March 26, 2006

"What sociologists call the 'cool-pose culture' of young black men was simply too gratifying to give up."

Harvard sociology professor Orlando Patterson writes a powerful op-ed:
Several years ago, one of my students went back to her high school to find out why it was that almost all the black girls graduated and went to college whereas nearly all the black boys either failed to graduate or did not go on to college. Distressingly, she found that all the black boys knew the consequences of not graduating and going on to college ("We're not stupid!" they told her indignantly).

SO why were they flunking out? Their candid answer was that what sociologists call the "cool-pose culture" of young black men was simply too gratifying to give up. For these young men, it was almost like a drug, hanging out on the street after school, shopping and dressing sharply, sexual conquests, party drugs, hip-hop music and culture, the fact that almost all the superstar athletes and a great many of the nation's best entertainers were black.

Not only was living this subculture immensely fulfilling, the boys said, it also brought them a great deal of respect from white youths. This also explains the otherwise puzzling finding by social psychologists that young black men and women tend to have the highest levels of self-esteem of all ethnic groups, and that their self-image is independent of how badly they were doing in school.

I call this the Dionysian trap for young black men. The important thing to note about the subculture that ensnares them is that it is not disconnected from the mainstream culture. To the contrary, it has powerful support from some of America's largest corporations. Hip-hop, professional basketball and homeboy fashions are as American as cherry pie. Young white Americans are very much into these things, but selectively; they know when it is time to turn off Fifty Cent and get out the SAT prep book.

For young black men, however, that culture is all there is — or so they think.
Read the whole thing. Much of the piece is about the way sociology professors resist cultural explanations.

41 comments:

Jake said...

The author calls it the cool-pose culture. The proper name is the culture of failure.

A principal in a private elementary school in the inner city of Minneapolis told me that it is a terrible problem among public inner city schools.

The black youth culture believes that both education and success are a white thing and should be avoided.

Black boys achieve the same success in school as white boys until the third grade when they buy into the victim hood culture. Black girls last until the 5th grade. The principal said that if he can convince the black child (and his parents) the value of education and success he can the get the child learning again.

Ann Althouse said...

Jake: "The black youth culture believes that both education and success are a white thing and should be avoided."

Patterson's piece says that studies have shown this to be a myth.

brylun said...

Patterson's piece is a myth. Jake is right. And so is Bill Cosby.

Palladian said...

Another sad part, mentioned in this piece, is that business exploits this because it's a cash cow. The entertainment industry doesn't give a damn what happens to these young people, as long as they're spending. They're selling abject nihilism and materialism and making a bundle, but at an astronomical literal and metaphorical cost to our society. Not only that, but it's spreading all over the world. What do you think is the musical and cultural preference of all those angry young muslim men in the Paris suburbs?

elliot said...

It doesn't take a Harvard sociologist to figure this out.

brylin said...

John McWhorter's view:

"[T]he rules are different for us. Things considered ordinary requirements of others are "too much" for us -- or at least, most of us. Choices considered inappropriate by others are "understandable" for us -- or at least, most of us. Allowing that racism plays no significant part in our lives would be disloyal for us. Even if some of us are OK, it must always and forever be that most of us are much less OK, and this could only be whites' fault."

More McWhorter: "Bill Cosby Can't Say That, Can He?"

FXKLM said...

I don't think this is necessarily a problem. These studies show that young black men genuinely enjoy their irresponsible youth. They grow up to be poorer as a result, but a tiny minority live in truly dire poverty. This is a wealthy country. Even people well below the median income enjoy a reasonably high standard of living.

I think we should respect the choices of the unambitious. It's arrogant and condescending to claim those choices are objectively wrong. Of course, that also means society should stop complaining about income inequality.

Dave said...

I recently moved to the Washington Heights neighborhood in Manhattan.

I see many of these people walking around, seemingly without aim or purpose, all day long.

A lot of people have been concerned that Washington Heights is gentrifying, similar to SoHo twenty-five years ago. Never mind that with gentrification these people move on.

They all think they will be the next Puff Daddy, but P Diddy, whatever we think of his "art" nonetheless worked hard, and, as well, is uncanny at reading markets (for fashion, music, etc.)

Few people have his entreprenneurial spark; to assume that riches come merely by hanging out on the street corner is to misunderstood why some young black men have made millions and why most will live impoverished lives.

bearbee said...

Fast forward their 'cool- pose culture' incrementally - 5, 10, 15 then 20 years into the future and see how gratifying it remains.....

"We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar"

knoxgirl said...

"I don't think this is necessarily a problem. These studies show that young black men genuinely enjoy their irresponsible youth."

A lot of black girls pay the price

Palladian said...

knoxgirl- And a lot of children do too, as well as the society that has to bear the burdens of these young men's "enjoyment".

peter hoh said...

From today's Washington Post: "Marriage is for White People".

Internet Ronin said...

From Wikipedia's bio for Sean Combs (aka "Puff Daddy," "P.Diddy"):

Born in Harlem, New York City, Combs grew up in the Westchester County suburb, Mount Vernon, New York (His father was killed when he was only 2 years old, then his mother decided to move to Mount Vernon with Combs & his siblings). After completing his private secondary education at Mount Saint Michael Academy in the Bronx, Combs attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. before becoming an intern at Uptown Records.


Many other well-known rappers have a college degree but they don't want to advertise it because it doesn't fit their image.

Jacob said...

You know I always thought "party drugs" aren't really "almost like a drug" per se...

PatCA said...

There's nothing like the high of being young and being cool. Think of the Baby Boomers! I know several of them who reached a pinnacle of excitement in their youth by being semi-outlaws and never got over it. Now, they're just sad. Wrecked families, no money, always looking back.

The consequences for these black kids, and the other minorites who don't want to be too "white"--now a pejorative term in LA schools--will prove to be much worse.

lindsey said...

This sort of thing is only possible imo because too many parents are asleep at the wheel when it comes to their children's education.

Balfegor said...

This sort of thing is only possible imo because too many parents are asleep at the wheel when it comes to their children's education.


In view of the article linked by Peter Hoh above, I can't help suspect these particular children may also have too few parents.

Gahrie said...

Jake: "The black youth culture believes that both education and success are a white thing and should be avoided."

Patterson's piece says that studies have shown this to be a myth


Ann:

Sadly that is just not so. I hear the "acting white" slur on a regular basis in my classroom. I always instantly stop class and try to address it, but I'm fighting uphill.

It is also my experience that many Hispanics have adopted this same attitude.

37383938393839383938383 said...

SOME DUDE: "I don't think this is necessarily a problem. These studies show that young black men genuinely enjoy their irresponsible youth."

KNOXGIRL IN REPLY: A lot of black girls pay the price

There is a racist underlying assumption here that blacks should stick to their own kind and that a black girl is necessarily the right partner for any particular black male. Anyone who has had a meaningful relationship knows that race has nothing to do with intimacy, Knoxgirl.

Balfegor said...

Anyone who has had a meaningful relationship knows that race has nothing to do with intimacy, Knoxgirl.

And common sense and experience should also tell us that by and large, people do stick with their own race, in relationships. Or perhaps only with their own community, which in the case of Black urban youths tends to be other Black urban youths.

See also this wikipedia entry for "miscegenation," down at "Education and interethnic marriage," where Black women have an even higher endogamy rate than Black men. Admittedly, since marriage is apparently going out of style in certain Black communities, this may be an inaccurate proxy for relationships themselves, but I think it's a fair indicator that Knoxgirl's point is essentially sound.

knoxgirl said...

balfegor,

thanks, you more elegantly express what I'm thinking than I ever could.

critical,

Oh, cut me some slack will you. I suppose a lot of white girls pay the price too. And yellow and brown and suntanned and bronzed. Happy?

Sissy Willis said...

The so-called "cool-pose culture" reminds me of what Peter F. Rowbotham described as a "system of honor that is an alternative to mainstream moral orders" -- psychologically akin to the cultures of Hell's Angels and British soccer fans -- and now the deadly rituals of adolescent jihadi recruits:

The importance of being noticed

Smilin' Jack said...

knoxgirl said...
"I don't think this is necessarily a problem. These studies show that young black men genuinely enjoy their irresponsible youth."

A lot of black girls pay the price


I'm sure the girls are genuinely enjoying it too...if the girls didn't like it, the boys wouldn't do it.

knoxgirl said...

I'm not absolving girls of responsibility. But the girls have the babies, while the boys keep partying.

This is a pretty high price.

StrangerInTheseParts said...

I'm a causcasian social worker in Newark, NJ. I have to at least somewhat agree with Jake's first post on this thread.

I repeatedly see amongst my af-am _co-workers_ a world view that puts success at work as something totally separate from their personal indentity. A career is something you do for white people, or something white people do. Work is not seen as an environment where one's true self can express itself. Success at a 9-to-5 job is considered suspect - it is the result of a fluke, or more likely of some form of "selling out".

LarryK said...

Regardless of whether acting white is a myth or not, I think Patterson's larger point is correct. The key concept here is "Dionysian trap." Adolescence is a time when your Dionysian impulses can very easily get the best of you unless they are held in check by other forces, especially strong families and communities. I think that is the real difference between white and inner city black youths - they both swim in the same cultural stream, but inner city black families have been wrecked so comprehensively that black kids have fewer defenses against its pernicious effects. I would say this is the primary cultural problem, with greater black "ownership" of the hip-hop etc. culture a secondary source. Patterson seems to place more emphasis on the latter and, oddly, doesn't mention family breakdown at all.

On a related topic, I wonder how this will go down with Patterson's Harvard colleagues? Larry Summers got muscled out as Harvard President for encouraging out of the box thinking on gender - is innovative thinking on race just as taboo? Unfortunately, I have no doubt about how these ideas will be received by America's self-appointed black leaders like Jackson and Sharpton, who are the ones who should most heed the message.

knoxgirl said...

I should add that anyone who doesn't think black females pay a high price for the hyper-machismo-overdrive of the "cool-pose culture," read "Makes Me Wanna Holler" by Nathan McCall.

A gang he joined would regularly "pull trains" on young girls in the neighborhood they knew were home alone. Many boys did it knowing that their own sisters could be chosen as victims one day, if they happened to be convenient.

Ann Althouse said...

Stranger: Interesting, though I've certainly known many white people who feel the same way. It's a normal, rational attitude to adopt. Maybe the better question is how employers get any workers to meld their personalities with corporate goals.

Jennifer said...

The entertainment industry doesn't give a damn what happens to these young people, as long as they're spending. They're selling abject nihilism and materialism and making a bundle, but at an astronomical literal and metaphorical cost to our society.

Palladian - I think you're absolutely right. I tend to think of the gangsta rappers etc as the mainstream equivalent of foot soldier crack dealers and the labels who push them and the lifestyle as the drug lords. Disgusting.

PatCA said...

I would also add that our society, at least media/entertainment, now romanticizes and valorizes the Dionysian in our youth. It used to be supressed or controlled in favor of traditional values and that was reflected in entertainment; now it's celebrated as "freedom." (I was thinking this as kids are walking out of schools in LA with total impunity today to protest against immigration bill). It's not what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote of the pursuit of happiness.

bearbee said...

"Work is not seen as an environment where one's true self can express itself.

I was reading The Coming Normalcy by Robert Kaplan of The Atlantic Online and ran across this observation of the interconnectivity of decisionmaking and motivated soldiers who defined themselves through their job dedication:

"It never fails: the closer you get to a frontline infantry unit, the greater the pride and intelligence, the more erect the bearing. At Baghdad International Airport, I consulted a nasty young enlistee who grumpily lifted her eyes from a paperback to tell me that she didn't know the flight times to Mosul, though knowing such information was the sole purpose of her being in Iraq. But in Mosul, I found myself in a tactical operations center, or TOC, staffed with noncoms and junior and middle-level officers like Captain Mann, whose whole identity—as revealed through the game-on clarity of their faces—seemed to be their jobs."

But I think upbringing and the instilled work ethic is a critical component.

M. Simon said...

Surpisingly enough almost all commentators refuse to consider the demographic explanation.

Despite the fact that it is well known from biblical time that a shortage of men causes these kinds of cultural shifts. Such cultural shifts was one of the reasons that war was considered so pernicious.

If your theory is wrong then there is no way that solutions to the problem can be found. In fact if your ttheory is wrong the most probable result will be that actions taken will be counter productive.

Oh, well.

M. Simon said...

BTW the "sexual revolution" of the 60s was caused by a shortage of marriagable men in the appropriate demographic.

It is not a lack of morality that is the problem. It is a lack of men.

Display said...

Interesting discussion on the NYT article today. I want to extend the comment on the analogy with the Baby Boomer outlaw culture. There were media role models at play here too, James Dean, Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, and later Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson (Easy Rider), and by association, Sonny Barger. Adding in the idea that perhaps by 3rd or 5th grade a kid has decided whether or not he or she identifies with current heros, any kid not identifying with the current mainstream hero is going to look for alternatives. It is just a matter of which anti-hero the kid is going to settle on. The parent too is either the hero or the anti-hero, but even here the kid is still going to form a self concept. Many parents who ARE paying attention find themselves wondering why their kids picked a hero or anti-hero that is completely at odds with the family mentality. It would seem to me that having a family mentality or not would only play a small role in how the child chooses a role model that fits. Mainstream media seems to be the pervailing force in producing the models. Today it is just television and movies and music, before these we still had the cartoon and comic book, and even the bible had all kinds of heros and anti-heros to pick from. One doesn't need parents to find plenty of examples in human life around oneself, or in the mainstream culture, to decide who one wants to be. Only very recently in human history has anyone ever thought of becoming an individual. And, there isn't anyplace where being an individual is entirely possible.

Ehud Blade said...

Carie L. Novitzke, PhD said...

"...on the analogy with the Baby Boomer outlaw culture .. media role models .. James Dean, Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, and later Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson (Easy Rider).."

Let's look for correlated data linking Kurt Cobain to increased membership in Charlton Heston's NRA, or linking Jacques Derrida's essays on violence as the foundation of law to suicides by law professors (or, maybe death-by-billable hours).

I'da gone with Nichoslon in "Cuckoo's Nest," and analogized the "voluntaries" in the mental ward (see the movie) to black youth voluntarily doing "cool-pose culture."

You're right. White youth (black youth?) could follow Dean. But, most of them don't have Porsche Spiders.

While socio-stats freaks list values to the variables, "cool-pose culture" being one, the assumption to the article was that conviction (belief, ideas) carries weight in behavior. I'd like to see the weighted studies, conviction among all other factors.

Don said...

I'm glad to learn the name for this phenomenon. I've seen it many times in people I know. For example, there's a young man, a recent college graduate, at my company. He is not black, but every one of his heroes is a young, rich, black athlete. The more celebrity and/or notoriety, the better: Terrell Owens, Kobe Bryant, Vince Young, Barry Bonds. Although he is of Indian descent, his favorite golfer is not Vijay Singh (from Fiji, but ethnically Indian); it is Tiger Woods, who is young, rich, cool, and black. Years ago I first heard the term "wannabe", referring to white kids who wanted to emulate the dress, speech, and culture of black kids. The Cool Pose Culture, and its non-black admirers/emulators, continues this disturbing trend.

rale talk said...

why does everything black people do have to be some kind of socio-economic study for white people?

why dont you do a report on why dysfunction in the white community is never reported?

Why so many young and underage white kids are ruining thier skin with ugly sleeve tattoos and stretched earlobes?

Why peadophilia is at such a high rate in the white community?


LOL cool pose culture haha what a joke.

what about white shoe-gaze culture and inverted feet?

write a 30 page dissertation on that SMH

Anthony said...

if you don't know what systematic oppression or institutional racism you should read about it. the fact remains that while american society says all these things about these youth none of any of you would go to where they live and see for your self what we have created in american society. we are ultimately responsible and so such should the corporation be held accountable, since they have historically used anti- slave laws to establish their legal power, and who are we talking about, black america.

stymie said...

Here's why...

Because, in terms of the metrics being discussed (incarceration rates, graduation rates, etc.) black males jump way off the scale. White males might dominate in the field of pedophilia, but -- as a macro affect or trend -- pedophila is has a very limited impact on society; huge percentages of black males failing to graduate has a far greater affect. That's why.

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rale talk said...
why does everything black people do have to be some kind of socio-economic study for white people?

why dont you do a report on why dysfunction in the white community is never reported?

Why so many young and underage white kids are ruining thier skin with ugly sleeve tattoos and stretched earlobes?

Why peadophilia is at such a high rate in the white community?


LOL cool pose culture haha what a joke.

what about white shoe-gaze culture and inverted feet?

write a 30 page dissertation on that SMH

Shawn Murry said...

It is more to it than young men wanting to be cool. There is a bigger thing called media persuasion. As an educator I see it across all socioeconomic backgrounds and Race.

Shawn Murry said...

I have a blog about some of these other reasons www.shawnmurry.blogspot.com