My head and heart would ache when people described my 2019 book, Breathe: A Letter to My Sons, as prescient. They meant that the book seemed timed perfectly for a country that watched George Floyd get killed. Didn’t they understand, I thought, that it will always be on time to write about the dangers of living while Black, no matter how much joy we hold on to? America has been killing Black people since its inception ad infinitum. Breathing in the face of that is all we—Black people of the United States—have ever known of living.
Several years ago, I committed to not watching the footage. I didn’t see the Akron police riddle Jayland Walker’s vulnerable back with bullets last week, inflicting more than 60 gunshot wounds. But by accident, when I was too distracted to change the channel, I saw the people in Highland Park running for their lives from a mass shooter on the Fourth of July. I heard my own crying, loud and ugly, before I had time to process what I was feeling. Just families out for a parade, the joyous sound of a klezmer band, then the gunfire pops and the screaming. Terror is an American familiar.