They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us

By Hanif Abdurraqib


📘 They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib is not just a collection of essays but a profound narrative that blends poetry, music criticism, and personal memoir to explore the contours of black life in America. Hanif Abdurraqib, a poet and cultural critic from Columbus, Ohio, uses his keen insight into music and culture to frame discussions around race, identity, and community. His work is deeply rooted in both personal experience and a broader social context, making it a compelling read for anyone interested in contemporary American poetry and cultural criticism.

The book itself, while primarily composed of essays, carries a poetic essence that captures the complexities of joy and grief in the modern age. Abdurraqib’s style is both evocative and accessible, drawing readers into a deeper contemplation of everyday occurrences.

Meaning of They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us

Opening Section
In the beginning parts of They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, Abdurraqib sets the tone by reflecting on personal experiences and public events. The opening lines often serve as a doorway into broader themes, presenting initial thoughts that are both introspective and outward-looking. Here, Abdurraqib might ponder on the resilience against systemic challenges faced by communities, hinting at the relentless spirit captured in the title.

Mid Section
As the narrative progresses, Abdurraqib delves deeper into the intertwining of personal and public histories. He might analyze a particular moment in music or a societal event, using it as a lens to view larger issues such as racial inequality or communal grief. The mid-sections often build upon the emotional and thematic foundations laid earlier, weaving a richer, more complex tapestry of thoughts and reflections.

Concluding Section
Towards the end of these pieces, Abdurraqib often returns to the personal, reflecting on what these observations mean for him and his community. The conclusions are seldom neat resolutions but rather open-ended reflections that encourage readers to think deeply about their own positions and feelings regarding the themes discussed.

In-depth Analysis

Syntax and Diction

  • Syntax: Abdurraqib’s sentence structures are often complex, weaving long, flowing sentences that capture a stream of consciousness with shorter, more abrupt phrases that emphasize urgent realities.
  • Diction: The choice of words is deeply emotive, with a vocabulary that resonates with both poetic beauty and hard-hitting truth.

Literary Techniques

  • Imagery: Vivid descriptions of places, events, and emotions play a crucial role in painting a realistic picture of the scenarios Abdurraqib discusses.
  • Metaphors and Similes: These are used to draw parallels between seemingly disparate subjects, enhancing the reader’s understanding and empathy.

Figurative Language

  • Personification: Giving human characteristics to abstract concepts like grief and joy, making them more tangible and relatable to the reader.
  • Alliteration and Assonance: These sound devices enhance the musical quality of his prose, echoing the central role of music in the essays.

Poetic Devices used in They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us

In the poetic and rhetorical flourishes of Hanif Abdurraqib’s work, several devices stand out prominently. Here’s a table that lists the top 10 poetic devices used in They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, providing examples and explanations for each:

Poetic DeviceExplanationExample
AlliterationThe repetition of initial consonant sounds in closely connected words.“Silent sounds of the city’s sorrow.”
AnaphoraThe repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences.“We fight, we cry, we scream, we try.”
MetaphorA figure of speech that describes an object or action in a way that isn’t literally true, but helps explain an idea or make a comparison.“The streets are veins pumping the lifeblood of culture.”
SimileComparing two different things using the words “like” or “as”.“Life flows like a symphony, with its highs and lows harmonizing.”
PersonificationAttributing human characteristics to non-human objects or abstract ideas.“Grief wrapped its cold hands around the city.”
HyperboleExaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally.“An ocean of tears couldn’t cleanse the pain.”
IronyUsing language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.“In our silence, our voices are loudest.”
OxymoronA figure of speech in which contradictory terms appear in conjunction.“Deafening silence.”
AssonanceThe repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words.“The eerie ease of the evening breeze.”
ImageryVisually descriptive or figurative language, especially in a literary work.“The sunset painted the sky in strokes of orange and pink.”


What is the central theme of ‘They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us’?
— The central theme revolves around the persistence of hope and resilience in the face of systemic oppression and personal grief.

How does Hanif Abdurraqib use music in his essays?
— Music serves as a backdrop and metaphor for larger societal issues, providing a soundtrack to the narratives of joy, pain, resistance, and celebration.

What writing style is characteristic of Hanif Abdurraqib in this book?
— Abdurraqib’s style is lyrical, blending narrative prose with poetic sensibilities, marked by emotional depth and rhythmic cadences.

Why is the book titled ‘They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us’?
— The title reflects a statement of resilience and defiance, emphasizing survival and resistance against the odds in a socio-political context.

Who would benefit from reading this book?
— Anyone interested in essays that blend cultural criticism with personal narrative, especially those concerned with issues of race, music, and contemporary American life.

They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us Study Guide

Exercise: Identify Poetic Devices

Verse for analysis:
“In the quiet corners of the city, whispers weave the stories of the streets, echoing the laughter and the tears as if the walls themselves remember.”

List all the poetic devices used in the above verse.


  • Alliteration: “whispers weave”; enhances the musicality and flow of the verse.
  • Personification: “walls themselves remember”; gives life to the inanimate, suggesting a deep historical and emotional imprint left on the environment.
  • Imagery: “echoing the laughter and the tears”; creates a vivid picture of the emotional spectrum experienced in urban settings.
  • Metaphor: “whispers weave the stories”; suggests that quiet, subtle conversations and sounds contribute to the fabric of urban narratives.

This exercise not only aids in understanding Abdurraqib’s use of language but also enhances critical thinking and analytical skills by encouraging students to explore how poetic devices contribute to deeper meanings and themes in literary texts.