Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have dedicated my life to addressing the myriad pernicious issues that afflict African-American males. Many have charged that this preoccupation or as some call it an obsession with uplifting African-American males flows from my having an African-American son that I am forecasting phenomenal things for. In reality, it matters little why this has become my ‘life’s work’, what really matters is that it is a conscious decision that I made long ago. This decision frames how I view the world and is with me each moment that I breathe.
So when I was recently invited to attend a middle-school symphony performance, being held at a recently constructed high school in a suburb of Houston, Texas, as usual I arrived extremely early for the event, a decision that permitted me time to wander around the campus prior to the performance. I must relate that this state-of-the-art educational institution was awe-inspiring. Considering that I was raised in a working-class community and attended a public school for the majority of my academic career, I marveled at the facilities and privately mused, so this is what they have been withholding from us all these years.
Most amazing was the fact that there was literally a club for any and every interest that an inquisitive high school student could have: Theater, English Club, Spanish Club, Political Science Club, French Club, Math Club, Astronomy Club, Symphonic Orchestra, Jazz Band, Video Game Designers Club, etc. I was informed by one of the parents that there were over one-hundred clubs/activities for the students. Color me impressed.
Unfortunately, these feelings slowly evaporated as I perused the school’s trophy case. Now I must state that I found it encouraging that the school prominently displayed both its academic and athletic achievements in an unbiased manner with an accompanying photo of the individual(s) that brought home the trophy/honor. It was then that I noticed that there were very few, if any, Black males engaging in any clubs or activities other than athletics; particularly track, football, and basketball.
This reality was a bit shocking and saddening for what it actually tells us about many African-American males. During the Civil Rights Movement, our ancestors who fought for equal opportunity/access to academic materials believed that African-American children lagged behind others because of the lack of school materials that whites hoarded for themselves. In fact, it is this alluded to imbalance of materials that was the crux of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that integrated this nation’s schools and laid the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision to rest. Many of the plaintiffs in the former case were hoping that American schools would remain separate, yet truly become equal in regards to funding and facilities.
This is the lens through which I viewed this racially diverse suburban school with state-of-the-art facilities and an unconscionable number of non-athletic extracurricular activities. This is the type of facility that Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall fought for Black children to gain access to during the Brown case. Prior to reaching the trophy case and seeing the dearth of Black male participation in non-athletic extracurricular activities, I was comforted that we had finally accessed the educational resources that whites have historically monopolized. The entire scene left me harboring what I considered a logical question; ‘Why do so many Black males refuse to engage unprecedented educational opportunities?’
After pondering this situation, I have concluded that there is only one explanation, that suburban Black males have accepted a dysfunctional cultural pattern that Richard Majors terms ‘The Cool Pose.’ According to 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.” Unfortunately for Black males, their inclusion in this club leads to their willfully avoiding academic and professional opportunities that their predecessors, most recently their parents and grandparents, have dedicated their lives to providing.
All signs point to African-American males accepting a pervasive lie that the surest means of expressing authentic ‘blackness’ is foregoing scholastic opportunities and focusing upon either athletics or rapping with a vigor that relates that they truly believe that they have little to offer the world beyond their athletic prowess. The alluded to worldview replicates itself with unbelievable inefficiency.
If provided the opportunity I would take every Black male afflicted by ‘the cool pose’ and expose them to the likes of James Baldwin, Huey P. Newton, W.E.B. Du Bois, Walter Mosley, August Wilson, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., William Raspberry, and the list could go on forever as these individuals are but a small sampling of who they truly are.
Now this is in no way intended to dissuade African-American males from participating in athletic contests; Lord knows if we do not represent this nation in the Olympics, it would be dominated by others in an unprecedented manner. Rather it is a simple reminder to Black males that the contributions of their predecessors occurred in so many diverse areas that one would be challenged to pinpoint our greatest strength: intellectual, athletic, spiritual, literary, theatrical, or political. Young brothers, opportunity is most certainly knocking, now the question is will you answer with eagerness and a desire to uplift the race in a manner that would make our ancestors proud?
James Thomas Jones III, Ph.D.
©Manhood, Race and Culture, 2015.