflinching demand, born of inherited trauma and love, for her children’s right simply to be possible.
Perry’s wholehearted and sincere letter to her sons is part of her rearing, one in which she learns, too, telling them '. . . you teach me who you are much better than I teach you who I think you should be.' And in that revelation, Perry achieves her task of feeding and nourishing her sons while allowing space for them to feed themselves. It is the manifestation of the love and dreams of a Black mother for her Black sons. It is the realization of the 'radical discipline of becoming.'
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. 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.'
Perry’s uplifting and often lyrical meditation on living invites readers to delve into their self and particularly into the complicated categories of mother, parent, African American, and human. Highly recommended.
A multidisciplinary and acclaimed researcher, Perry uses references throughout the slim volume that range across centuries and the global black diaspora, across folklore, music, and visual arts as well as the influence of numerous faith traditions ... Deeply intergenerational, the book blurs intended audiences to call all of us to face up to legacies of injustice while insisting on the grace and conviviality necessary to imagine just futures ... A masterfully poetic and intimate work that anchors mothering within the long-standing tradition of black resistance and resourcefulness.