Once upon a time, Black male “cool” was defined by the ways in which Black men confronted the hardships of life without allowing their spirits to be ravaged. They took the pain of it and used it alchemically to turn the pain into gold. That burning process required high heat. Black male cool was defined by the ability to withstand the heat and remain centered.
-bellhooks, We Real Cool
Is the mechanism that enabled our survival destroying our men? The American Dictionary of Slang defines cool as being “In complete control of one’s emotions; hip but having quiet, objective, aloof attitude; indifferent to those things considered non-essential to one’s individual beliefs, likes, and desires.” That is Black men. In all shapes, sizes, and forms – they exude what Richard Majors’ Cool Pose explains is:
The Ritualized form of masculinity entails behaviors, scripts, physical posturing, impression management, and carefully crafted performances that deliver a single, critical message: pride, strength, and control.
Black man, you are practicing this “cool” right now. Your every action, your clothing, your facial expressions, the way you’re suddenly sitting up straight while reading this — these are all qualities of this ingrained coolness.
But what is the cost we pay for this act? Cool pose has ensured our survival against the violent traumas faced by our people, but at what cost? How many depressed, anxious men exist because of this mask? How many men refuse therapy? How many are unable to connect with partners or loved ones deeply? How many of us struggle to grasp who we are because we spend our entire life wearing a carefully crafted mask?
The concept of coolness lay at the heart of our ability to defend ourselves against the harsh reality of our intersectionality, but it is not without its cost….
While this coping mechanism has been glamorized across popular culture, its adverse effects trickle throughout life, causing real struggle.
Studies show that since 1991, there has been an 80% increase in suicide rates among young black men.
But why? Because getting would require us to shed this cool façade.
The hard and ugly work of vulnerability must occur, and that contradicts everything we’ve been taught about our masculinity.
Being taught to man-up doesn’t help this either – as we’re taught to reserve our feelings, show little emotion, and restrain our reactions. In a way, this tool of our survival has become a poison, slowly robbing us of our joys in life.
So what is the path forward? Where do we go from here?
The path to true healing requires us to transform our cool. Our cool should embrace elements of vulnerability, honesty, and emotion. We should not repress our feelings but experience and work through them. This process begins by securing a safe space with a trusted ally. It will require patience on all sides – as we are teaching ourselves a new way of living, and your loved ones are learning your new ways of handling life.
Unlocking your new cool does not have to happen alone. A mental health professional can also support these endeavors. They can help you navigate the path towards better mental health. Think through the right team that can empower you through this process. Your cool got you here, and with a few tweaks, it can carry you to greater heights.