Listening to gospel, celebrated professor, author, and artist Ashon T. Crawley coats his hands and feet with paint, stamping the rhythms he’s hearing onto paper.
Crawley whoops, hollers, moans, and wails, dancing himself to exhaustion. Gasping, his work reveals something about breath that anti-Black systems tried suffocating.
Crawley believes Black breath is sacred. In his book “Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility,” he explores Black breath in relation to “pneuma.” Pneuma is a theological term meaning “soul, spirit.”
Crawley understands that our breath and spirit are deeply connected. Like the wind fills a ship's sails, breath is often what grounds us when we’re seeking a way forward. Breath is necessary for our spiritual survival. It feeds our soul.
Through this lens we can fully understand the weight behind Eric Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” which he uttered as police officer Daniel Pantaleo publically choked him to death in 2014.
Crawley’s understanding of Black breath as sacred shifts the meaning of “I can’t breathe.” It does more than call out day to day racism. It exposes the spiritual genocide white supremacy inflicts on our bodies and our access to our life force.
We must never forget Blackness in itself is holy. We are sacred.
Nothing, not even white supremacy’s knee on our necks, can ever take that away.
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