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


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.

Stephen Yates

bell hooks is hard to get through at first, as she immediately declares her perspective on 'white supremacist imperialist patriarchy' - unfortunately, a number of her arguments take a hard line on racism without offering positive solutions for those beyond African-Americans. Where the book shines is in is holistic view of black men - issues are raised from generational sin and a lack of emotional development to real effects of racism to black-on-black violence. Interesting how many of her recommendations line up with Christianity - though she also makes it a point to forward a queer-feminist perspective of cultural studies.


Being white, I don't feel equipped to offer any numerical rating on a book about black life and culture. But I'm glad I read this book and I will tell you a bit about what I learned.In "We Real Cool" hooks describes "a crisis in the black male spirit in our nation", specifically the widespread adoption of definitions of patriarchal manhood and masculinity that are damaging black men from childhood on. First she explores some key influences in current (2004) black culture. I was most moved, and overwhelmed really, to examine the myriad destructive forces bearing down on the outer and inner lives of young black boys of the most recent generations, from every direction and from a very early age. I was also startled to realize how lacking my understanding of intersectionality is in some respects; for example, hooks takes some time to unpack the harmful effects of white sexism on black men specifically, and there is impact far beyond what I realized.The author describes too how black cultural trends changed during and after the civil rights movement, and chronicles the various influences of imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchal thinking as they infiltrate further and further into the collective psyche of black men and black women. hooks sees less and less forces of healing in black culture since the days of the civil rights movement, and finds patriarchal patterns of domination taking over ideas of black masculinity more and more over time, with few leaders offering resistance to these patterns.She also names what she sees as the way forward. And while she very carefully unpacks the cultural damage that comes from structural racism, she also names the most immediate destructive forces - and the most immediate forces to address on an individual level - as those within the family. She names how structural racism and sexism have seeped into ideas of black parenting, and how these forces do damage within the home, creating hurt, shame and dysfunctional patterns that persist into adulthood. She names black male healers over the years and describes their strategies of resistance -- primarily focusing on self-awareness and willingness to be vulnerable. And she encourages black men to continue to find ways to resist imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchal forces, and build more and more life-giving ways to claim manhood.Just to mention a few characteristics of the book that could potentially be triggering or highly frustrating: hooks' approach here is entirely cisnormative and almost entirely heteronormative. The author also encourages staying connected to abusive parents to offer them and ourselves healing, and discourages distancing ourselves from abusive family members as an act that she believes cuts off healing. None of these were things I could get behind.


You, like many people (me, anyway), might be a little frightened of bell hooks, and understandably so. Hooks is going to yell at you. Well, okay, there I go enforcing racist, sexist stereotypes of strong black women: of course she's not actually going to yell, but she is also not going to go too gentle. Hooks is going to let you know straight up what the problem is, and part of that problem is you. She is going to call you and your imperialist white-supremacist capitalist sexist society on all of your shit, and she's likely going to get you feeling very uncomfortable about any number of of terrible things you probably didn't even realize you were doing or thinking. And she's going to do all this in a way that might be fairly unpleasant, in a form you're not that comfortable with. There won't be any footnotes (there's not even a BIBILIOGRAPHY, though hooks cites many works [is that even legal???!!!]), and hooks will often make sweeping statements and very provocative generalizations without citing any hard evidence for her point of view. You might get defensive and stop listening, or you might feel chastised and guilty and just accept that you're a privileged jerk, and stop really thinking critically about what she's saying and hoping if you just nod enthusiastically and say something nice about how smart and right she is about everything, that maybe she'll stop being mad at you and let you off the hook (hah hah hah, hilarious pun totally intended). This applies not only if you're a straight white man who runs an oil drilling project in Nigeria or develops luxury real estate in "upcoming neighborhoods": IMO no matter who you are and which boxes you happen to check on the census form, if you're paying attention hooks is eventually going to hit something pretty personal in you, and you're going to feel it. And also, she's going to carry on quite a bit about how screwed up things in the world are. Even if -- hell, especially if -- you've already noticed that, you might get a bit tired of hearing her repeat it.For all these reasons, if you read just half of what bell hooks is saying and then stop listening, it could be real tempting to throw up your hands and shout, "It's all such a mess! White supremacy! Patriarchy! Everyone's mad at me and things are so screwed up no matter what I do, so why even bother?! I'm gonna go Netflix a South Park and some really offensive interracial porn and just call it a day."And honestly, that'd be a shame, because the thing is that hooks is NOT just complaining about bad we all are and how screwed up everything is. Not at all! First she describes the problems, and then she provides clear and concrete solutions, and that, my friend, is a beautiful thing. Hooks -- especially, I think, more recent hooks -- is all about LOVE. Love! Didn't you get her memo? Love and healing and all that sweet and softy stuff! Not mean or scary or hopeless at all; in fact, quite the opposite! And for me, that's kind of what was most interesting about my own reaction to this book. Some of my Booksters already know that I'm a social worker, and that I also really hate reading about psychology and am not at all a self-helpy, therapyish type of girl, perhaps to a rather surprising degree given my chosen profession. So in way, it's sort of surprising to me that I wound up liking what's essentially a self-help book for black men. But I did mostly like it, probably because hooks arrives at the personal place that she does via a deeply political route, and also because as a white social worker who's worked predominantly with black male clients, I found her approach and conclusions really resonated with many of my own observations, and gave me some context I did not otherwise have.Being neither black nor male, I'm not in the best position either to support or refute many of hooks's assertions in this book. Basically, her starting point is this very common refrain we've all heard about the various crises of black men in America. Hooks is calling bullshit on the popular exhortation that many black men need to clean up their acts and become better patriarchs. Patriarchy isn't the solution, hooks says: it's the goddamn problem, and here's why, and here's what to do about it. And then she tells you! God, I love that. I am so, so sick of people complaining about things without coming up with any actual solutions, and hooks doesn't do that at ALL. Here's what needs to be done, she says, and here's how to do it. Step by step. Here. Like this. I love that!For me, the second half of this book was stronger than the first. Hooks articulates some very crucial points about black male sexuality, violence, and parenting that are perhaps not exactly revelatory but which I'd never been able to think about myself this coherently. I really do agree with a lot of what she says about how patriarchy hurts men, and how the intersectionality of race and gender creates very special problems for a lot of black men. It's not like I never noticed any of this stuff before -- I probably think about it more than most people -- but hooks gives a good framework that really ties the macro-level racism and patriarchy stuff to the personal experience and psychological impact of these forces on individuals. I often find this connection between the political and personal realms a bit of a black box, and its mechanism is one hooks seems to understand and explain better than most other writers. Maybe that's partly because of this same form that I find so frustrating: her observations usually aren't based in hard evidence, just in her personal experiences and observations, and things (often memoirs) that she's read. This book is mostly just someone who's thought very deeply about these questions sharing her insights, which is probably what makes reading hooks both especially difficult and so rewarding for me. It drives me crazy that there are no endnotes and no bibliography, but the way hooks so frankly and disarmingly reveals personal experiences from her family and romantic life is much of what makes her writing so truthful and real.In light of our recent Jack Kerouac/"cool" brawl on here, I must note that hooks does quote Kerouac directly (and non-judgmentally) in reference to "his fascination with black male cool." She also delineates her own theory of cool, which I personally found excellent:Once upon a time black male "cool" was defined by the ways in which black men confronted the hardships of life without allowing their spirits to be ravaged. They took the pain of it 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 by not adopting a false pose of cool by 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 (p. 147).

Miss Jones

It's hard out there for the Black man. Now I understand why my Black male friends all seem to have issues with self expression and communication. It's the gender role pedegogy in action.


Interesting at outset, and certainly a topic worth exploring, but I found it quite repetitive and wish that she would have expanded a bit further on concepts, rather than reverting back to the same points over and over again. I don't feel like I got more out of reading the whole book than I would have from reading the first third.


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.

Lisa Jahn

An interesting perspective on male masculinity and a strategy for radically changing the mold that black men must fit in.


I want to give this book a 4.5 and the reason I wouldn't give it a 5 is simply because I am currently yearning for something that does what this book does but for Black British people. It's something that I have constantly sought after but reading this book and being so enthralled by it really made me want to know where the Black British social commentary is. The chapter 'it's a dick thing' is by far the most important in the book, I feel. Simply because of the importance I think breaking the belief in sexual power and dominance is into contributing to alter the minds of people. I'm still trying to digest it all and will perhaps offer a better review/critique at some other point.


I read the book awhile ago.and thought it was a good book then and ,I think it's a good book now.


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


bell hooks blows my mind. . she keeps it real and challenges us all to rethink what we accept as natural.she's been a huge inspiration to me.


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.


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.


What I think I take away from this book, along with some things that happened to me around the time I read it, was that a lot goes into conferring what masculinity is, and its a long road ahead to get to a place where the balances of love, power, sex, and humanity are tipped correctly. I can only affect myself, though, and this book is a piece to use to figure out where I fit in and how I can get better, but most importantly, WHY.

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