There are very few consensual points in regards to African-Americans; there appears to ALWAYS be ‘exceptions to the rule.’ Put simply, we are not monolithic. However, I think that I may have uncovered something that we agree upon; that being, there is an intangible quality about African-American men that makes them unlike any other population of males on the planet earth. This quality has gone by many names, today’s youth culture has termed it swag, other generations have called it ‘soul’, while others have termed it ‘cool’. One thing that we all agree upon is that African-American males have monopolized this intangible quality. Unfortunately, this ‘cool’ factor has failed to benefit our community beyond emboldening Black males to move with confidence and self-esteem in some of the most tenuous and strained situations. Black Men have learned to remain ‘cool’ in such situations.
It is this ‘cool’ factor that African-American men emit via their dress, walk, and talk that young Black boys desire during their adolescence and non-Black males realize that neither they, nor anyone who looks like them, will ever exhibit; at least not an authentic ‘cool’. At best, their expression of ‘cool’ will be a facsimile of something that brothers were doing a bunch of yesterdays ago.
According to Richard Majors, the “Cool Pose” is a set of language, mannerisms, gestures and movements that “exaggerate or ritualize masculinity. The Essence of cool is to appear in control, whether through a fearless style of walking, an aloof facial expression, the clothes you wear, a haircut, your gestures or the way you talk. The cool pose shows the dominant culture that you are strong and proud, despite your status in American society…Much of cool pose is ritualistic imitation of peers. If you’re not seen as cool, you’re an outsider. It’s a way to be included.”
Considering the present state of African-American males, one is faced with an over-arching question. Is the ‘cool pose’ working against today’s African-American male? Although I admit that the ‘cool pose’ benefits a few African-American males by ensuring their place among their peer group, it simultaneously creates the perfect storm for their rejection by a hostile white society that happens to be in control of this nation’s economic matters and seemingly determines who enters this nation’s penal institutions. It appears that for contemporary African-American males who have adopted the ‘cool pose’ as their primary identity will invariably find themselves ostracized from mainstream institutions in unprecedented and permanent ways.
Unfortunately for African-American males, their ‘ritualistic imitation of peers’ too often leads them to the same position their counterparts are mired in: prison, illiteracy, probation, parole, unemployment and/or an early death. It is my contention that the ‘cool pose’ is integral to understanding why:
- 5 Million African-American Males are involved in the penal system via incarceration (Federal, State, and Local) or on some form of probation
- There is a 85% recidivism rate for African-American Males
- 60% of African-American males are involved in the penal system for a drug related crime
- In 1979 there were 100,000 Black males in the judicial system, today that number has swelled to 1,500,000.
- The majority of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in S. prisons and jails are people of color, people with mental health issues and drug addiction, people with low levels of educational attainment, and people with a history of unemployment or underemployment.
This matter begs the question of what are we to do? Lord knows that it is impossible to get African-American males to divest from the ‘cool pose.’ However, all is not lost as we may be able to begin socializing our young men toward a new form of ‘cool’; one that allows them to retain their ‘cool’ quotient, while also moving toward a path of academic and economic success.
Failure to address this issue and begin the process of redirecting our youth down a productive path highlights not only our feebleness, but also accentuates an unfortunate reality that today’s Black leaders are doing little more than spinning their wheels and acting ‘cool’ themselves; and as Gwendolyn Brooks pointed out in her epic poem We Real Cool, such activities will guarantee that “We Die Soon.” Meaning, all of us in the present and our collective future.
James Thomas Jones III
©Manhood, Race and Culture, 2015.