In Black Masculinity studies there is a term called cool pose. This term was used by Richard Majors and Janet Mancini Billson in a book called “Cool Pose.” Cool pose is a coping mechanism created by Black Men in order to deal with the oppression of white-supremacy. Majors and Billson define cool pose as “the presentation of self many black males use to establish their male identity.”
The Threat to Survival
As a performance, cool pose is designed to render the black male visible and to empower him
– Majors & Billson, “Cool Pose”
It is the context of making an offense of cool pose that creates a persona and performance that the Black man plays out before the world. In studies concerning cool pose it is often referred to as a “mask” that Black men use. I disagree with that term as I think it implies a willful deception, which cool pose is not. Cool pose is a logical and natural response to environmental conditions. In most cases, I would argue, that cool pose takes place mostly on an instinctive level which has its own frame of consciousness.
One of the biggest issues with cool pose is that it is constantly being used to diagnose the problems of Black men: drug selling, violence against each other, lack of educational success, etc. In doing so, much of the scholarship is intellectually dishonest. It suggests first the answer and then describes the problem. If cool pose is to be used to study and understand the minds and behavior of Black men, it will have to be honest enough to begin with what is observed and what is known to be fact and from that premise explore the answers to the whys. When approaching cool pose as a phenomenon of Black male behavior, it is easy to see and understand how cool pose is a benign phenomenon and not a malicious attack.
Any creature that is continuously placed in a hostile environment learns to become keenly aware of itself, its environment, and the continuous dynamic occurring between the two. This is because of the survival instinct that all animals have as a biological imperative to survive. A psychological dilemma occurs when, as human brings, who presume ourselves to be the highest evolved creatures on this planet, are reigned to a savage and barbaric level of living that conflicts with our humanity. To be brought to this level of survival is to reduce a person to their base selves. For Black people this psychological dilemma creates other dilemmas and issues. Cool pose is one of those. Cool pose is a psychological coping mechanism meant to protect the mind from the damage of living years under the weight of double consciousness. Cool pose has been called a mask. I submit to you that it is not a mask, it’s a sword and shield.
Cool pose furnishes the black male with a sense of control, inner strength, balance, stability, confidence, and security.
-Majors & Billson, “Cool Pose’
Cool Pose as a weapon had serves to repel potential threats. Cool pose as a weapon is the mean mug that Black men wear on their faces: a look that forces people to give them their space and think twice about crossing them. Cool pose as a weapon is the BBoy stance that tells the world that Black men will not moved by the world around them. Cool pose as a weapon is the Black man’s first line of defense. It helps to make sure that “if you don’t start none, there won’t be none.”
A man is to carry himself in the face of all opposition as if everything were titular and ephemeral but he.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”
Cool pose as a weapon gives Black men the power to control themselves and, therefore, have some measure of control in their environment. The dynamic between a person and their environment is a detailed dance that depends upon the tone and cadence of the song that’s played. If a man is to survive a dangerous and oppressive environment, then he must learn to be dangerous and confrontational. The sword of cool pose offers this. Without being physical it allows the Black man to violently oppose his environment and station in life. He is able to redefine what it means to be cool to allow himself the potential of being cool. He is empowered to redefine success so that it more accurately reflects the world in which he lives. I would argue that it is this inner reinforcement and outward aggression that makes cool pose appealing to everyone – to be desired by women and emulated by non-Black men. Power is attractive and cool pose gives Black man a power that radiates from within and makes them seem larger than life.
The problem with cool pose as a weapon is that the Black man must be able to accurately determine who and what are threats and who and what are not threats. This is difficult to do if the majority of an individual’s environment – sometimes down to their own mother and father – has been a threat. How then do make this individual believe that there is anyone or anything in this world that might mean him no harm? This individual has been growing through the earliest stages of their psychological development without one of the basic needs of all human beings: a sense of safety. Or even for those that may have had nurturing parents, there usually comes a time when those parents are helpless to protect their sons. Think of the many Black boys we have lost this year to some hateful act of violence. Those mothers could not protect their sons and, while that is not a casting of blame upon the mother, it is evidence that there is a lack of safety for Black men in America. As Black men grow up and begin to have theses experiences (such as being profiled, stop-and-frisk, wrongfully accused) it spells one thing to the Black man: no one can be trusted to save me but myself.
That mentality is what causes the issues with cool pose because if no one can be trusted, then the Black man can let his guard down with no one. In the research on cool pose I saw it written that because cool pose requires a reserve (not repression) for emotional demonstrations, Black men have trouble forming strong bonds. Well, that’s debatable. Certainly being guarded does not lend itself to the development of an intimate relationship; however, I wouldn’t say that Black men are incapable of developing strong bonds. I would say that it is a challenge for them to do so.
Cool pose is sword and shield for Black men. It has both negative and positive implications and consequences. What cannot be said is that it is a problem or something that Black men should not access for survival. I am always flabbergasted when individuals seek to decide what a person should or shouldn’t do and how far a person should or shouldn’t go when they are faced with imminent danger and an inevitable threat to their lives. Who can dare to judge the inexpressible price one pays for their life without considering what that life has called upon them to do? It is an affront to the humanity of the individual.
For Black men, cool pose has been a survival tactic and, despite this being the 21st century, the Black man is still not safe. So, why then, we would suggest he not use every weapon in his arsenal to ensure his own survival. If we are looking for a change to be made, make it with the society that has created the circumstances that have made it necessary for the Black man to life by any means necessary and survive at all costs.
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man