Monthly Archives: December 2012
Losing My Cool: Love, Literature, and a Black Man’s Escape From the Crowd by Thomas Chatterton Williams (2010).
Thomas Chatterton Williams has written a memoir with a theme about losing his cool to be who he more honestly is. He had to give up some daunting style, break from peer pressure and brand named accessories. He had to give up hiding his talents. He came to realize he was living a media-induced style and he had taken it in hook, line, and sinker.
We all know the power of music and media. Consider the Sixties’ hippies grooving to Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jefferson Airplane, The Beatles. The Graduate and Easy Rider, trying to make sense of the Republicans and Democrats, the first Moon Walk and the Vietnam War.
Young people are still trying to makes sense of Republicans and Democrats, the Moon Walk is a dance move perfected by Michael Jackson (may he rest in peace), military personnel are entrenched in Afghanistan and Iraq. Hip hop lyrics too often shun, shame and disparage women and gay people. The lyrics idealize violence, staying high, and money. Lots and lots of money.
Williams describes his middle class New Jersey neighborhood, his educated and working parents whose bi-racial marriage has lasted, the basketball, his first love, the sex at his prom party. He talks about his peers who get pregnant, peers who are abusers of women, other friends who are hooked on drugs. He writes about the white kid who is beaten for attitude on the basketball court. He writes about the kids who decide they are too cool for school; he even blew his first year at Georgetown University because he was. One day he realizes the white kids are listening to the same music he has been listening to and they hear the great rhythms and the incredible verbal agility. He recognizes those kids hear irony when he has been hearing a code to live by. But so many of the youth of his neighborhood were in jail, pregnant, or cared more about drugs than living.
This is a young black man’s memoir. He is the child of a white working mother and black intellectual father, middle class, great at sports and school. He trades in his baggy pants and athletic clothes. His father buys him a suit, some shirts and ties. He finishes his undergraduate degree. The friend who studied with him and his father also graduated but no one else did. I hear the power of the media— black youth become caricatures of lyrics just as young women become anorexic embodiments of photo-shopped portraits of models. So much has been written about them—now we hear about the black kids who are equally bamboozled into buying into a self-defeating storyline.
Williams offers some powerful insight:
It is more accurate to say, however, that the mood of black culture doesn’t need to change into something wholly new so much as it must simply find a way to reclaim what it once had. One of the most fascinating paradoxes the student of black history ever observes, as well as a tremendous justification for black pride, is the extent to which this culture, against all likelihood, has customarily embodied a joyful, soulful, affirming approach to life and not a spiritually bankrupt or self-defeating one. It is only very recently–basically within my brother’s lifetime, which is to say, the three and a half decades of the hip-hop era or, roughly, the post-Civil Rights era–that this has, in the main, ceased to be the case. In other words, it is only after the tremendous civil-rights victories of the ’60s, only after desegregation, only after affirmative action that black America has become so militantly provincial and wildly nihilistic (214).
Williams found his way to freedom. We need to understand what he is saying, what he is daring to say, and get the word out to bring back beloved community and joy.