On one of my favorite episodes of Family Guy, Stewey Grifiin gives a special shout out to Black guys for “taking it all in stride.”
I think about that quote every time I’m asked about a police shooting, or whenever someone plays “Big Poppa” by Notorious B.I.G., or right before I step on stage in Omaha. A sudden urge to be the coolest person in the room. Even if it means being “uncool” just to interrupt any dated preconceived notions. This new wave of “Black cool” largely birthed by comedians like Hannibal Buress and The Lucas Bros. and Jermaine Fowler is what I call “Alt Black Everything.”
Over time Being cool has manifested itself in many variances trough time, but typically fell under how we sound, how we look, and most importantly, what you call us.
See my hero
was is Martin Lawrence. I would watch Norm McDonald on Weekend Update, then flip to Def Comedy Jam to see Martin, with just a microphone, KILLING. When a comedian “crushes” it means they lit the room on fire from the first joke ’til they say “thank you good night” and even that part is funny. Thats what I saw Martin do every Saturday night. Its not just that “Black people laugh with their feet”, these motherf***ers were THAT funny. I wanted to do that. I wanted to make Kira, my first crush, laugh that hard. One day I did an impression of our principal, Mr. Murray in front of her as he walked away. That sh*t crushed. Jokes did that.
Sidenote: Probably the most romantic thing a girl has ever done for me was in second grade
when Kira walked in with the same Purple and teal Hare Jordan 6’s that I had gotten a week earlier. WE HAD THE SAME SHOES. The only thing i wanted was to meet her at the alter from that point forward.
In the community I come from, trying too hard or seeming nervous, got you clowned. The only people who can sweat while talking are comedians and preachers. Getting called “thirsty” or “thirst buckets” or “yo THIRSTY ass” was funny to hear, but not what you wanted to be called. Except in comedy and preaching. The guys who talked the best always did better than the tough guys (distant second to the guy who could sing) when it came to girls. And appealing to women, for Black dudes is pretty much the first third of their life. When you’re a baby, older women look at you and say “he’s going to be a heartbreaker.” And that was considered a compliment to the mother. “Oh Gladys, your son is going to be SO emotionally unavailable to women one day…Go girl!!!”
That’s how it begins. The rest of your life is a running count of how many women you have pleased. Italian guys can relate to this. Even for guys who are of noble professions, they are well aware that there’s a stop on the elevator of success with a floor full of women, or men, ready to show love. Even Common, the good-guy of rap said “Lil Com, I make righteous bitched get low.” ain’t none of us immune to it. But the real test is when you actually get the girl. Its easy to pretend to have swagger, I because I used to wear Usher cologne and Tommy Hilfiger. Even though I wanted women’s attention, I never chased women. I wanted there attention, but I wasn’t sure what to do after that. Underneath this FUBU pullover was just a regular guy. Its better to keep the fantasy alive than reveal the truth. Thats why I was never nervous around women as a teenager, they weren’t getting the real me anyway. Thats the struggle of many middle-road Black dudes. Young Black dudes who are heavily supported by both parents, but got cousins who show you street shit, have a duality of choice between the right thing, and the thing that will make you seem cooler…Blacker. Three of the six guys I know in jail both attended
debutante balls. There’s a never-ending quest to be Black, even when you already are. Talk to any Black dude who has had sex with a white woman, there’s a split-second where you hope this is the biggest she has ever seen. Its even deeper with a black woman, because you KNOW she has might have been with bigger, and if so you hope she at least pretends you’re in the lead. Its called making take-a-deep-breath face, and most women have mastered it.
Some of us are late bloomers, and some of us punched in early. But there are certain moments where you go, Im a man now, and I walk in the way that closely emulates that definition as closely as possible. The first time was when a neighrborhood guy who used to call me “preppy prep” advised me that women want a “nothing ass nigga.” But i wasnt a “nothing ass nigga” my mama told me I was more than that. Preppy-Prep needed to go off to college. This is the first time I get to decide who I am, what I want to be, and what they will call me. I went to school in Atlanta with three goals: don’t get anybody pregnant, get a degree, and become a man. There was no place better for me to do that than the place that graduated Spike Lee, Sam Jackson, and Dr. King. I learned there, how many types of black there are.
At my alma mater, Morehouse College, there are SO many public speakers, preachers, and as of late, comedians. Morehouse, is a Historically Black College or University (its a college) located in the birthplace of freaknik, with a student body of about 3,000 of every type of Black dude that exists in the world. Growing up on the southside of Chicago, I saw a little bit of everything, but this was the first time I had met Black teenagers who use “vacation” as a verb.
Morehouse student from Massachusetts: We vacationed at Martha’s Vineyard.
Me: Two questions. Did you just use “vacation” as a verb? and What the f**k is Martha’s vineyard?
But it wasn’t just rich kids. It was poor kids from Jacksonville, it was soccer players from Trinidad, it was some of the purest hustlers who cut hair, sold weed, and kept a 4.0 GPA. Being there shaped my attitude to a “shahp” point. I was one of the dudes on the lower economic rung, and you can tell, because I was one of the best-dressed. Poor Black people do a lot to impress rich Black people. We do, this is not-debatable.
The attitude that says “no matter what I do, Imma look good doing it” was born out of at times having nothing else, pride was always the final thing they had to beat out of us. From Kunta Kente to Malcolm X to Prince, theres a power in deciding what people will call you. Even rappers who use their birth name like Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West, know the real shine is being called K. Dot and Yeezy. There’s power in calling someone by their nickname, almost like being an insider. Or, as Kendrick calls it a “day one.” And nothing gives you more credit from another brother than being his friend for a very long time. That’s why we call each other Morehouse “brothers.” As important as it is to always give the best version of yourself, its an equal responsibility to make sure everybody in your squad to be on point as well. This isn’t just at HBCU’s, but across the board from the trap house to the White House. Barack Obama may not have solved every ill that affects the Black community from the oval office, but what he DID do, from the top spot was represent Black men very well. He let the world know that there is a complexity and nuance to it. To be neither “beast or angel” but an emotionally responsive complete person whose thoughts and opinions are varied and diverse helped out many brothers who have had trouble getting their voice heard in the boardroom or classroom. But, we aren’t all Barack either. Its easier to lump a group together and just assume their likes and dislikes, but that approach will make you miss out on opportunities to really know a person, the questionmarks that Obama raised about African-American men, allowed us to fill-in-the-blanks with our own answers, and within that, your own personal definitions. And he did it with the calmest, mildest demeanor you can after being called every name in the book by people you’re trying to help. Fan or not, you have to respect that.
Whether its being called the N-word (hard “r”) or altercations with the police. Black dudes have to be very careful how we REACT to adversity. It defines coolness. Aaron McGruder called it “Nigga moments.” When you have to decide whether to do the right thing, or the thing that lets them know you “ain’t for the bullshit.” Sometimes they are one in the same. One time, in Kentucky, right after one of the police shootings, a white patron approached me and tried to pick a fight. I had just finished a show, when him and a friend walked in and decided this would be their moment to “put one in their place.” After calling me a “fake ass Kanye West” and challenging me to a fight, I rapidly weighed my options…
- Call 9-1-1 “bro, this is Covington, KY …he might BE the police.
- Swing on him. “bro, this is Covington, KY …he might BE strapped.
As the manager ignored this asshole harassing customers and shoving my pizza on to the square, red dine-in tray, I took one last look at Frank, who was already in a drunken fight stance, without breaking eye contact yelled “naaaaaaah, make that to-go.” The friend laughed, and even a slight chuckle emerged from my target. As me and my friends creeped out of the pizza place, I thought “damn, comedy saved me again.”
It wasn’t my best work, but in that situation, as a Black dude in America, continuous headlines emerges of police brutality, the cost of mental wellness and healthcare rising, and the fact that Flint, Michigan STILL DOES NOT HAVE CLEAN DRINKING WATER. Certain confrontations will
suggest require I act in my most-controlled, smartest, and most importantly, mildest form, while taking it in stride. I HAD to be the coolest person in the room, and there’s nothing Blacker than that.