Cool Pose

FERGUSON, MO - SEPTEMBER 10: A sign welcomes visitors to the city on September 10, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. The suburban St. Louis city is still recovering from violent protests that erupted after teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson about a month ago. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images) On Sunday, August 9, 2015, the anniversary of Mike Brown’s killing was marred by a shooting in Ferguson, MO.  A peaceful protest turned violent overshadowing its purpose and meaning.  Those that are a part of the #BlackLivesMatter movement as well as those watching from the sidelines are left questioning this reaction.  This has fueled the argument that we also need to focus on the black on black violence that continues to plaque large urban areas in the United States and explanations of this behavior.

Black males are six times more likely to die by violence in comparison to white males.  For black males aged 15-24 years old, homicide is the number one cause of death.  The legacies of slavery, oppression, and discrimination have forced the Black male to adapt and reinvent himself and the result has been the cool pose. The cool pose is the creation of an alternate persona that shields black males against the constant barrage of racial discrimination in American society.  The cool pose has diametrically opposed effects.  On the one hand, it raises his self-esteem and on the other it further marginalizes him and may even reinforce negative stereotypes because it is outside the norm and is viewed as unacceptable. As such, the spotlight is on this group and garnishes the attention of criminal justice authorities.

Black males have developed the cool pose as a defense mechanism to everyday struggles in the inner-city.  There is a huge gap between the desired status of the American Dream and the means to achieve that station in life.  Due to the history of oppression, black males feel powerless.  The cool pose is a rejection of the definitions imposed upon them by the dominant culture through a creation of a new, individual identity.  This identity is a play on masculinity and was formed as a sense of survival (Majors & Billson, 1992).

The cool pose is black masculinity personified and involves role-playing based on urban conventions of dress, speech, and behavior.  Actors control interactions with an air that observers may view as arrogance but is grounded in honor and dignity. This stance is more prevalent among disadvantaged males and is a cultural, physical, and social detachment from everyday negative life.  The cool pose, an external projection, belies the internal pain and struggle of the actor playing cool.

The cool pose has positive effects on the black male psyche as it gives them a sense of pride, value, and personal control over their own lives.  The cool pose is a honed craft for the black male which boosts his confidence.  Conversely, the cool pose also has negative effects, some which explain the violence we see played out night after night on the news.  There is a lot of posturing between males on the street who will fight to the death to protect their image as respect is a form of currency in inner-city communities.  With so much lacking in other areas of their lives, respect is all they have and as such they go to great lengths to protect it.  One must be prepared to take a life or give up their own life to save face and remain ‘cool.’

Despite the positive effect the cool pose may have on black male self-esteem, it has increased the involvement in damaging behaviors.  Thus, the race-crime connection is perpetuated through destructive behavior maintaining high rates of violence among young black males.  Perhaps it is time to redefine this posture by holding onto that which is positive and rejecting the negative qualities that are currently sustaining the cultural, economic, and social blight.  Remold the mask, change the posture, and save the community.

Be safe,

L.J. Follow me on Twitter: @CrimeDoc1213

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Eligon, J. and Smith, M. (2015, August 10).  Emergency declared in Ferguson after shooting.  The New York Times. Retrieved from

Majors, R. and Billson, J. (1992).  Cool pose: The dilemmas of black manhood in America. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Samuel, L. (2009). “Cool pose.”  In, H. Taylor and S. Gabbidon (Eds) Encyclopedia of Race and Crime.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.