African-American Youth and the Burden of Cool.




( I play it cool and dig all jive, that’s the reason I stay alive. My motto as I live and learn is dig and be dug in return.

-Langston Hughes

In 1992, Dr. Richard Majors, along with Dr. Janet Mancini Billson, co-authored a book called Cool Pose: The Dilemmas of Black Manhood in America.

Cool Pose was the result of a six-year study that followed 60 black youth in the Boston inner-city. The cool pose behavior is “set of language, mannerisms, gestures and movements that exaggerate or ritualize masculinity”, according to the authors.

Who are the ‘cool’ kids in the neighborhood, on the block and at school? Who are the kids that set the trend for clothes, flashiness and pose? Who are the kids we look to for rhyme and acoustic soul? It’s our kids!

My thesis in this short essay is that cool pose is here to stay, mainly because it’s a major part of our coping with the American experience. What I’m hoping for adults to see is the urgency in understanding and managing its causes and elevating our expectations from our youth. It’s ok to be cool, but our youth must stay focused on school!

African American youth are burdened with an albatross of cool.  We know this intimately because every adult has passed through this vicious rite of passage.  Those who resisted – as some courageous black youth do today – are ostracized and ridiculed or branded as race traitors and vilified for ‘acting white’.

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‘Cool’ is evidenced almost everywhere our youth gather – even in church Sunday school! I recently observed my teen boys class file into the room for bible study. To a man, each walked to the back row to take a seat. Is this cool behavior? I wanted to know, so I polled them. I got responses like “I wanted to give anyone late coming in the front seats” or “These seats are more comfortable”. When I pointed out that most teens who migrate to the back of the room are ‘clowns’ who wanted to engage in clownishness (no disrespect intended), I was met with stiff denial.

The point is that our youth are trend-setters and, unfortunately, when it comes to academic performance, too many are setting the wrong trend. As my pastor used to say, they are leading from behind!

Where does ‘cool pose’ come from? According to Majors and Billson, it’s an elaborate social defense mechanism, a way for the minority to show how it’s coping with the ‘dominant minority’.

While it is easy to point a finger at Hip Hop and rappers that would be oversimplifying how huge this issue is and how ravaging its consequences are on the academic performance of our youth. Hip Hop and rap are EFFECTS not causes – they are the birth children of cool pose.

Like it or not, there are still grown men in our community exhibiting cool pose behaviors such as sagging pants (one might even argue that some rappers who’ve reached middle age are stuck in cool pose).

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What do we as adults do in response to cool pose? First, understand it. Second, remember how you (especially males) at one time were forced to be ‘cool’ at one point in your evolution. Finally, never give up on the demand that excellence must precede and ultimately trump cool.

Being cool can be cool, but in the end we must insist our youth excel in school.

Staff Writer; W. Eric Croomes

This talented brother is a holistic lifestyle exercise expert and founder and executive coach of Infinite Strategies LLC, a multi-level coaching firm that develops and executes strategies for fitness training, youth achievement and lifestyle management. Eric is an author, fitness professional, holistic life coach and motivational speaker.