Once again, a guest post from my good friend James.
Because of the propensity of commercials on the air, on my radio I have all six presets filled with stations that I listen to all the time, and those I only go to when I’m at my most desperate. Yesterday, I had slowly worked my way to six because for some reason, in the morning, radio stations think people want to hear other people talking more than music. Ironically, I was listening. On a show with predominately white listeners, and a predominately white staff, they had a time for people to call in and ask the black employees questions (they said black people, but it was only just the two) and the same applied for their black listeners. I think it was called Race Day or something else idiotic.
Before you jump all over me, let me just say that the focus of this diatribe is not to untangle the complex knot of race, the construct as it is perceived and how it has created vast differences in perception and understanding (at one point one of the black people cited slavery as a cause for some behavior of blacks and one of the white personalities shouted loudly that “that was so long ago, it doesn’t matter”). What I became interested in was one of the black employees explaining away several types of behaviors (leaning while driving, walking slowly) as “cool.” Of course, the listeners who called in, the people in studio who didn’t understand wanted to, so they asked “What is cool?” which of course isn’t nearly as complicated as “What does cool mean?”
This is a question that comes up a lot, and one that I’ve mulled over somewhat extensively in my comparatively short life. For a reference point, I analyze the lyrics of Andre Benjamin:
“All the fresh styles always start off as a good little hood thing,
Look at blues, rock, jazz… rap.
Not even talkin’ about music
Everything else, too
By the time it reach Hollywood, it’s over.
But it’s cool,
We just keep it goin and make new shit”
And I don’t think he was onto something; I think the man was right. Because in most cases, what is “cool” also looks sort of ridiculous. What sane person would wear a hat like that, after all, or their shirt sizes or their pants, or their jewelry? The answer is someone trying to desperately go against the norm. Cool can be anything so long as it’s counter, but what cool IS is a specific apathy and disregard for the status quo. And the status quo is the civil construct deriving from obedience and majority. Enough people get together and agree on the way a thing is done, anyone not doing it that way becomes outcast (to affect my pun), but CHOOSING not to do the thing that way gives the individual dissenter power, they carve out their own sense of being because they have created it; it is theirs, and theirs alone. And it originates, generally, where it does because it is a tool used by the misfortunate and the exploited to generate within themselves indelible worth where before they were told there was none. This strength (as most honest strength is) is an attractive phenomenon, because it’s brave, and exotic, thus people want it. And them getting it, taking it even, is what Andre’s lyrics spoke of.
But that isn’t really what people are talking about when they cite the unfortunate individual who has been brainwashed, either by the culture, or its counter. Because it all comes down to miss-education. The majority of individuals acting “cool” couldn’t tell their detractors why. They could guess at it, throw cognition in the vector of it, but not hit it. And that, ironically, makes their cool “un-cool;” it puts them in the same, unconscious majority the originators of such were departing from. And this danger is what Gwendolyn Brooks spoke of:
THE POOL PLAYERS.
SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL.
We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
And it is this phenomenon that’s causing all the head scratching: people holding up walls that don’t plan on falling, and when asked, couldn’t hazard a guess at all as to why.
And that’s why cool can be applied to almost anything, but on much fewer things (and their specific candidates I’m sure would surprise you) would it actually have a good fit. But certainly, making up one’s own mind for the sake, only, of that mind to do good will objectively always be cool.