For the brother who:
- remembers being a “Black Boy.”
- wanted to be “The Bad Nigga” like Jack Johnson
- feels like he’s America’s “Native Son.”
- is constantly reminded he is an “Invisible Man.”
- lived by B.I.G.’s “Ten Crack Commandments”
- “seen Hoop Dreams deflat like a true fiend’s weight”
- is “Black on Both Sides”
- wanted to be “the coolest nigga”
CNN talked about us, now it’s our turn.
The depiction of Black men in America can be as varied as their life experiences are. While many Black men have formed solidarity, brotherhood, and fraternity as a coping mechanism to fight America’s persistent stereotyping, prejudice, and racism towards them, there are differences in attitude, political thought, and world-view that rigidly and bitterly separate the group just the same (if not more).
CNN’s Black in America documentary did an excellent job of showing the complexity and diversity of the lives and experiences of Blacks in America. Journalist Soledad O’Brien brought out stories of triumphant, failure, joy, and pain. For Blacks in America, the stories of pain and struggle form a thread that we can find in some part of our lives; but for many it makes up the entire of their lives. CNN failed to explain: how we got to this point, why we are at this point, and where do we go from here.
For Black men in America, this is an especially daunting challenge. We as a group have not responded to the challenge of being Black in America as well as Black women have.
Hip-Hop culture and Rap music are not the reason for this. Ludacris, Jim Jones, Young Jeezy, or any other rapper is not the person to blame. However, it is time for us as a community to look at how Black males shape their masculinity.
Popular media has accomplished a quite amazing feat in their chronicles and portrayals of Black men: they have managed to consistently feature him as the most desired, while at the same time as the most feared. He can be the sagging pants, tattooed “thug” the greater public fears; the hyper-athletic, physically imposing “natural” athlete advertisers clamor for; the smooth talking, sharply dressed, handsome “playa;” or eroticized as a “god” because of perfect bone structure, a muscular physique, and a “perfect smile.”
Whether loved or hated, all these qualities translate to one thing: being cool. And in America, a cool Black man is marketable; and mostly importantly, PAID.
Tupac, Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, Mike Tyson, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Billy Dee Williams, Will Smith, Tyson Beckford (and the list could go on and on.) All were/are PAID.
However it is Hip-Hop culture, and the life associated with it, that has unquestionably become the most cool. The most important point is that it is seen as cool by young Black men not just because of the lifestyle or the material gains, but because it births economic opportunity. That is the part of the equation so often missed.
And for poor, young Black boys throughout the United States there is no more important objective then making money. So you can move your moms out the hood; so you can take care of your little brother with really bad asthma; so you can get the big house, with the big chain, and the fly car.
Indeed Black men in the 21st century are not just a “Black Boy,” a “Native Son,” an “Invisible Man,” a “brother,” or a “nigga.” These young Black men are trying to become cool. In fact, they are trying to become the coolest.
Thus many Black men in America spend their life chasing The Cool. It is an idea that rapper Lupe Fiasco has brilliantly tackled within his first two albums (through the song, “The Cool” on his 1st album, and by expanding his analyze on his second album entitled Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool). While creating a metaphorical, fictional story, Lupe does speak about a young person striving for a cultural aesthetic that brings fame, acceptance, material wealth, and recognition. In his story, chasing The Cool is apart of contemporary Black urban reality.
And so the question becomes how do we change what The Cool is, and how do we bring new examples of The Cool into the everyday life of Black males?
The beauty of the Black in America documentary is that we saw examples of Black men who are living up to their responsibilities. They are The Cool.
There was Mr. Kennedy (a single father struggling to find employment and housing in Brooklyn, NY), along with several other men from all over the country; ranging from men who were newlyweds, to those who were part of professionally success, middle and upper class Black families.
We need responsible Black men teaching elementary school, as social workers in our community, and as part of the married Black couple that lives in your building and saying “Good Morning” to you on his way to work in the morning.
We need them to be present in Compton and South Central, LA. To be in Brooklyn, NY like Mr. Kennedy. We need these responsible Black role models to be present in inner-city Baltimore, in East St. Louis, in Detroit, in Atlanta; in Liberty City, FL; in Philadelphia, in south-side Chicago, and in New Orleans.
We need Black male role models in our urban Black communities that are filled with high concentrations of Blacks living at or below the poverty live; with schools that are ill-equipped to educate our young people, and filled with administrators that frequently mismanages our school systems; places where jobs that pay a livable wage were hard to come by way before our country’s current economic hardships.
We need those brothers to be on Ebony’s 25 Coolest Black Men of All Time list.
We all as a community need to come together and find ways to make those brothers to become the coolest.