March 26, 2006

COOL POSE, COLD FACTS:

A Poverty of the Mind (ORLANDO PATTERSON, 3/26/06, NY Times)

So what are some of the cultural factors that explain the sorry state of young black men? They aren't always obvious. Sociological investigation has found, in fact, that one popular explanation — that black children who do well are derided by fellow blacks for "acting white" — turns out to be largely false, except for those attending a minority of mixed-race schools.

An anecdote helps explain why: Several years ago, one of my students went back to her high school to find out why it was that almost all the black girls graduated and went to college whereas nearly all the black boys either failed to graduate or did not go on to college. Distressingly, she found that all the black boys knew the consequences of not graduating and going on to college ("We're not stupid!" they told her indignantly).

SO why were they flunking out? Their candid answer was that what sociologists call the "cool-pose culture" of young black men was simply too gratifying to give up. For these young men, it was almost like a drug, hanging out on the street after school, shopping and dressing sharply, sexual conquests, party drugs, hip-hop music and culture, the fact that almost all the superstar athletes and a great many of the nation's best entertainers were black.

Not only was living this subculture immensely fulfilling, the boys said, it also brought them a great deal of respect from white youths. This also explains the otherwise puzzling finding by social psychologists that young black men and women tend to have the highest levels of self-esteem of all ethnic groups, and that their self-image is independent of how badly they were doing in school.

I call this the Dionysian trap for young black men. The important thing to note about the subculture that ensnares them is that it is not disconnected from the mainstream culture. To the contrary, it has powerful support from some of America's largest corporations. Hip-hop, professional basketball and homeboy fashions are as American as cherry pie. Young white Americans are very much into these things, but selectively; they know when it is time to turn off Fifty Cent and get out the SAT prep book.

For young black men, however, that culture is all there is — or so they think. Sadly, their complete engagement in this part of the American cultural mainstream, which they created and which feeds their pride and self-respect, is a major factor in their disconnection from the socioeconomic mainstream.


The reaction when the NBA told young professionals that they were going to have to follow a dress code was simply appalling and the way the League associates itself with thuggishness a disgrace.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 26, 2006 8:38 AM
Comments

The reason that this doesn't ensnare white boys isn't because they know when to switch to SAT study books, but because they aren't the cool ones, just hangers on at best. It's likely that there's a bit of difference in the parental situation as well.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at March 26, 2006 9:29 AM

The conclusions drawn by the authors of this article are so silly. They have confused cause and effect. Most people of whatever pigmentation who are into the hiphop culture after puberty are those making a nice living from it, not those engaged in it.

Posted by: erp at March 26, 2006 9:53 AM

The other phenomenon, especially in an unban, liberal environment, is how many middle- and upper-class white teens attempt to emulate the "cool-pose culture", and how much the media in general tries to reinforce that image while paying scant attention to its consequences.

A kid I knew back in the 1970s made a fetish out of "playing black" both on the basketball court and in his off-court manerisms. Of course, he also went to the Dalton School in New York, which meant his parents had cash on hand to smooth out any negative consequences, and when the situation required it, such as college application time, he could simply go back to being a white teenager to help advance to the next level. The kids who don't have those type of advantages have to live with the consequences of their actions when they're teens, unless they happen to be in that 99.9th percentile that actually can get an NBA contract.

Posted by: John at March 26, 2006 11:34 AM

The reaction when the NBA told young professionals that they were going to have to follow a dress code was simply appalling and the way the League associates itself with thuggishness a disgrace.

Thus, I no longer watch the professional version of my favorite sport. The strutting, posturing, chest thumping selfishness of the players is an insult and an embarrassment. The commercials are even worse.

Posted by: Patrick H at March 26, 2006 12:01 PM

--Sociological investigation has found, in fact, that one popular explanation that black children who do well are derided by fellow blacks for "acting white" turns out to be largely false, except for those attending a minority of mixed-race schools.---

Is it me, or did the next 3 paragraphs prove his theory wrong????

Posted by: Sandy P at March 26, 2006 12:33 PM

Bottom line is that acting that way is easy, fun and provides instant gratification. Short term gain demolishes long term gain. Unfortunately for a majority of young black men (and many young white men), there are no fathers around to stop this type of behavior. Add into that toxic brew, popular culture and advertisement glorifying this type of behavior and you have the problems that we are experiencing. It ain't rocket science.

Posted by: pchuck at March 26, 2006 12:54 PM

The natural end of the bill on a baseball cap is to shade the eyes from the sun. Yet so very many young black men are so given up to shameful lusts that they abandon the natural use of the baseball cap in exchange for the perversion of advertising one's gang affiliation, or just as bad, really, making a statement that having something straight is of no value.

Such people may be seem donning their caps and adjusting them, askew and tilted just so, in an obscene parody of the way a Marine adjusts a utility cover with his fingers.

Of course the issue is not a racial one, and Euro-Americans may be seen abusing headgear in this way, just as they likewise debase themselves with vulgar music.

Posted by: Lou Gots at March 26, 2006 8:45 PM

The natural end of the bill on a baseball cap is to shade the eyes from the sun. Yet so very many young black men are so given up to shameful lusts that they abandon the natural use of the baseball cap in exchange for the perversion of advertising one's gang affiliation, or just as bad, really, making a statement that having something straight is of no value.

Such people may be seem donning their caps and adjusting them, askew and tilted just so, in an obscene parody of the way a Marine adjusts a utility cover with his fingers.

Of course the issue is not a racial one, and Euro-Americans may be seen abusing headgear in this way, just as they likewise debase themselves with vulgar music.

Posted by: Lou Gots at March 26, 2006 8:47 PM

With one of my nephews very intent on being a race that he is not and buying into the whole "cool pose" gig, including the arrest which has ensued the bravado, all of the adults in his life are maneuvering to shine a light on his looming bleak future should he not manage to outgrow this phase.
It is unfortunate, but for many of the youth "trapped" in the urban ghettoes, there are no adults who can try to steer them in the right direction after the "coolness" starts to thaw.
Having gone through this phase myself I have come to the personal observation that as soon as the path I was supposedly "blazing" started literally taking lives as the price for our "coolness", the strict upbringing of my latin immigrant parents kicked in and inwardly I knew that there were other paths that led to better pastures. The majority of the other teens who I was hanging out with did not have the knowledge that there were other alternatives to the brutish lives they were trying to emulate. Only two of the more than two dozen teens in our group can say that we are well adjusted productive adults this day. The rest are either dead of overdoses, raising prematurely sired children into the same lives, incarcerated or in the case of another, homeless and living in the streets.
By the way I was the only hispanic in this all white "cool posse", proving that lack of parental or adult direction and its consequences are not the sole province of black teenagers but rather the breakdown of the social fabric in the inner cities.

Posted by: Romulo at March 27, 2006 5:27 PM

With one of my nephews very intent on being a race that he is not and buying into the whole "cool pose" gig, including the arrest which has ensued the bravado, all of the adults in his life are maneuvering to shine a light on his looming bleak future should he not manage to outgrow this phase.
It is unfortunate, but for many of the youth "trapped" in the urban ghettoes, there are no adults who can try to steer them in the right direction after the "coolness" starts to thaw.
Having gone through this phase myself I have come to the personal observation that as soon as the path I was supposedly "blazing" started literally taking lives as the price for our "coolness", the strict upbringing of my latin immigrant parents kicked in and inwardly I knew that there were other paths that led to better pastures. The majority of the other teens who I was hanging out with did not have the knowledge that there were other alternatives to the brutish lives they were trying to emulate. Only two of the more than two dozen teens in our group can say that we are well adjusted productive adults this day. The rest are either dead of overdoses, raising prematurely sired children into the same lives, incarcerated or in the case of another, homeless and living in the streets.
By the way I was the only hispanic in this all white "cool posse", proving that lack of parental or adult direction and its consequences are not the sole province of black teenagers but rather the breakdown of the social fabric in the inner cities.

Posted by: Romulo at March 27, 2006 5:27 PM

Those who want to explore the original work on "cool pose" may want to read Cool Pose: Dilemmas of Black Manhood in America by Richard Majors and Janet Mancini Billson. It was published in 1993 by Lexington Books and can be found on amazon.com used for a few dollars. As the co-author (Billson), I have been amazed how the concept of "cool pose" has entered the language of discourse in race relations and in discussing the fate of young African American males. My later (1996) book, Pathways to Manhood: Young Black Males Search for Identity, contains an entire chapter on "the cool guy."

Posted by: Janet Mancini Billson at March 28, 2006 7:27 AM
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