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

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.


Awesome, enligtening book! Especially the chapter entitled "it's a dick thing".


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!!!!

Lisa Jahn

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

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.


Anything from bell hooks is amazing. A favorite characteristic of hooks is that she speaks to the point and sugar coats nothing!

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.


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.


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


I was in love with it, but then I fell progressively further out of love with it.Chapter 7 depends entirely on the conservative, heterosexist defense of the heterosexual couple as necessary for healthy childrearing (!); the appeals to dated pop authorities like John Bradshaw are unconvincing; and the generic, diffuse spirituality advocated for loses all punch in the face of hooks' optimistic vision: People are intrinsically good, and the world is just: bad people suffer for their misdeeds, even if only psychologically or in the form of a metaphysical “soul murder.”On the other hand, what hooks gets right, she gets EXCEPTIONALLY right. Above all, and what makes this book worth reading, however many its flaws: bell hooks shouts what so few so-called feminist voices are willing to acknowledge: Patriarchy destroys men, full stop. She cites Kay Hagan: “[Anti-sexist men] perceive the value of a feminist practice for themselves and they advocate it not because it’s politically correct, or because they want women to like them, or even because they want women to have equality, but because they understand that male privilege prevents them not only from becoming whole, authentic human beings but also from knowing the truth about the world.” (137) This is the stuff that deserves to be memorized.To give a few more highlights: see her critique of hiphop's strictly imaginary claims to subversive potential; the recognition that the violence of militant black power advocates directly served the interests of the white supremacist state (and in any case “black male rage is usually a sign of reactive powerlessness” (90), a profoundly Nietzschean observation); the condemnation of the claims for superiority over white masculinity as being itself patriarchal; the recognition that, in psychoanalytic terms, white men do NOT possess the phallus (psychological wholeness); the terrifying need to give up what we have in order to finally achieve health (“they fear that if they give up what little 'power' they may have in the existing system they will have nothing” (130)), the necessity of patriarchal females for the functioning of patriarchy, that anti-patriarchal men “can be somewhat disturbing to be around” (!) (137), all of this, all of this, all of this is a damned god-send in a leftist discourse sunk into a confusion of identities with persons. Hooks also has the rare gift of being able to take the contradictions of a person or movement without complaint: she re-claims the anti-capitalist critique of black power, acknowledges MLK's anti-communism and still cites his moral authority, but without in either case needing to either morally write-off or lionize a person or a discourse. She can sift out the good from the bad without the kind of totalizing either-or functioning of today's so-called “social justice”: Whether a person or a discourse is good or bad is besides the point; she has a rare knack for salvaging what can still be used.There's plenty of meat on this bone, though it needs a lot of salt.


An interesting perspective on the social plight of African American men.

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.

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.

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