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Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness Paperback – February 7, 2012
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"Walker and her band of scribes are in top form, giving a rich, varied picture of Black cool style." Publishers Weekly
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Although it may seem obvious to say, even the format of Walker's book is a reflection of what it says about Black Cool. It consists of sixteen vastly different essays that examine blackness, coolness, and where the two converge. But despite these differences that reflect the multiplicity of black experiences (blacknesses), the essays share many of the same themes. Through the range of descriptions of blackness in America, Jamaica, Ghana, and throughout the Diaspora conversations of trauma, coping mechanisms, boundaries of blackness, and individuality (both positive and negative) are repeated. The essays and stories reflect the constant battle of being black in America, and the ways in which America is not even close to being a post-race society.
Central to the book is a theme of trauma. Whether the essay is focused on the history of blackness in America and the legacy of that history, or an individual rape story, or black male incarceration, trauma remains constant. I think Black Cool is about resituating that trauma in the center of conversations of blackness, while also placing an emphasis on the need for healing (coping mechanisms). In Esther Armah's essay "The Posse," she states, "But those wounds and scars passed from generation to generation, emotionally. Affecting how we move through the world, deal with and relate to one another, how we construct our institutions - not brick-and-mortar ones, but selves, each other, families, and community. It's time we heal that part of ourselves." (141). This theme of black trauma is essential for making claims about what it means to be black in America (and much of the world), and how in this context, blackness is very much in opposition to the concept of America
In Mat Johnson's essay "The Geek," he introduces notions of boundaries to blackness, and the bending of these boundaries as a source of cool. He states, "Blackness is one of the few identities that comes with its own self-enforced expectation of expression." (14). This narrative fits in with Staceyann Chin's commentary on authenticity. Both show the limitations that exist for blackness, or rather the standards that create oppressive authenticity. While it is interesting to see that Mat Johnson, Staceyann Chin, and also Hank Willis Thomas see the blurring of these limits as a source coolness, it is essential to note that these boundaries exist. For the purpose of our class and the discussion of blackness in America, these essays all focus on the codes of blackness that exist and serve a function to rigidly enforce ideas of how to be black. While trauma may indicate that blackness and America are warring ideals, talking about limitations to blackness in mainstream culture shows how blackness has been tailored and shaped to try to be forced into the proverbial "box" that is America.
Finally, I think it is important to look at how Black Cool discusses individuality. In the essays where black limitations are discussed (Johnson, Chin, Thomas), individuality is seen as critically important. In Black Cool, these ideas of individualism are often linked to the hip-hop generation or movement. In other essays, this individualism is seen as a limitation to black community and collective strength, or as Esther Armah says, "the cool of the collective." These two simultaneously diverging and converging ideas emphasize the need for black community, but also individuality, as long as that individuality is not characterized by consumerism and detachment. This theme of individuality reveals a lot about the struggle to be an individual black person in America, and also the struggle of blackness and black communities in America.
Although this briefly scratched the surface of all the theoretical contributions and descriptions of blackness found in Black Cool, these themes reflect the complexities of blackness in America. They reveal the contradictions that exist between expectations and lived experience. They show how something like individuality can be so beneficial and central to being black, while also being a limitation to collective healing. The book, as a whole, proves the ever-remaining importance of race in American culture and politics; and it does it with humor, sadness, intelligence, and a little bit of cool.
Most recent customer reviews
Read it three times.
Keep it in my bag and read it when Im sitting in the doctor's office.
This is really a great book of wonderful essays from a variety of viewpoints and styles.Read more