Some Considerations of “Cool” for Black Men Today

Say No

My wife and I saw a black adolescent male riding a bicycle the other day with buttocks cocked up in the air, his sagging pants exposing his boxer underwear. Fortunately he had no fecal stain.

It is sad that the beltless necessity of prison life translated into such a notion of cool black masculinity.

My wife had wondered out loud what kind of future one expects when one goes through the world that way.

Two decades ago I was part of a group of black men in New Haven called “Brothers Getting Busy." Our logo was a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X—two images—and I would like to add very cool images—of what it meant to be black men.

Cool

Those revolutionary brothers were fighters for social justice and liberation, and they understood how to carry themselves through the world in a way that commanded respect.

They inspired us in Brothers Getting Busy to organize and devote our time to getting drug dealers out of New Haven’s city parks so children could play there; mentor youth in everything from daily life to college admissions applications; reach out to sister organizations addressing problems in our besieged communities; and support each other during times of crisis.

So, I now wonder out loud, whether we, the brothers of today, could offer images of cool that may offer a better future for our younger sisters and brothers.

Why can’t cool mean: walking tall, with dignity; striving for knowledge; taking care of our communities; being there for our loved ones; doing our part, however limited our resources, for a better tomorrow? Why can’t cool mean working together to think through, in a constructive and critical way, what it means to be men and women today and what it could mean to strive to become better, if needed, tomorrow?

As it is Women’s History month, the gravity of this situation comes home in a conversation I had with my youngest daughter. She had mistaken the rapper Jay-Z’s use of the “bitch” in “99 Problems” to mean that his wife Byoncé was not that. Imagine her disappointment when I explained that the song was written before they got together and the image of black authenticity to which Jay-Z was appealing was one in which there are only three types of women: mothers, “bitches,” and ’hoes.   

Jay-Z, in his book Decoded (Random House 2011; pp. 56, 61) claims he was referring to a police dog, but as most listeners aren’t in his head, and as Deconstruction has left us in the world of dead authorial intent, we are left with how the song is heard and how his lyrics are reasonably read. I very much doubt most people listening to rap think first of police dogs when they hear the word bitch.

For all of our sake—it really is time for us to take responsibility for the image we offer ourselves and to our children, who, at day’s end, are no less than our tomorrow. Let’s discard impositions of distorted coolness, take charge of our lives, and create better images for a future, which, at the end of the day, would really be something cool, wouldn't it?

© Lewis R. Gordon