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Why Were Black People Cool?
And why are they not?
“The tyrant dies and his rule is over, the martyr dies and his rule begins.”
― Soren Kierkegaard
One of the many things you’re not going to get from me is some long chain of provenance for my original hypotheses. So if you’re looking for footnotes, I recommend the codex. I’m here to give you something to talk about, and for the record, today’s tea is Assam.
Black people were cool for simple reasons. Cool is the invention of a modern, native Western meditation born of necessity. The necessity was the clash of intellectual capability against a backdrop of material deprivation. It was an emergent cultural phenomenon that answered the question of ‘how’ when the goal was keeping your head while all about you are losing their’s and blaming it on you. Now there’s nothing particularly modern or Western about the conditions that necessitate maintaining your inner peace. There are slave work songs as old as the Volga river, as ancient as the great pyramids of Egypt. There are stoic echoes in the voices of great conquerors who turned out not to be bastards. Call it the wit of the whipped who manage to stand up. The story of the Christ is a great paradigm and of course it belongs to all who discipline themselves to the praxis of cool. You do not become, in your awakening, that which crushed you to the point of needing to wake.
In cool is an indirection of speech that subverts the mother tongue. As the monotone ironic put it over the bass line of Tom Browne’s Thighs High “get laid back with your bad self one time”.
So there you have it
A society within a society, a world within a world
Where words are the music of life and life is the music of words
And where the southern freeze is not a cold day in Bournemouth
This is a place where good roots don't grow on trees
Love it, hate it but you can't ignore it
Here good is bad and bad is about as good as you can possibly get
I purposefully use the Wikka Rap to emphasize the modernity of cool. It is for to be appropriated, sampled, mixed and spread worldwide. It is egotistically evangelist. Cool is as simple and sophisticated as you wish to elaborate. From the tilt of the hat to the roll of the skirt, cool makes the transgressive into something understated. It’s a finger aside the nose, a coughed insult, a panoply of microaggressions wrapped up in passive-aggressive verbiage and dressage. Cool can make a manifesto, but it is an aesthetic one. As Stanley Crouch once wrote, it is the irresistible force that passes through immovable objects. It is not engaged in the power struggle of moving the same boulder back and forth. It invents a new dimension.
Cool, in these United States, has been appropriated by politics. Let me make it clear that there are no cool politics. Cool is an end to itself. To be cool is all that needs doing. Even to spread cool, it is only necessary to be cooler than cool. Its vector is memetic. Mimicry is all it takes, and taking is in the cool of the beholder. Cool meets its antagonists by doubling down on cool, cooling down even further to levels of sublime cool asymptotic to absolute zero where the feats of antigravity become possible. Down where the realms of the universal defy themselves and matter is transformed with circus-like magic. This is not the aegis of the hegemonic tyrant. This is not where the great leader is capable of building and sustaining his status quo. This is not where policy works or the known laws apply.
Yet what was cool now sells Fords and prescription medications. Hollywood hot is the aim of the wheels of bourgeois cultural production. There’s gold in them there Hollywood hills and the roads are paved with shills. What was cool becomes cliche if you put enough marketing behind it. All the cool kids know this and stay away, or grow up.
Cool kids who can’t grow up are now machined into the wheels of political gab. Unlike the OGs of cool, they expect their subversions to go platinum. They may stand at the crossroads and make a deal with the devil, but they didn’t realize his horns and pitchfork were knockoffs and CGI. Either way, they only yanked at the sword in the stone to be instantly transformed into a warrior king, not to actually battle with it. It wasn’t about being modern and soulful, it was about getting through the gates to the same castle.
Pity the plantation owner who at long last lost his sharecroppers. They left to chill. The new breed wishes only to brandish the same old whip. They were truly shackled. They never truly put their soul into the spiritual. They thought cool meant, “Don’t get mad, get even.” They thought revenge was cool.
In my trope of black diversity I always find myself repeating the old statistics that in 1960 there were 20 million Negroes and the majority of them lived in poverty. In 2000, a short 40 years later there were nearly double that number and the majority of them were middle class. It is an amazing transformation, at least as big as the Great Migration. Lots of people like to try and put themselves into roles of agency for that transformation. “I marched with Dr. King.” or “I watched the firehoses and dogs.” or “I rebelled against my racist parents.” One should never dismiss intent, but one should always distinguish correlation from causation. It’s hard to imagine that the depth of the intent of those pled their utterances of solidarity could match that of those who actually rose. I say bootstraps soaked in the supercooled Helium-4 of cool did in fact pull themselves up. It was mental levitation born of intellectual capacity and material deprivation. It was a cool revolution. History is full of them.
What started with one man and 12 apostles took generations to achieve a global hegemonic status quo. We are now past 2020, halfway through again, a generational transformation that transformed Negroes through blackness to African-American personhood. It’s impossible to account for all the thousands of threads holding that together, but I think I can see something has happened to cool. At the very least it can be said that the self-critical and self-effacing face of cool has reversed itself towards the Asian ideal of face. The poetry has gone from '“It ain’t no thang”, towards policy-speak with $20 words of postmodern dialectical arcana. Gil-Scott Heron is dead. The rebirth of the cool has been forgotten, and the groove of improvisational jazz has been distilled into 4/4 16-beat time with didactic lyricism. Cool for its own sake has grown an agenda and dictates that art must follow political, not aesthetic reason. The subversion of cool now marches correct. It’s not enough to subvert the hierarchy. New kings and queens must rise. Disproportion is eyeballed like ETFs. Hmm. Now there’s a new cryptocurrency idea.
It’s not fair for me to Google ‘stallion’ in the context of the 4 minutes of TV I watched of the Grammy awards. It’s not fair for me to call ‘black culture’ anything like the Body video I found in MSN’s Money section. I still think I’m right and I think the reporting is illustrative of where the cool went.
Pretty sure if Megan Thee Stallion earned $1 for every time someone did the"Savage" TikTok dance>>>P, she'd be a billionaire—but honestly, just give it time because her current net worth is im-press-ive>>>P. Especially for those of us whose personal net worth is, like, one chicken nugget.
Megan's career has been wildly successful, particularly in 2020 with both"Savage (Remix)" featuring Beyoncé and"WAP" securing the coveted #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart,"Body" absolutely dominating, and TIME naming her one of their most influential people. And yeah, obviously all those streams have lead to a lotttttt of cash.
That ain’t modern. It is anti-appropriation. All the money belongs to her tribe, whomever she thanked on the stage. Sample her art at your peril. She’s getting her corporation right. She has yanked the sword out and she will have attorneys. That ain’t cool. But if it’s all about the Benjamins, what can you expect but exploitation? It’s not as if nobody else has a body that does sexual things. I mean how stuck-up do you need to be to try to patent dance moves? Still, I might be misinterpreting the entire point of the art of Megan Thee Stallion or any such royal Meghan. Feel free to correct me in the comments section.
I’m confident that we are witnessing little more than middle class ambition. Nothing to be confused or excited about. Life is full of Scribes and Pharisees. We live in a society that has become exceedingly proficient in monetization. As it stands we’re poised on an economic revolution, one that is necessary to provide values of all sorts to the largest literate middle class population in human history. Of course it’s going to need capital markets. Of course it’s going to take marketing. Of course it’s going to require new politics and rulesets. But on our way to this new multipolar, multi-cultural, multivariate universe somebody is going to have to tone down the zero-sum games. It occurs to me that cool is well suited to do so, because as I said, cool is about intellectual capability amidst material deprivation. Take away the material deprivation and you don’t need to think so hard. That’s what cultural depravity proves. That’s why we are supposed to hate the rich, right? They’re all intellectual reprobates without an ounce of aesthetic sensibility. That’s the difference between Steve Jobs and the Koch Brothers right? That’s the difference between Barack Obama and Richard Nixon, right? Yes it is. It’s the difference between the prince and the pauper. We know to distrust Randolph & Mortimer Duke, because they were just middle class haters who transformed their hate to the middle class as soon as they got rich instead of transforming themselves into better people. This is the treadmill where the journey being the destination is morally suspect. It gives profit a bad name.
The middle class wants to be paid. Profit is all they want. They don’t want artistic purity. They don’t even want fair elections. They want the material American Dream. They feel entitled to it. And unlike the poor, the middle class has the free time, disposable income and untapped energy to make a lot of noise about it. Some of them scrape together studio time and make that noise into songs. Not like John Lee Hooker. Not like people who can sit on the front porch and pick at the banjo until they become sublime. Not like people who can turn a cast iron skillet into a crucible of magic.
Today’s middle class black Americans don’t need to be cool, but they keep appropriating the transgressive aesthetics of the Negro poor. They are working the machines of Hollywood and Silicon Valley or whatever industrial might the postwar economy has created to carve out a mountain of ducats called ‘equity’. They want to be in LLC partnerships and they want to monetize whatever can be monetized on whatever cultural productions they feel entitled to monopolize in solidarity with the poor and oppressed. And if they can’t make the connection directly with their products, then they will spend extra money associating themselves with some benighted orphans. Or declare themselves enablers of Green. There are all kinds of middle class boors who aim to get in on that game in every industry. That’s how the diversity industry itself is industrialized. Do you know how much you can make as an officer in the HR department? Way more than 6 figures. You don’t have to be entrepreneurial at all. Just count noses and follow the new regime. Make saints of the martyrs who bumped their noggins on the glass ceiling, erect statues and statutes. Ride that white horse. Every middle class girl child wants that pony. Nothing to see here but spoiled brats making noise and profiting from their fake rebellions. That ain’t cool.
As I work on my first order epistemics in Stoicism and mediation via the Mindfulness paradigm, I’m taking a second step away from my Talented Tenth inheritance and my intellectual busybody obsessions with the news and politics. Of course I can afford to do so because I make good money and have already purchased my pile of material possessions, and yes I’m still looking to profit in new markets. What I’m not doing is centering myself in a movement, at least I’m trying not to. That may be making a virtue out of necessity and incapacity. I’ve never been good at making myself as popular as I think I deserve to be. I keep thinking that everybody who is sick of stone soup will eventually visit my kitchen. Whether or not they do I’ll be cooking.
When it comes to black culture in the historical main, what it must really be for some time will be a kind of George Clinton space odyssey. It will continue to do very sophisticated things with its intellectual capacities which will seem to be out of touch with the common man because at first glance people expect reactionary culture from a history of oppression. But black Americans know deep down that they are not oppressed because they actually believe in themselves, even when they believe in themselves wrongly. Keep remembering that additional 20 million. In the long bet, the assimilation to the American norm will be as easily understood as Germany and France are both Europe. They learn each others languages over there because they don’t want to miss out. Similarly, everybody knows One Nation Under a Groove over in this hemisphere. So black Americans will continually opt for class distinction over racial sublimation. And the old tropes of struggle will serve the agendas of the new upper classes, just as they do all over the Western world.
If we are fortunate, cool will survive its economic upgrades largely intact. Miles showed us how. Denzel shows us how. Obama did a good job as front man for the black band even though he was a bit of a bounder. It might re-emerge on the other side of the middle class as sangfroid, cousin to stiff-upper-lipped reserve. But it also might continue on its normal course in the class of strivers who are perennially underemployed because of their outsized intellectual capacity. I have a bit of hope in that because I know some cool people like that. They’d rather stay marginally cooler than make the marginal dollar. The cultural capital of cool is worth preserving and so let us toast to cool heads prevailing.