There is not doubt that African-American men are not a monolithic population. Despite what many whites have created within their own minds, African-American men neither think alike nor possess the same goals and priorities. As an African-American male, I must relate that there is actually one point of convergence that you will find among brothers that were raised in an authentic Black community, that being, an intangible quality that is known by many names. Today’s youth culture term it swag, earlier generations called it ‘soul’, while others term it ‘cool’. One thing is for certain, African-American males have had a monopoly upon this elusive intangible quality.
As with most things that African-American males have seemingly cornered the market upon, it has proven to be a double-edged sword with the ability to do good and a more likely ability to do evil. Unfortunately, this ‘cool’ factor has failed to benefit our community beyond providing Black males with the ability to move with at least a veneer of confidence and self-esteem when surrounded by whites who find even their presence offensive. To whites chagrin, we have learned to remain ‘cool’ during the most stressful moments.
It is this ‘cool’ factor that African-American men emit via their dress, walk, and talk that young Black boys desire to emulate during their adolescence. Non-Black males realize that neither they, nor anyone who looks like them, will ever exhibit authentic ‘cool’. At best, their expression of ‘cool’ will be a facsimile of a cultural pattern 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 the formation of healthy male/female relations within today’s African-American community? Considering the present state of the Black Family, it appears that the ‘cool pose’ is proving to be a negative for African-American males, the women that they create children with, and their offspring.
Although the ‘cool pose’ benefits a few African-American males by ensuring their place among their peers, it simultaneously creates the perfect storm for their rejection by an economically formidable white society. African-American males inability to secure gainful employment, a traditional pre-requisite to marriage and the starting of a family, hinders nearly every aspect of any potential relationship. It appears that African-American males who adopt the ‘cool pose’ as their primary identity will invariably find themselves permanently ostracized from mainstream society.
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.’ It may be time to begin a process of socializing our young men toward a new form of ‘cool; one that allows them to retain their ‘cool’ quotient, while also directing them down a path that increases their chances of academic and economic success.
Failure to take this issue on and redirect African-American males down a productive path dooms the entire Black community as the critical role that they are supposed to fill — husband, father, head of household, son, uncle, provider, and protector — will go unfilled. Although many would have never thought this a possibility, however, our community is currently facing the difficult question of ‘where would we be without our men?’ Unfortunately for African-American children, if we do not divest from the self-destructive cultural dysfunction extending from the ‘cool’ we may very well find out where we will be without African-American males; and that is most certainly not cool.
James Thomas Jones III, Ph. D.
©Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2015
#African-American News & Issues