Black Male Cool

Once upon a time black male “cool” was defined by the ways in which black men confronted the hardships of life without allowing their spirits to be ravaged. They took the pain of it and used it alchemically to turn the pain into gold. That burning process required high heat. Black male cool was defined by the ability to withstand the heat and remain centered. It was defined by black male willingness to confront reality, to face the truth, and bear it not by adopting a false pose of cool while feeding into fantasy; not by black male denial or by assuming a “poor me” victim identity. It was defined by individual black males daring to self-define rather than be defined by others.

The above paragraph is a quote from Bell Hooks’ We Real Cool. The last chapter of the book does an excellent job at wrapping up some of the issues with the black male psyche and what we (as a whole) refer to it as cool. If you’ve been reading this blog lately you might have noticed I’ve broached certain subjects about black masculinity, black america and things I feel black people need to do more of. This is because I’m really getting tired of the things I see on a day to day basis.

The idolization of drug culture, rappers, athletes have for too long been at the forefront of black male thought. Besides the drug culture there is nothing wrong with aspiring to be a rapper or an athlete but everyone can’t be one. The odds of making it to the NBA/NFL are very slim and the odds of making it as a successful rapper are even slimmer. The work ethic combined with skill it takes to make it in either field is nothing short of considerable. A lot of black youth (read: not all) are attracted to the allure of big money and don’t think about the work (or sometimes not) that it takes to get where they are.

What happened to admiring respectable careers? What happened to reaching a certain station in life by working hard? Everything can’t come easy. If it did then everyone would have it.

Dissecting hip-hop it seems that it has no transformative power, no ability to intervene on politics of domination and turn the real lives of black men around. It offers black males very little spiritual nourishment. Hip hop has a sense of false bravado. Its counterfeit. I listen to hip-hop but lately I’ve found myself shying away from a lot of it. Especially those artists with negative connotations. Maybe I’m just getting old. But something tells me being older doesn’t have anything to do with wanting people who have an influence in black culture to be more socially responsible.

I wish we could get back to defining cool by not how much money you have or what clothes you wear. Why isn’t cool exemplified by being a man of integrity? I wish cool was still characterized by the content of a man’s character. I wish cool was still represented by intelligence. Until we can get back to that I’ll be whatever the opposite of cool is.


34 thoughts on “Black Male Cool

  1. Muze

    your posts have been so good in the last few months, Bowtie! *applause*

    i miss cool being actually well, cool. because bragging about the chicks you bag and the car you drive is soooo not the definition, to me.

    We real cool. We
    Left school. We

    Lurk late. We
    Strike straight. We

    Sing sin. We
    Thin gin. We

    Jazz June. We
    Die soon

    one of my fav poems ever by the amazing Gwendolyn Brooks, which i’m sure the book was titled after. i should check that book out.

    good post!

  2. Wu Young, Agent of M.E.

    Good post Tunde!

    Today’s version of black male cool is on some flat-out cookie cutter ish. It’s overblown and tired. The same music, the same garmets, the same slang makes for the same man-boy behavior. No substance what-so-ever.

    As for your question of “why isn’t cool exemplified by being a man of integeity?” My guess would be is that integrity and walking the straight line doesn’t have much shine or glitz on it. Character and intelligence doen’t resonate in rhymes and BET. I wish this weren’t the case. Today’s black male cool has no staying power. It’s gone in a few flips of the calendar then it is on to something else. Today’s black male cool constantly screams “I’m cool!” thusly making it not as cool as it thinks it is.

    I’ll just keep being a “man” until the taste makers get it right.

    1. madscientist7 Post author

      appreciate it young. i was saying the same thing about the cookie cutter stuff when i was home for Christmas. same thing, with slight variations in every major city. jordans? check. expensive jeans? check. overpriced coat? check. dreads? check. you’re automatically cool. -_-

      i guess that’s why i’ve never been the poster child for cool. i’m hardly concerned with glitz and glam or being flashy. all you have to do is look at the rappers that most people idolize now. what’s their subject matter? getting bitches, smoking weed, driving late model expensive cars (that they rented themselves) and jewelry. nothing about that helps or encourages black men to do better for themselves. what these rappers don’t realize is that they’re just puppets at the end of a string. sure they’re getting a little bit of money but in the end they lack the richness in sense of fulfillment.

  3. Up4Dsn

    “I wish cool was still characterized by the content of a man’s character. I wish cool was still represented by intelligence. Until we can get back to that I’ll be whatever the opposite of cool is.”

    That’s what it all boils down to. I’m with you. I’ve long been over being ‘cool’. Like you stated, cool is far from what it used to be. The world has become so focused on greed, materialism and evil. It’s really sickening and it’s not cool at all. No doubt a change needs to be made…I’m just not sure anymore if it will happen. People seem so content with society today. It’s like their caught in a matrix or something. It’s mind-boggling.

  4. ellemarie360

    Another excellent post. It seems that the definition of nowadays is doing the exact same thing that everyone else is doing. Trying to be something you’re not. To me that is the exact opposite of cool. Being an individual is the coolest thing one can be, in my opinion. Hopefully with more people with your mindset of black male cool will step forward and be the example of what Cool really is.
    Good post.

    1. madscientist7 Post author

      i see this so often. even if i don’t know the person if i look at how you behave to how you dress and it seems you’re emulating someone on television then i know you’re not being you. they’re not even being them. they’re being someone their image consultant told them to be.

  5. The Suburban Thug

    Now this is what we need more of. Cats who are thinking like this. We need more men who are wanting to expand minds and get folks thinking about what “the cool” should be. It’s going to take more everyday type dudes to make it happen, but if they (we) decide to spread the knowledge and open up the minds of the youngsters, we can get them thinking that true cool (swag) is being about the same attributes that you put forth.

  6. MsEvaHoney

    Great post sir. I have to say I was one of the people that believed the hype about being cool through media resources. It wasn’t until my mid 20’s that I excepted that being me was cool enough. If only I realized that sooner…..

  7. gemmieboo

    “Maybe I’m just getting old. But something tells me being older doesn’t have anything to do with wanting people who have an influence in black culture to be more socially responsible.”


    i think any many aspects of black culture (not just hip hop), we (both black men and women) shy away from the collaborative and unifying nature. as if we’ll lose our sense of “cool” or individuality by coming together for a greater purpose. so instead, we fall into this groupthink mentality that is destructive and devaluing all because its comfortable and “good enough.”

    you hit the nail on the head when you said “Everything can’t come easy. If it did then everyone would have it.” and somewhere along the way we forgot the honor and integrity in working hard to EARN what we had.

    great post!! please keep them coming.

    1. madscientist7 Post author

      “as if we’ll lose our sense of “cool” or individuality by coming together for a greater purpose. so instead, we fall into this groupthink mentality that is destructive and devaluing all because its comfortable”

      maaaan…. i promise so many people try so hard to stand out that they end up fitting in. they don’t hear you though.

  8. Jevioso

    Seems like this is an article in need of a contrary POV.

    I generally disagree with this article because it brushes off what makes things cool. Back in the day for instance, when Michael Jackson was young and black lol, a lot of brothas and sistas thought the jerry curl was cool. Nowadays, you’re simply asking for insults and hurt feelings if you decide to walk out with that stuff on your head. What makes something cool, is that whoever is branding it, is regarded as special or talented. Jordan’s are still cool today, because of the adoration both men and women had for MJ.

    The collective decides what is cool, the individual simply performs and presents himself. If you look at hip-hop, since the 80’s, pretty much Run DMC/Public Enemy (intellectual era of cool), NWA/Tupac/Biggie (gang era of cool), Jay-Z (Models and Sex era of cool) and Kanye West (Goofy era of cool), have been the ones who ignited the “cool revolutions” in hip-hop, however it was the people who found these guys as inspiring and talented who made these guys cool – they dressed up like them, they freestyled like them, they used slang like they did etc. Nothing ever becomes cool because an individual is the only one doing it.

    As for the notion that hip-hop is negative today, I disagree. Look at the music charts, watch what the kids are watching on 106 and Park, there are only three major themes in hip-hop today: Financial Success, Sex and Relationships and Celebration (Partying). That’s what all the kids are listening to today. If you want to listen to hip-hop music on the radio, that’s talking about drugs and violence, you have to go download that thru the internet.

    1. madscientist7 Post author

      while i agree with most of your second paragraph in that its the collective group is who determines what cool is i don’t think my point about cool and hip hop came across as i intended. but i guess we can agree to disagree on that point.

      i like your example that you argued on jordans. yes he was talented and people adored him so that’s what makes his shoes popular. but are a pair of shoes that cost $10 to make worth someone’s life or health? my issue with shoes like that are the mentality behind a lot of people who buy into the hype of things like that. for instance if a parent decides to buy his/her child a pair of jordans instead of reading material to strengthen their vocabulary then i see a problem with that.

      1. jevioso

        Well I have a theory as to why this happens and I blame current black intellectual ideology for this. In the black community, we have a mix of ideologies that is influenced highly on communistic/collectivist ideas and at the same time very Church oriented ideas. When it comes to wealth, communism preaches that wealth should be shared and frowns upon people who have a lot more wealth than others. At the same time Church culture encourages people to reap what they sow: if someone is doing well, you should be able to recognize it.

        This all causes a form of cognitive dissonance in a lot of black people, where on one hand they don’t want to become wealthy due to ostracism (i.e. illuminati rumors, sell-out claims, uncle tom accusations etc), however, they want to show the fruits of their labor. So instead of saving up money and investing it to build wealth, they spend money to establish status and are quick to do so. That leads to people rushing in stores trying to spend their hard earned money on status (Jordans), than in investment (education).

        Most of the intellectual elite; however, have no interest in challenging the church or the communistic ideas that played a key role in the 60’s during the civil right’s movement. And they’re even less likely to challenge the church. Instead we ask for businesses and corporations to not take advantage of such self-inflicted problems on the black community, rather than stepping our games up mentally and trying to attack the problem at it’s source. This is why it seems our problems have stagnated, the intellectuals in charge have no desire to come up with ideas that challenge the old ones.

      2. madscientist7 Post author

        you know what? i actually don’t have a comeback for your argument. well at least in the problems you’ve laid out. i still have no interest in challenging the church. i think it builds communities for the most part instead of dividing it. now as far as communistic ideals it is a tired rhetoric that needs a lot of varnish and shine to it so to speak. a lot of its principles are outdated but a lot of them i believe still could be very helpful if practiced today such as putting education first.

      3. jevioso

        Had slavery never been challenged by Frederick Douglass, whose ideas created great strides for blacks, but at best left them with reconstruction and Jim Crow laws to replace slavery. The Harlem Renaissance then came along and challenged Douglass’ ideas and built on them. It gave black people jazz, poetry, philosophy etc. however, it didn’t lead to black people acquiring political or economic power. The Civil rights movement then came around, challenged the ideas of the Harlem Renaissance era, and bam we have civil rights.

        The Civil Rights era gave us political power, but it didn’t give us economic power. In order for us to move to the next level, we have to challenge the omnipotence of the civil rights era. We have to point out the flaws in their ideologies so we can go to the next level. One thing people need to understand, is the effectiveness of an idea always fades away overtime, in terms of effectiveness, any historian will tell you that. The fact is the civil right ideas have run out of steam, and aren’t enough to drive us to the promise land that MLK dreamt about. In order for us to keep that hope alive, our intellectuals need to start thinking out of the box, or retire and let the younger generations figure it out.

        That’s the big problem that our generation faces, and this example of what’s cool or not, is simply a small part of a much larger issue that few if any want to address in its complexity.

  9. 3 rings

    From my perspective, and it maybe different, but it seems that this type of cool came around when it started to attract more and more women to that type of style. Besides fast money what tends to come next? Female attention. I am not suggesting that ladies are to blame. I am simply posing another view point as to why young fellas do what they do and why some things are in while others are out.

    1. madscientist7 Post author

      see its not just young fellas. i wish it were just young fellas. then i could say “oh they’ll just grow out of it.” unfortunately its grown ass men too.

    2. A Woman's Eyes

      I think it is because in the past, Black men felt so responsible for protecting their family…their children or grandchildren, their wife or girlfriend. It was important that their family survived.

      Unfortunately, many Black men young and older throw up their hands and step back and walk away feeling confident that the mother of their children will take care of the child and the child’s needs. I do think the media has succeeded at brainwashing some men into buying the idea that all along they were simply trying to get women and impress women, and that it is okay to disrespect Black women (or even women in general no matter the race) and not form deep lasting attachments to them.

      That is the brand of masculinity that is being sold to Black boys and Black men today — it is why I don’t feel my son is missing anything from not seeing those images on t.v. If it is not positive in its presentation of Black boys and Black men, if it is negative towards women, or too grown, he’s not watching it.

      But for grown folks. I really do think some adults are brainwashed by how celebrity is presented to us.

      Black boys and men want to feel powerful. The t.v. and social media and radio are teaching them that the way to feel powerful is to be a rapper, bed as many women as you like, don’t make deep emotional connections to women.

  10. Reecie

    this was a very good post, very thought provoking.

    but when I think of cool as far as pop culture I think of it in terms that are reflective in Jeviioso’s comment.

    I do agree with your response that said ‘people try so hard to stand out that they end up fitting in’

    being quirky and contrary for the sake of being “different” was never cool to me, I think being yourself is enough. some will think its cool, some will think its corny, some will be like whatever. none of that matters really beyond high school anyway. ok maybe college. I think the cool thing is just a notion of youth. its something you hopefully outgrow. so yes I think you are feeling this way because you are getting older. your focus is more than what you see around you (peer group) and whats on tv/internet/music (pop culture)

    1. madscientist7 Post author

      yeah maybe it is because i am getting old. i don’t want to be the old guy who says “back in my day….” i doubt i will be though. but the notion of youth is not what i have a problem with. its grown men who are feeding a lof of what i consider bullshit to the youth.

  11. A Woman's Eyes

    I like reading your blog because I like that you discuss black masculinity and the expectations of black men as this isn’t discussed often on the internet.

    There is a vast difference between boys who have fathers, uncles, male cousins who are in their life everyday whom they see working hard daily.

    When dad is not home, boys do not have examples of black masculinity that is tangible to them…and what is left is what is on t.v. and we already know our children watch alot more television, use social media linked to the images they see on t.v. and hear off the radio or a music download.

    As a divorced mother raising a Black boy whose father is estranged from us because he is dangerous to our son’s safety and wellbeing, I appreciate greatly that my father is the black male adult in his life whom he sees everyday working hard, looking out for his family, other than seeing me do the same. I appreciate the positivity and strength shown to him through the men at church, and the extended family members who are themselves fathers who treat him as one of their own, because they instinctively know the benefit of their being who they are to this little boy who is watching these black men intently and with admiration.

    Even though my son is in elementary school, we talk often about what is expected of him and how he is expected to conduct himself around friends, around girls, other boys and every time we discuss this he never fails to tell me how my father, his grandfather behaves by the same rules. He is at the age where he narrates to me what he saw in how family members interacted with each other, or how he sees strangers interact with each other and every time he notices and addresses how the man acted, how the woman acted, how they treated each other, how the boys in his school acted, how the girls in his school acted and how they interact with each other.

  12. NIAnaturally

    Great post, Tunde. I haven’t commented in a while, but I’ve read your latest stuff, and its been great!

    Today’s notion of what is “cool” is so ridiculous to me. What’s “cool” changes as the wind blows, proof that its not based in anything of substance. The cool you speak of in that last paragraph, that’s classic, timeless, and there are men who still embody the real “cool.” Unfortunately, integrity, intelligence, and the content of your character won’t get you the superficial accolades that are coveted by adults and youth alike. Those things are pushed aside for record sales, television ratings, and blog comments/blog traffic.

    I agree with Reecie. You feel this way because you’re getting older, and you’re really paying attention to the community, country, world your children will have to navigate. Getting older is ok, tho. It means you’re getting better in every way!!!

    1. madscientist7 Post author

      “What’s “cool” changes as the wind blows, proof that its not based in anything of substance.”

      this is all i was trying to get people to realize.

      i mean since you put it that way i may like getting older. 🙂

  13. That Damn African

    The funny thing is a lot of the people who exemplify what “cool” is go on to wish that they didn’t focus so hard on those fleeting things when they grow up. I feel like this notion that being cool means having money and being flashy, even if means sacrificing your intelligence or integrity, is a belief mainly held by younger people. Older people eventually recognize that those things are fleeting & shouldn’t be highly touted. Unfortunately, a lot of times it’s too late by then. I wanted to be cool so bad when I was young. I just knew I couldn’t be defined by my peer’s definition of cool even if I tried. A lot of that is thanks to how my parents raised me and the fact that my peers and the media weren’t the ones who did.


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