My Black Cool: The One Thousand One Stream of Blackness.
Inserting my “stream of blackness” into the discourse,
The radical decision to be yourself is hard in a society that has constructed numerous societal ideologies about ones role in the bigger discourse. Gender roles, racial stereotypes, homonormative aesthetics, the list goes on and on. For me, a black queer cis-man who presents femmasculine, it has always been the constant struggle to fit in where I can get in. I have never been black enough, I have never been the right kind of “gay” (especially when folkx figure out that queer means you are actually not gay), I do not talk properly or I talk too proper, I’m somewhere between alternative black and hood rat, it is like I sit in the center of the spectrum everywhere. I always thought I was alone in this endeavor, the inability to conform perfectly into the cliques created by someone trying to oppress or segregate others. Then I found my favorite book, “Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness” by Rebecca Walker.
Walker collects a series of essays that highlight black creatives who are pivotal in their area of expertise. These stories are very personal to each individual yet feel so relatable for me and my blackness. I could jump into another persons mind and realize we wear the same shoe size, navigating the world through blackness, the stereotypes of blackness, the appropriation of blackness and the intersections of blackness with other identities/areas of interest. For example, in Authenticity, by Stacyann Chin (look her up, her poetry is phenomenal), she talks about the power of being yourself which, for her, was a lesbian Jamaican who came to America and chose not to conform. I am none of these things and yet, when she said “ And when I experienced society’s brutal homophobic backlash, that swagger kept me sane and underscored my decision to move away from my home country; I thought it was better to flee than to remain and conform to a heterosexual way of life that ran inauthentic inside me,” I was like:
I have read this book every semester since I received it in 2014 for a paper on black authenticity in American culture. It, by far, was the best paper I wrote and a monumental shift in the construction of my own “black cool.” Things are highlighted over several times that are not as profound as they used to be. I continually read each essay, as I grow and change, realizing that my black cool, like everything else in my life, seems to be fluid and ever changing. For example, I was overwhelmingly obsessed with the idea of owning my “Geek” status like Mat Johnson. This has shifted into placing myself in a community full of “blerds” talking about Dragon Ball Z in the context of constructing “hood” culture because that space exists abundantly for me. Did they read the same book? I do not know but it sure is nice when other people agree that the destruction of Namek lines up exactly with the colonization of Indigenous and Black folks in American “history.” (Frieza is white colonists and the Namekians are black and brown people, just in case you were not following.)
I write this lengthy intro to say nothing more then I feel as though my “black cool,” my story needs to be added to the discourse. Am I being selfish and centering my narrative, yes and I also believe I have grown to a place where this one thousand one stream of blackness is important to hear. I am no bell hooks or Michaela angela Davis but I have a story to tell. Rebecca Walker writes in the intro of the book “Read this book. Contemplate it. And add your own elements to the collection that’s here — there are many more than what you’ll find in these pages. Hybridity. Fluidity. Harmonious dissonance. But those are for you to discover, dear reader.” I extend that invention to you now as we dive into my Black Cool: Duality
My fondest memories were at my grandparents house during the summer. Being a military brat, it was not easy to formulate the concept of “roots” in a city, a house, a room but not at my grandparents house. Nothing changes there, the brisk smell of vanilla , the grand piano that holds all of the black excellence that my grandparents come in contact with, the recliner that I can only sit in until my grandpa makes me move, my grandma’s dresser with everything you can ever need, it is the only constant in my life. It is also my favorite place on this planet because it is the only place I feel completely safe, not because I am “completely” but because of the safety my grandparents radiate.
I have never felt more carefree then sitting on the porch and watching my grandparents work in their gardens. My grandma tending to her flowers while my grandpa tended to his crops in the middle of the city. They both grew up in Oklahoma with big families and tons of stories. I will never understand what it is like to struggle because “I will never know what it is like to walk up hill both ways to school for 5 miles in the snow” or how “to hold a real conversation because back in the day nobody was doing that terrible texting mess.” All of these things being said while my grandpa is watching All My Children or General Hospital while my grandma plays Candy Crush on her tablet. When I go and visit, now, I sit and watch them interact to absorb all of the energy being put into the room nonverbally, trying to learn the cool that got them to eighty eight years young, trying to learn the “cool” that warrants response of “you actin’ like a Sanders/Blue.”
I got my grandma’s heart, she is the most empathetic person I know. God first, family second with a servants heart only one notch below Jesus, my grandma is the definition of caring. To this day I feel all the safety that she has prayed for to God for me and I am reminded that she asks about me every single day without prompting. She has been my best friend since the beginning and the first person I will run to for protection from my mothers wrath. She taught me the cool that has kept me safe since I started grade school. Memaw always told me to “stay cool.” Even now, when I get emotional about injustice, before I leave the house she always says, “keep your cool.” This is coming from the woman who I watched go off on someone for looking over her, literally, at the phone store and her popping off. The swiftness, the accuracy and the calm return back to indifference with petty inflections seeped into my being like a marinated turkey sitting in juices for three days before Thanksgiving. Her heart is big enough for others as much as it is big enough for herself. She will never be disrespected and looked over, she holds herself like the black “my crown is my church hat” strong black woman she has had to be while holding everything else up too. The matriarch to the kingdom, watched over by God, holding everything together even when it seems like everything is unfixable. Memaw is the rock I inspire to be and the human I want to protect the most. Not because I feel the need to but because the heart she gave me only ever wants to give back.
I got my grandpa’s presence, nerve and charisma. I remember visiting the park, which was a baseball diamond where the older folks of the neighborhood would hang out and talk about anything and everything, and watching him navigate that space. He would sit in a chair, cross his legs, lean to the left and place his right arm in his lap while the other would navigate the conversation. When things became more important he would unfold lean forward and use both hands to deliver knowledge that could make the ground shake underneath everyone. He is the best public speaker I know and he needs no pull pit or podium to do his work. This man can speak a man out of his shirt if needed, I have watched him get a lot of free cigarettes from strangers when he smoked, and race, gender, sexuality, social class, could never stop him. He is a man of few words but, according to my mom, he talks to me the most and what he has told me over the years have stuck in the own way I have constructed myself. Papaw told me one time “you are no better or no worse then anyone else in the world, act as such.” He speaks to everyone who nods or looks his way. He can make friends with a door handle simply for thanking it for making it easier to get in if that was possible. Everything he interacts with he interacts with it in love and the only time I have ever seen him mad was when I was disrespecting another. Granted, he is the sassiness I exude everyday, he cares through action, shaped by the toxic masculinity of the 30s and the strong matriarchy he comes from, love is different for him. It is different for me too, because if they shaped me they must have shaped everyone else in our family too.
My grandparents are two sides of the same coin. Masculinity and femininity meeting in a traditional black home. The cool creating a security blanket I could never name before in myself or in the world around me. My grandparents raised me in an environment conducive to duality that the rest of the world has never allocated. You get the binary in a way that allows you to not have to choose a side. You get to be fluid, be a hybrid, live in the harmonious dissonance because right and wrong was never clearly defined. Things are just done differently and if it does not work you can try the infinite other ways to fix a problem. My mom is not my grandpa or grandma but a collection of the two, knowing when to ask the better suited person for advice in a situation. She navigates the world differently then they do but plays two roles and would always play two roles even if I had two parents. She has the duality, the cool, to operate in both/and. Cool is being able to move about the world, as a black person, and be unapologetic. The issue is that unapologetic blackness equals death in a system operating from white supremacy. When my grandma tells me to stay “cool” she means check yourself back into the place that’s not gonna let the system win. The cool is knowing how to play the system better then it plays itself, operating in both/and, having duality in a world that doesn’t allow it.
When I began writing this I did not realize that I was going to center my grandparents, but my cool is so intertwined with everyone else I might as well have known. Thank you for everything you have done, are doing and will do.
If you like what you read please comment and like. If you wanna discuss the topic all handles on social media are @alltimeisaac. Got ideas you wanna collab on? Hit me up and we will see what we can come up with. Love, peace and cocoa butter based hair grease.