Blackness, history & love · Books · Colonisation · Performance & Arts · Political · Whiteness & racism

Something good cooking

Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of BlacknessBlack Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness by Rebecca Walker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I eat a huge, elaborate breakfast of oats, yogurt, luxurious dried fruits like dates, figs and apricots, nuts, fresh fruit, honey, cinnamon and herbal tea every morning, followed up with chocolate. While I’m lounging around wishing I’d been more moderate, my flatmate will make herself freshly ground coffee and toast spread with an indescribably aromatic combination of almond butter and fig preserve. The smell from the kitchen is intoxicating. I could react with envy and snipe at her meaninglessly. I could give in to the olfactory invitation and make toast myself, with frozen bread and whatever preserves I can muster, and make myself sick. But I’ve learned just to hover around the kitchen and breathe in the glorious fragrance.

This book is not about me or for me; it doesn’t need me and it doesn’t care what I think, and as well as being about terrible things that haven’t and cannot happen to me, it’s kind of about wonderful things I can’t have. This is a humbling thing.

Written in love and pride, these essays on the perceptions and manifestations of Black genius, brilliance, beauty, spirit and solidarity are a diverse bunch. Like this reviewer I think the idea of an inherent ‘Black Cool’ is problematic (because it’s essentialist, requiring monolithic definitions of Blackness, Cool etc), and while the book’s blurb claims ‘the ineffable aesthetic of BLACK COOL’ as a subject, the form chosen by Walker has contributors fruitfully reflecting on aspects, ‘streams’ of cool, rather than struggling to nail down its nature. As a result, Black culture emerges arrayed in fabulous riches; multivalent, indestructable, transforming and transcending pain with intellect, strength, creativity, passion…

I particularly loved dream hampton’s astonishing personal story, Valorie Thomas’ sophisticated discussion of diaspora vertigo and the power of vernacular culture and Dayo Olopade’s postcolonially oriented essay on hipsters. Best of all is bell hooks’ piece ‘Forever’, which tackles the difficult subject of the ‘disassociation, hardheartedness, and violence’ that she sees in ‘most hip-hop culture’, in contrast to the values of awareness, connectedness and judgement of the historical ‘real cool’. While the blues manifested resistance to the patriarchal notion that ‘real men’ show no emotion, hooks writes, the new cool male ‘proves his manhood by remaining rigidly attached to his position, refusing to change’

Much hiphop culture is mainstream because it is just a Black minstrel show – an imitation of dominator desire, not a rearticulation, not a radical alternative. It is not surprising then that patriarchal hip-hop culture has done little to save the lives of Black males and done more to teach them that the vision of “we real cool” includes the assumption that “we die soon”

In other words, I’ll venture, in its corporatised, White-appropriated, patriarchal form Black cool can be turned back on itself as a form of racist violence and oppression. Hank Williams Thomas makes the same point in his piece ‘Soul’, discussing the cynical exploitation of Black style by Nike. The really cool thing about this book is that it presents so many ‘streams of Blackness’ that are immune and resistant by nature to commodification and White supremacist patriarchy. They cannot be used up, sucked dry, sold out. No chance.

So here I am peeking into the kitchen, trying not to make a nuisance of myself, happily basking in the sweetness that flows out so lavishly…

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