A collection of essays focused on the “cool” cultural legacy of African-Americans.
In her latest work, writer/editor Rebecca Walker (Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence, 2007, etc.) assembles the writings of 16 prominent thinkers in an attempt to define “Black Cool,” a phrase utilized to encompass African-American’s self-confidence and swagger. Staceyann Chin’s “Authenticity” recounts her coming-of-age in Jamaica, during which she stumbled upon the healing powers of cool. “My newfound swagger sustained me through the rest of my teens,” she writes. “It nurtured an unyielding sense of self that served me well when I moved from Montego Bay to attend college in Kingston.” In “Geek,” Mat Johnson defines black cool by describing how it feels to lack it. A self-tagged “black geek”), he admits that “[b]lackness can be a rigid, didactic identity, with people stepping out of line facing ridicule and admonishment or worse: condemnation.” Yet Hank Willis Thomas argues that black cool needn’t be naturally possessed; it’s simply a commodity for purchase: “A crisp, clean pair of brand spanking new Air Jordan sneakers was a supreme status symbol for anyone who wanted to be cool and ‘down with the streets.’ ” Thomas takes the intangible concept of black cool and quite skillfully grounds it between a pair of Nike swooshes.” While the aforementioned essays employ personal anecdotes to spur thoughtful debate, a few of the pieces feel tonally at-odds with the rest. This is particularly true of Michaela Angela Davis’ contribution, which reads more like a fiery manifesto in which she makes clear that non-blacks can never possess “our cool ass Black style.” It’s an interesting concept, but the author’s informality and defensive tone proves less successful than the collection’s subtler pieces. Other contributors include Margo Jefferson, Veronica Chambers, Dawoud Bey and the ubiquitous Henry Louis Gates Jr., who provides the foreword.
An occasionally unbalanced yet probing collection grappling with the true meaning of “Black Cool.”