Posts Tagged ‘cool pose’

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This series seeks to help create a body of resistance literature that will chronicle the collective radicalization of a Black Masculinity movement that seeks to decolonize our minds and invent identities, in resistance, that transcend stereotypes. We will speak up and force the world to deal with us. Let the Black Masculinity movement begin.

The Story

In Black Masculinity studies there is a term called cool pose. This term was used by Richard Majors and Janet Mancini Billson in a book called “Cool Pose.” Cool pose is a coping mechanism created by Black Men in order to deal with the oppression of white-supremacy. Majors and Billson define cool pose as “the presentation of self many black males use to establish their male identity.”

The Threat to Survival

As a performance, cool pose is designed to render the black male visible and to empower him

– Majors & Billson, “Cool Pose”

It is the context of making an offense of cool pose that creates a persona and performance that the Black man plays out before the world. In studies concerning cool pose it is often referred to as a “mask” that Black men use. I disagree with that term as I think it implies a willful deception, which cool pose is not. Cool pose is a logical and natural response to environmental conditions. In most cases, I would argue, that cool pose takes place mostly on an instinctive level which has its own frame of consciousness. sharpton9n-4-web

One of the biggest issues with cool pose is that it is constantly being used to diagnose the problems of Black men: drug selling, violence against each other, lack of educational success, etc. In doing so, much of the scholarship is intellectually dishonest. It suggests first the answer and then describes the problem. If cool pose is to be used to study and understand the minds and behavior of Black men, it will have to be honest enough to begin with what is observed and what is known to be fact and from that premise explore the answers to the whys. When approaching cool pose as a phenomenon of Black male behavior, it is easy to see and understand how cool pose is a benign phenomenon and not a malicious attack.

Any creature that is continuously placed in a hostile environment learns to become keenly aware of itself, its environment, and the continuous dynamic occurring between the two. This is because of the survival instinct that all animals have as a biological imperative to survive. A psychological dilemma occurs when, as human brings, who presume ourselves to be the highest evolved creatures on this planet, are reigned to a savage and barbaric level of living that conflicts with our humanity. To be brought to this level of survival is to reduce a person to their base selves. For Black people this psychological dilemma creates other dilemmas and issues. Cool pose is one of those. Cool pose is a psychological coping mechanism meant to protect the mind from the damage of living years under the weight of double consciousness. Cool pose has been called a mask. I submit to you that it is not a mask, it’s a sword and shield.

Cool pose furnishes the black male with a sense of control, inner strength, balance, stability, confidence, and security.

-Majors & Billson, “Cool Pose’

The Sword

Cool Pose as a weapon had serves to repel potential threats. Cool pose as a weapon is the mean mug that Black men wear on their faces: a look that forces people to give them their space and think twice about crossing them. Cool pose as a weapon is the BBoy stance that tells the world that Black men will not moved by the world around them. Cool pose as a weapon is the Black man’s first line of defense. It helps to make sure that “if you don’t start none, there won’t be none.”malcolmx

A man is to carry himself in the face of all opposition as if everything were titular and ephemeral but he.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

Cool pose as a weapon gives Black men the power to control themselves and, therefore, have some measure of control in their environment. The dynamic between a person and their environment is a detailed dance that depends upon the tone and cadence of the song that’s played. If a man is to survive a dangerous and oppressive environment, then he must learn to be dangerous and confrontational. The sword of cool pose offers this. Without being physical it allows the Black man to violently oppose his environment and station in life. He is able to redefine what it means to be cool to allow himself the potential of being cool. He is empowered to redefine success so that it more accurately reflects the world in which he lives. I would argue that it is this inner reinforcement and outward aggression that makes cool pose appealing to everyone – to be desired by women and emulated by non-Black men. Power is attractive and cool pose gives Black man a power that radiates from within and makes them seem larger than life.

The Problem

The problem with cool pose as a weapon is that the Black man must be able to accurately determine who and what are threats and who and what are not threats. This is difficult to do if the majority of an individual’s environment – sometimes down to their own mother and father – has been a threat. How then do make this individual believe that there is anyone or anything in this world that might mean him no harm? This individual has been growing through the earliest stages of their psychological development without one of the basic needs of all human beings: a sense of safety. Or even for those that may have had nurturing parents, there usually comes a time when those parents are helpless to protect their sons. Think of the many Black boys we have lost this year to some hateful act of violence. Those mothers could not protect their sons and, while that is not a casting of blame upon the mother, it is evidence that there is a lack of safety for Black men in America. As Black men grow up and begin to have theses experiences (such as being profiled, stop-and-frisk, wrongfully accused) it spells one thing to the Black man: no one can be trusted to save me but myself.jay-z-stylish-and-cool-look-still.

That mentality is what causes the issues with cool pose because if no one can be trusted, then the Black man can let his guard down with no one. In the research on cool pose I saw it written that because cool pose requires a reserve (not repression) for emotional demonstrations, Black men have trouble forming strong bonds. Well, that’s debatable. Certainly being guarded does not lend itself to the development of an intimate relationship; however, I wouldn’t say that Black men are incapable of developing strong bonds. I would say that it is a challenge for them to do so.

The Point

Cool pose is sword and shield for Black men. It has both negative and positive implications and consequences. What cannot be said is that it is a problem or something that Black men should not access for survival. I am always flabbergasted when individuals seek to decide what a person should or shouldn’t do and how far a person should or shouldn’t go when they are faced with imminent danger and an inevitable threat to their lives. Who can dare to judge the inexpressible price one pays for their life without considering what that life has called upon them to do? It is an affront to the humanity of the individual.

For Black men, cool pose has been a survival tactic and, despite this being the 21st century, the Black man is still not safe. So, why then, we would suggest he not use every weapon in his arsenal to ensure his own survival. If we are looking for a change to be made, make it with the society that has created the circumstances that have made it necessary for the Black man to life by any means necessary and survive at all costs.

 

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

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This series seeks to help create a body of resistance literature that will chronicle the collective radicalization of a Black Masculinity movement that seeks to decolonize our minds and invent identities, in resistance, that transcend stereotypes. We will speak up and force the world to deal with us. Let the Black Masculinity movement begin.

The Story

In Black Masculinity studies there is a term called cool pose. This term was used by Richard Majors and Janet Mancini Billson in a book called “Cool Pose.” Cool pose is a coping mechanism created by Black Men in order to deal with the oppression of white-supremacy. Majors and Billson define cool pose as “the presentation of self many black males use to establish their male identity.”

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Birth of The Cool

It’s no secret that the horrors of slavery created an environment where Black people had to shroud their feelings. Whether to keep their oppressors from seeing their hatred of them, their will to escape, or being able to identify those that they loved (in order to use that love against them), there was not an emotion that could be safely expressed by an enslaved Black person. For Black men this was especially significant because they were often tortured through their loved ones. They degraded and humiliated by having to witness their wives and children battered, raped, and killed. This was done to strip them of what would make them a man in the imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy of America.

African-American men have defined manhood in terms familiar to white men, however, blacks have not had consistent access to the same means to fulfill their dreams of masculinity and success.
– Majors and Billson, Cool Pose

Through the patriarchal definition of America, a man provides, protects, and cares for his family; a man earns a living that offers him the opportunity to climb the socioeconomic ladder; a man dominates and never submits. Even after the abolishment of slavery, It was ensured that the Black man would never be able to measure up to that definition. In order to survive, Black men created cool.

malcolmxCool Pose

It is no secret that poverty and stress degrade mental health; however, it is very rarely discussed the ways in which our society creates and perpetuates these environmental conditions. On the other side, there are rarely programs and initiatives that have an objective to reach those who are suffering from mental illness such as depression or debilitating psychological stress caused by poverty. Even Black men with less extreme personal situations deal with the psychological pain of being Black and male in America. The systemic disenfranchisement and limitations on opportunity are enough to drive a man crazy.

It is like the myth of Sisyphus, the greek character who is eternally forced to push a boulder uphill and just as he is reaching the top, the boulder falls away and rolls back down the hill. Imagine that as a daily life. To be promised life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and the moment you get anywhere near achieving it, some law, rule, doctrine, or requirement is used to push your dream back downhill. It is true that there is a stigma related to therapy and mental health issues in the Black community. However, what is just as significant is how the lack of adequate healthcare and/or finances hinders Black people from being able to obtain the clinical health assistance needed to deal with their psychic stress. Without these resources it is only natural that a group of afflicted people will find coping mechanisms and ways to survive without them.LL+Cool+J++1986

Cool pose is about how Black men have learned to deal the stress of the world around them. It is about a psychological framework from which Black men can view and interact with the world safely in spite of the many psychological assaults that they face daily.

The black man’s cultural signature is his cool. It is sometimes the only source of pride, dignity, and worth in the absence of the outward status symbols of materialism and title that mark success in American culture.”

– Majors and Billson, Cool Pose

Black men created cool as a persona by which to interact with the world. It places a space between the external and the internal. For Black men this safe space leaves room for the variety of messages that they encounter. Cool is what makes it possible for a Black man to enter an elevator with a woman, have her clutch her purse, and he not internalize the humiliation of being treated like a criminal by a complete stranger. Cool is what allows a Black man to be stopped repeatedly without cause by police officers, condescended while interrogated, slapped with whatever charges the officers think might stick, and continue to get behind the wheel of his car everyday. Cool is what allows a Black man to step outside his project apartment and witness death and desperation all around him and continue to believe that he can change his circumstance.

19.-Tupac-Shakur-7295328-630x630The Flaws of Cool Pose Theory

Beyond Majors and Billson’s study of cool pose a number of individuals have studied this theory. However there is a flaw in almost all of the theories about cool pose including Majors and Billson’s). In some attempt at diplomacy, these theories have explored the negative affects of cool pose. There is nothing wrong with objective analysis; however, these conclusions are not actual conclusions but over-reaching presumptions.

For example, in Majors and Billson’s descriptions of the negative effects of cool pose they describe aspects such as how “many black males are unable to mainstream or evolve other forms of consciousness” and the “negative interpretation of various cool behaviors by white males who observe blacks being emotionless, fearless, aloof, or macho.”

I have some severe issues with these thoughts. The first is that these factors are not negative aspects of cool, they are negative consequences of being Black, period. Whether expressing cool or not Black men have obstacles to being “mainstream.” That is because in of the mainstream the Black man has never been a factor to consider nor has his identity and values been incorporated. To the other point I am actually disgusted that these intelligent researchers are blind to their own intellectual hubris: colonization. Because Majors and Billson still view “mainstream” (which is a code word for American majority which would be code for White America) as the ultimate goal, they use it as a standard by which to measure Black male behavior. This will never yield truthful, insightful, progressive thoughts regarding Black men. It is these mild flaws in their research which has led to study of cool to be skewed egregiously.9431_method_man

Researchers have sought to use cool pose try to explain Black male violence, Black male drop-out rates and under achievement in education, and any other negative impression they create with their statistics. Most of the work written on cool pose seeks to use it as a way of diagnosing all the ills of Black manhood. What is most despicable is that while they explain cool as a naturally instinctive defense to oppression, they criticize Black men for allowing this defense to keep them from submitting to the oppression.

Unfortunately, many black males are unable to mainstream or evolve other forms of consciousness. The cool front leads the black male to reject mainstream norms, aesthetics, mannerisms, values, etiquette, or information networks that could help him overcome the problems caused by white racism.

– Majors and Billson, Cool Pose

So in essence Majors and Billson see the negative aspects of cool pose to be the fact that it begins a decolonization of the Black male mind. What they are suggesting is that Black men would be better of accepting societal norms (such as racism and discrimination) and submit to the mainstream that is attacking them. I believe they mean well but they cannot see that this is evidence of a major problem in Black Masculinity studies: choosing the wrong gaze.

The Problem

Choosing the wrong gaze from which to observe and research any minority group in inherently problematic. The gaze is a psychoanalytical concept that describes the perspective by which something is viewed. In Black Masculinity studies we often choose the gaze of the mainstream, popular, societal belief. This is exactly the sort of thing that we must not do we analyzing an underprivileged group. Any underprivileged group does not have the same reality as that of the mainstream and, therefore, cannot be measured by the standards of the mainstream.

In Black Masculinity studies, as exemplified in studies of cool pose, it is evident that researchers have chosen the wrong gaze. Instead of viewing cool as a Black male cultural phenomenon specific to the Black male American experience, they measure it against the mainstream experience (that no Black person has ever fully experienced).

In that view cool becomes an issue that needs to be rectified. It implies to Black men that there is something wrong with the way they are. This is much the way in another post I discussed how the label of hypermasculine is placed on Black men because their natural behavior is viewed externally and objectified against the mainstream. The mainstream defines the cool of Black men as hypermasculine and problematic when it is simply natural and culturally specific.

We cannot enter the struggle as objects to later become subjects.

– Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

If it is Black male behavior that we are seeking to understand, then Black men must be the subject and the behavior the object and not the other way around. And the mainstream cannot be the standard.

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The Point

In the study of Black masculinity and the Black male identity, Black men must be the subject What is discovered cannot be measured against the mainstream because the mainstream was not created in consideration of the Black male perspective. It may seem reasonable to suggest that Black men have in many ways turned mainstream values, ethics, and ideologies, but, in fact, they were never included. It is the mainstream that has turned its back on Black men; Black men just found a way to redefine themselves outside of the mainstream. Furthermore, with all the flaws and issues inherent within mainstream culture and ideologies it would behoove us not encourage anyone to assimilate into the dominant culture. If anything mainstream culture needs to be penetrated and expanded to include more perspectives.

The Black man’s creation of cool is one that does not need to be embraced by the mainstream as it is culturally specific to Black men. Cool must be respected and validated before the flaws within can be addressed. Cool must be seen as more than a diagnosis for negative Black male behavior. Cool must be seen as more than just a defense mechanism. Cool is  a part of the Black male identity. The point of creating that identity is not to assimilate into mainstream culture; the point is to survive it.

Osiris Come Together.

An Angry Black Man

References

Friere, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Seabury, 1970.

Majors, Richard and Billson, Janet Mancini. Cool Pose. New York: Lexington, 1992.