We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity by bell hooks

Date Read: February 23rd 2017

Published: 2003

Publisher: Routledge

Pages: 168

The Blurb 

“When women get together and talk about men, the news is almost always bad news,” writes bell hooks. “If the topic gets specific and the focus is on black men, the news is even worse.”

In this powerful new book, bell hooks arrests our attention from the first page. Her title – We Real Cool, her subject–the way in which both white society and weak black leaders are failing black men and youth. Her subject is taboo: “this is a culture that does not love black males:” “they are not loved by white men, white women, black women, girls or boys. And especially, black men do not love themselves. How could they? How could they be expected to love, surrounded by so much envy, desire, and hate?”

 

Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

I’m glad I’ve finally been able to complete a full body of hooks’s work instead of the select essays I was assigned to read in my college Sociology classes. Even though We Real Cool speaks predominantly about Black men, bell hooks definitely wrote this with feminism soaked into every single chapter.

We Real Cool (the title is taken from the Gwendolyn Brooks poem!) is an important, critical take on how the imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy (yes, it’s a mouthful) affects the souls of Black boys & men – and by extension Black girls & women. Layered with many pop culture references and voices of various Black authors and social workers, bell hooks unapologetically asserts that Black masculinity is a reflection of white domination and provides some alternative ways/solutions Black men AND women can work together to overcome the damage and hurt, with love.

At times I couldn’t differentiate hooks’s (sometimes harsh) opinions from actual facts and some examples and stances she made seemed a bit outdated. But I really appreciated the personal examples of hurt and pain she provides, based off of her family life, while growing up.

I read We Real Cool last year as an e-book (as a pdf document, actually), and highlighted LOTS of quotes while reading; but they all disappeared when I rebooted my tablet *sigh*. Perhaps when I re-read this book, I’ll share the quotes I gathered, for those who still doubt the importance of hooks’s racial & gender analysis of our society today.

I came across an article by Derek Owusu, who is one-third of the literary podcast – MostlyLit: Black men are made to feel ugly, and we need to talk about it and immediately thought of hooks’s We Real Cool. Owusu’s article further echoes hooks’s stance on how imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy affects the souls of Black boys & men – only that, he doesn’t mention how Black girls and women are affected by extension. The article tackles the emotional challenges faced by Black British men when it comes to white standards of beauty and hyper-masculinity. I love a solution he brings forth, which encourages vulnerability among men (a state of being hooks also encourages, as a solution in We Real Cool)  –

But I feel if we are able to talk sincerely about the days when we feel undesirable, a whole new world of expression will open up thereafter and we’ll be on course for a healthier emotional life.  

There’s so much to say about this dense, complex book which ultimately aims at critiquing, loving and attempting to heal the hurts of Black men from a Black feminist lens. It’s a lot to absorb, but it’s important. Feed your soul and read some hooks!

★★★★★ (5 stars) – Amazing book, I loved it. Absolutely recommend!

Purchase We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity on Amazon

Advertisements

National Poetry Month 2015 – 3 poems

National (USA) Poetry Month is slowly coming to an end! In honor of this month dedicated to poetry, I’ve decided to showcase some of my favorite poems.

I’m not a huge poetry fan, but below are three poems: (one each) African-American, Caribbean and African poems that I love. Hope you enjoy!

 

African-American poem

In 2008 during my freshman year of undergrad (Middlebury College), my first year seminar class was on Urban Chicago (shout out to Prof. Will Nash!). We learned a lot about Chicago and read a lot of literature from there as well, including the works of Richard Wright, Ida B. Wells and Gwendolyn Brooks. The poem below was my favorite from Brooks. It’s speaks volumes on society’s warped perceptions of beauty and colorism even among children. Enjoy!

 

The Ballad of Chocolate Mabbie by Gwendolyn Brooks

It was Mabbie without the grammar school gates.

And Mabbie was all of seven.

And Mabbie was cut from a chocolate bar.

And Mabbie thought life was heaven.

The grammar school gates were the pearly gates,

For Willie Boone went to school.

When she sat by him in history class

Was only her eyes were cool.

It was Mabbie without the grammar school gates

Waiting for Willie Boone.

Half hour after the closing bell

He would surely be coming soon.

Oh, warm is the waiting for joys, my dears!

And it cannot be too long.

Oh, pity the little poor chocolate lips

That carry the bubble of song!

Out came the saucily bold Willie Boone.

It was woe for our Mabbie now.

He wore like a jewel a lemon-hued lynx

With sand-waves loving her brow.

It was Mabbie alone by the grammar school gates.

Yet chocolate companions had she:

Mabbie on Mabbie with hush in the heart.

Mabbie on Mabbie to be.

 

GBrooksGwendolyn Brooks was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, professor, and lived in Chicago all her life. This poem was taken from her collection of poems: A Street in Bronzeville (1945).

 

 

 


 

Caribbean poem: Saint Lucia

The next poem is one I recently stumbled upon by Saint Lucia native, Derek Walcott. I loved it’s calmness and reassurance. Enjoy!

 

Love After Love by Derek Walcott

The time will come

when, with elation

you will greet yourself arriving

at your own door, in your own mirror

and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

 

and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.

Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart

to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

 

all your life, whom you ignored

for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

 

the photographs, the desperate notes,

peel your own image from the mirror.

Sit. Feast on your life.

derekwalcottDerek Walcott is a Saint Lucian playwright and poet. In 1992 he received the Nobel Prize in Literature, amongst other awards throughout his successful career. Source: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/love-after-love/ (accessed April 22nd 2015).

 

 

 


 

African poem: Uganda

My two friends from college – Harrison Kihonge, from Kenya and Motlatsi Nkhahle, from Lesotho used to call me ‘Lapobo’. It used to irritate me because I didn’t know whether ‘Lapobo’ was a compliment or an insult! I finally got them to tell me what ‘Lapobo’ meant and they told me it’s a name/term used in a poem they studied back at their respective United World College (UWC) high schools by Cliff Lubwa p’Chong. Enjoy!

 

The Beloved by Cliff Lubwa p’Chong

Lapobo,

Tall but not too tall,

Short but not too short,

Lapobo,

Her teeth are not as ash

Nor the colour of maize flour,

Her teeth are as white as fresh milk.

The whiteness of her teeth

When I think of her

Makes food drop from my hand.

Lapobo,

Black but not too black,

Brown but not too brown,

Her skin colour is just between black and brown.

Lapobo,

Her heels have no cracks,

Her palms are smooth and tender to touch,

Her eyes—Ho they can destroy anybody.

Lubwa p’Chong was a playwright and poet from Uganda. This poem can be read in a 1960’s anthology: Poems from East Africa edited by David Cook and David Rubadiri.

 I actually really love this poem! Now I know ‘Lapobo’ surely is not an insult. My friend Harrison Kihonge recently posted it on my Facebook wall, hence my access to the full poem.

 

What are some of your favorite African-American, Caribbean and/or African poems? Please do share!