There is no occupation of territory, on the one hand, and independence of persons on the other. It is the country as a whole, its history, its daily pulsation that are contested, disfigured, in the hope of final destruction. Under this condition, the individual’s breathing is an observed and occupied breathing. It is a combat breathing.
Shange redefined this breathing as “the living response / the drive to reconcile the irreconcilable / the Black n white of what we live and where.” In other words, the combat edge of Black feminist breathing is a form of radical presence in the face of multiple forms of violence.
In this moment when people across the world have taken to the streets repeating “I can’t breathe,” I am sitting at my altar and in circles with comrades chanting phrases designed to help us remember how to breathe and how to invite our revolutionary ancestors into our bodies and our movement. I chant these phrases 108 times because the diameter of the sun multiplied by 108 is the distance between the earth and the sun, and the diameter of the moon multiplied by 108 is the distance between the earth and the moon. I chant 108 to invoke the cyclical mathematics of Black space. Surrounding me when I am alone, and in a larger circle encircling our circles when we gather together, are the ancestors who have given their lives, words and actions to an oppositional and often illegal reverence for Black breath. While we are breathing, their energy persists. And while I am breathing the world slows to a pace I can believe in.