We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity

ISBN: 0415969271
ISBN 13: 9780415969277
By: Bell Hooks

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About this book

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?

Reader's Thoughts


This is an amazing book. bell hooks from Hopkinsville, Kentucky is a prolific author of book of social commentary. This is one to ponder late at night. She envisions a new paradigm for masculinity that is not based on a patriarchy. She argues that we, black men, need a model of masculinity that transcends the white, western patriarchy and the disengaged one of the slave. There is more to being a man than money and power which the current capitalist system denies most black men, anyway. Also, black men and women have to find a new way to relate to each other, a way that moves beyond stereotypes, co-dependence, and exploitation.This is a book that must be swallowed whole and slowly digested.


This book obliterated any stereotypes I may have associated bell hooks with. It will do the same for other pessimists out there. As far as contemporary social theory goes, this book was clear and thought-provoking. I was most inspired by the author's call to WRITE, WRITE, WRITE!!!!


Very interesting read; I love bell hooks for always offering perspectives which many academics neglect in normative mainstream debates, and I am grateful that she challenges me with her ideas. The passage toward the end of the book where she delineates a more holistic, nurturing and fulfilling masculinity from which Blues arose and the embrace of patriarchal masculinity as embodied in contemporary hip hop or rap music and culture was very interesting, and provides for me at least the foundation and impetus to properly vocalize my own grievances with the misogyny inherent in rap music and culture.However - and maybe this is the straight-laced university student in me speaking - it seemed at times as though she would be jumping from an issue to a conclusion with very little established connection between the two. Often examples or evidence are anecdotal, picked up from the same pool of writers (which perhaps speaks to the unfortunate dearth of evidence or writing on black masculinity or racial politics from a black male's stance.) Again, while I found it to be rewarding and intriguing, it all felt very preliminary.Regardless, a fascinating and important read.

Cyndi Lu

this book gives insight into the way black boys are raised to see themselves through society's eyes. I've the idea of healing through awakening the imagination and allowing black boys and men to have a 're-vision' of their souls. sometimes, though, her arguments are weak and based too much on anecdotal evidence.


Hooks explores why American culture “does not love black males” (Hooks, xi). According to Hooks, “Black males in the culture of the imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy are feared but they are not loved.” Hooks argues that the historic dehumanization and devaluation of African-American men resulted in devastating their individual and collective self-esteem, confining and containing their emotional, social, and spiritual progression. Approaching her analysis of black masculinity from a feminist perspective, Hooks insists that dominant culture’s notion of patriarchal masculinity serves as a menace to black community growth and solidarity, hindering progress in the fight against oppression. We Real Cool is a nurturing but tough love letter from the author to her community, providing solutions to questions other books on the subject (mostly written by conservative black men) have left unanswered.Hooks focuses on solving problems instead of communicating negative messages without solutions. Hooks explores the history of the systems that perpetuate violence, sexism, unhealthy consumerism, and barriers to education in the black community throughout the book. Providing readers with an academic theoretical framework, some colloquial language and pop cultural references, Hook’s book resonates with the community she aims to impact politically as well as scholars. Noting the absence of books that provide meaningful social critique and opportunities for real introspection and empowerment for black men, Hooks urges African-American men to follow the self-reflective and empowering formula black feminists used to organize, spread the word among themselves, and heal in order to literally and figuratively release themselves from patriarchal prison. Even though her approach is critical, she draws upon the strengths of black men in her personal life and the community at large, exploring the positive possibilities and opportunities that could occur with the abolition of patriarchal masculinity in the African-American community. In ten well-organized chapters discussing various representations of black masculinity, Hooks considers black masculinity in relation to slavery, “gangsta” culture, public education, violence, sexuality, anger, parenting, and love relationships. Careful not to speak for black men directly, Hooks explains that her political goal is to educate black men about the impact of patriarchy on black society, in hopes that more black men will cease believing that their survival depends on their right to fulfill patriarchal roles. Hooks practices what she preaches, taking the role of leadership she asks from the men she aims to reach. .Hooks maintains that black men will ascend from the negative space white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy reserved for them, by rejecting sexist and oppressive religious norms. In We Real Cool, Hooks does not promise to solve the problems caused by the xenophobia, hate, and sexual objectification black men experience. Alternatively, Hooks puts theory into nurturing practice, offering a proactive and therapeutic approach to conquering racial and gender inequality by promoting messages of self-love, gender equality, community building, and the abolition of religious fanaticism. With We Real Cool, Hooks provides the foundations for healing black men and society as a whole, providing a holistic but effective method for confronting systems of domination with love and solidarity.


I love bell hooks. She is challenging and I may not necessarily agree with all of her arguments, but they provided a perspective that I would not normally consider. Insightful and challenging, it's not hard to see why hooks is a leading theorist in academics today.

Isaac Holloway

an excellent text describing the various ways where the lived existence of black men and patriarchy intersect hampering the quest for freedom liberation healing love and partnership.


The information was good and well supported, however I the delivery was poor to me. I thought she did a disservice to herself and the reader by not discussing homosexuality in the context of black male masculinity. Especially since black homophobic culture lends itself to the violence and hypermasculinty that Hooks often discussed. It was not an engaging read but still a decent presentation of her thoughts. I'd be interested in reading Hooks' other books.


A really interesting collection of essays.When she started introducing the ideas of role-models and the lack there-of for African-Americans I was a little confused. She brought in the realm of music as an area in which black men could express themselves fully. Where they could be honest with their feelings, emotions and the expression of pain and weakness; especially using the idea that this was a positive aspect of the blues (and jazz, referencing Coltrane), but is totally lacking in hip-hop music. I found it odd that she completely ignores soul music - an almost totally African-American music, linked strongly with the civil rights movement - that typically expresses love and tenderness, even if it can often be based within patriarchal norms.Equally noticeable was the total lack of recognition for any socially-conscious hip-hop music, which has been developing as a movement outside of the mainstream for a decade or more. The following almost reads like a breakdown of several of hooks' essays:Talib Kweli lyrics from 'Joy' (2002)"I do it for the seeds y'all, in they formative years when they need y'allwe gotta believe, in what we conceive y'all, it's deep y'allI give them the truth, so they approach the situation, with ammunitionI keep nothing away, they hear everything, cause they know how to listenTeach them the game, so they know they position, so they can growand make decisions, that change the world, and break old traditionThey put kids in jail, for a life they ain't even get to startthat's murder too, and it's breaking my heart, it's breaking our nation apartWe gave the youth all the anger, it's justwe ain't taught them, how to express it, and so it's dangerousYou can't talk to themUnless your language is relating to what they going throughso busy ignoring them, you can't see what they showing youAnd you wonder, why we called baby-daddy's and baby-momma'swhen we grow up, we can't act like adult mothers and fathers, yoI'm so blessed to have a boy and a girl, everyday they bring joy to my world"Considering the book was published in 2004, there were several bands and musicians working within hip-hop producing socially conscious anti-sexist, anti-violent music (Michael Franti, Jurassic 5, Ozomatli, Mos Def, Black Star... etc)Lastly, I'm aware as a middle-class English white male - ticking off almost every box in her imperialist white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy - that I'm probably not really the intended audience for this work, but found most of the problems she introduces as black problems were my own growing up in a working-class town with a depressive-father.As an adolescent, my personal heroes were Bruce Lee and Jimi Hendrix, neither of whom was white. I almost totally rejected the Beatles and John Lennon, who were both brought up within three miles of my home. Is it not possible that young African-American men could look beyond race boundaries to look for their heroes?


bell hooks often writes so passionately that I am perpetually on the verge of tears when I read her work - and now, dissecting masculinity through the lens of black men, hooks insightfully lays bare all the B.S., and gets to the heart of the problem.This is a sad book, dripped in lamentation, with brief excursions into the realm of hope. hooks speaks to a subject often shied away from and encourages love and vulnerability to come forth, not that these are expressions of weakness but rather, that they allow for a larger extent of our humanity to unfold, especially for black men living under white-patriarchy.


3.5 stars - She explains how the introduction of white male patriarchy was extremely damaging to African men brought to America in shackles because they were bombarded by the image of men taking financial care of their families, while being members of a society that would not allow them to due so because of their status as slaves. With the abolition of slavery, came the black codes, KKK, segregation, and other discriminatory practices that... (full review at http://zoratonimaya.tumblr.com/post/2...)

Donovon Ceaser

I learned a lot about how black men are treated in America, and how we need to heal ourselves from all the destructive messages, and pressures.


anything written by bell hoooks is worth the investment of your time--

Michael Strode

There are times when one enters into a text blindly knowing not what to expect. One sets no expectations that their present opinions will be confirmed or refuted. They simply are on a journey and reaching out for other input about the direction of their walk. I came to locate this text at while browsing the Chicago Public Library and am delighted that I chose to add it to my present reading list. She calls it "radical black masculinity" though by the time you reach the end of the text you realize that she is seeking a certain return of a black masculinity that we once held which is now lost to many of us.Upon reading such chapters as "Gangsta Culture" and "Schooling Black Males", I saw glimmers and glimpses of my formative years pass by. I recall one instance where I was in the car with my mother and I decided to play the tape in my Walkman which was by a group called the Luniz and an album titled "Operation Stackola". In the particular song I played, "Put The Lead On Ya", a rapper named Dru Down utters the words "and if you're a woman / don't think i still won't put the lead on ya / bitchhhh". My mother without pause snatched the tape out of the deck and tossed it from the car window. Why did I think this sort of material was acceptable to play either for my mother's ears or my own? Why was I obsessed with emulating the sexual lothario and street combativeness that I saw emanating from my brother's daily existence? How did I come from the place where I previously lived to the ground where I now stand? I credit the women.Whether it was my mother snatching that tape from the car and clearly showing me that certain language and actions were entirely unacceptable or my daughter now who cautions me to both censor myself until the practice becomes a lifestyle and also to stop trying to shield her in ways that might make her consider patriarchy and paternalism the manner all men should exhibit in her future. There are many other women in between who have shown me how "quaint" some of my assumptions were and helped to groom and grow me forward. For their presence I am forever grateful.After my daughter was born, I was known to say that it was probably a good thing that I didn't have a son because I would not know how to teach him how to be a man as I perceived the world to see them. I don't play the usual sports or watch them. I enjoy the kitchen and cooking and poetry. Had I a son, he might suffer a terrible time during his schooling years subscribing to some the ways I live at present, but I am wholly aware of what a fool's errand that statement was now. There are many ways to be cool as hooks' offers to us now and they don't have to be rooted in the dying patriarchy of the past, but a brilliant, bold, and creative manhood of the future. One that subscribes to the notion that men mustn't always be stoic, they can be open and vulnerable and self aware. They can say the things amongst friends that others have chosen not to say because of masculine groupthink and they can find more innovative ways to be cool that don't involve sexual exploits, physical combat and domination, or monetary gain. We too cool to be caged by white supremacy. In other words, we off that.


This is easily the most in-depth analysis on the state of the black man in society I've ever read. I only wish she hadn't so quickly passed over the subject of black male homosexuality.

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