Once upon a time black male cool was defined by the ways in which black men confronted hardships of life without allowing their spirits to be ravaged. They took the pain of it and used it alchemically to turn the pain into gold. That burning process required high heat. Black male cool was defined by the ability to withstand the heat and remain centered. It was defined by black male willingness to confront reality, to face the truth, and bear it not by adopting a false pose if cool while feeding on fantasy; not by black male denial or by assuming a poor me victim identity. It was defined by individual black males daring to self-define rather than be defined by others.
To be sure, I had, and have, spent the better part of my post-college life growing up in the public eye, with my shameful warts, big and ugly, looming there for the world to see; and it has been a mighty battle trying to be a man, a Black man, a human being, a responsible and consistent human being, as I have interfaced with my past and with my personal demons, with friends and lovers, with enemies and haters. As Tupac Shakur once famously said to me, There is no placed called careful. On the one hand, Tupac was right: There is not much room for error in America if you are a Black male in a society ostensibly bent on profiling your every move, eager to capitalize on your falling into this or that trap, particularly keen to swoop down on your self-inflicted mishaps. But by the same token, Tupac was wrong: There can be a place called careful, once one becomes aware of the world one lives in, its potential, its limitations, and if one is willing to struggle to create a new model, some new and alternative space outside and away from the larger universe, where one can be free enough to comprehend that even if the world seems aligned against you, you do not have to give the world the rope to hang you with.