“Cool Black Friend”
By Audrey Shipp
“Nothin’ from nothin’ leaves nothin’
You gotta have somethin’ if you wanna be with me”
(“Nothing from Nothing,” Billy Preston)
“You ain’t got to be rich to talk to Gucci, but you got to be part of something
Ain’t nobody play no pro ball or nothing? Ain’t nobody got nothing?”
(“At Least a M,” Gucci Mane, Mike Will Made It, Zaytoven)
At nine-percent of the city’s population and falling, living in multifarious communities throughout the City and County, Blacks in L.A. have numerous opportunities to be the “Cool Black Friend.” Opportunities abound on city streets, on school and college campuses, in the workplace, on Hollywood screens, in the music industry, and at the club. Possibilities are plentiful amongst a myriad of ethnic groups but especially amongst the power majority – White/Euro-Americans, whom as Michael Eric Dyson correctly notes, Blacks have been “reading” for centuries for our own survival–and amongst Latino communities of Mexican and Central American heritage who are the majority culture in once overwhelmingly-African-American South L.A. Having created the philosophy of cool on U.S. terrain, and having created that framework despite the nothingness of their former condition as chattel property, there is little wonder that Blacks are selected as the Cool Black Friend. An anomaly, perhaps, given that the deculturalization process for the enslaved involved the “uprooting from land” and targeted the elimination of language, cultural practices, and family ties. Yet Black history in America is a history of resistance and the creating of something out of nothing. Railroads invisible to the eye. Churches in a land that denied them literacy and the bible. Schools and universities before their freedom was even granted. Resistance to empire — an acumen for the precise where and when in political movements — that white Liberals cling to today.
In the nation at large, and following the era in which African Americans were forced to take up European musical instruments and play for their enslavers, the Cool Black Friend has existed in music since the era when Whites visited segregated black clubs in locations such as Harlem or Chicago’s South Side. For the visitor, these excursions were undoubtedly a positive if one had a black connection who could facilitate entrance to a musical venue. And today, if a non-black musician or singer performs a type of music with African rhythm or African-American intonations, it is advantageous to be chums with a black performer who can give you credence.
Sports abound with Cool Black Friends. We see this especially on university campuses with huge endowments and top tier sports programs where the student body may be comprised of few African Americans, but the sports team has a large number of Cool Black Friends leading the university to NCAA victory and its resultant monetary gains for coaches, administrators, and the like while excluding the players themselves. High five to the Cool Black Friend when he or she scores. Professional athletics are more of a mixed bag, depending on the sport. Cool Black Friends generate billions of dollars in stadium expansions, advertising, broadcasting, and ticket sales, especially during finals when corporations and the wealthy might buy out front row seats at market price for five thousand dollars (or resale $50K) to watch Black athletes take the spectators’ team to a win. High five on that. Yet some sports, such as football with its 70% black players, 25% black quarterbacks, or tennis which has consistently and sporadically (to use an oxymoron) had a lump in its throat regarding the assertive, pro-black, female athleticism of Venus and Serena Williams, or golf which tried to play the token card with Tiger Woods but had to do so only half-heartedly given that athlete’s ambivalence about his own political power, show no interest in white liberal chumminess.
In some cases, having sex with a Cool Black Friend can result in the creation of the longest-running reality show to date in the U.S. And even though the relationship that spurred that sex tape may sputter and fizzle, the Cool Black Friendship may be seen as a winning formula if the celebrity and her insecure entourage have no marketable talents of their own. Thus, the formula must be repeated and replicated because, of course, Black Americans have a history of creating something out of nothing. Aren’t these the people who following Nixon’s questioning their ability to survive another 500 years in the U.S., who after that same President’s statement in the 1970’s that they would only survive if the best ones were inbred, and amidst allegations in the 1980’s of CIA support for Central American counter-revolutionaries that led to dumping cocaine into the hood to fund the Contras and further destroy the black family while fueling the street-to-prison pipeline, turned the dregs of that historical experience into a musical genre? Trap Music aside, some black friends are simply an insinuation. By getting butt implants or pumping up one’s lips, it’s possible to allude to a Cool Black Friend 24/7, even when he/she may not be in one’s presence.
In the United States, which has raced with Russia in building approximately 15,000 nuclear weapons, the detonation of 100 of which would block the earth’s sunlight. The U.S. with the world’s largest number of incarcerated people, 40% of whom are Black, although Blacks are only 13% of the population. The U.S. which is 5% of the world’s population, yet uses 24% of its energy and is ranked the second largest carbon dioxide producer. A country comfortable with the notion that white wealth is 13 times that of Blacks and Latinos. Yet, living in the Empire, and aware of the disproportionate distortions of day to day life, when Blacks shout, “Black Lives Matter,” “All Lives Matter” is, at times, the rejoinder of Euro-Americans. With the latter, in this instance, showing scant knowledge of how call and response functions, the question to be pondered is where in the makeup of the Empire is the message “All Lives Matter” being communicated. Whites live in the Nation. Blacks, overwhelmingly, live in the Empire. Even though news networks, public relations firms, and advertisers have recently put their own spin on the word “matter,” so that mileage, insurance, and happiness “matter,” the original proclamation endures.
In these circumstances and during his two terms in office, perhaps President Obama was the ultimate Cool Black Friend. His presence allowed the United States to look progressive, as if it had overcome its racial differences, as if tolerance were the norm. He brought Black cool to the nation and the imperial Oval Office. In a geographical world region founded on settler colonialism, Obama inherited the continental — North, Central, and South American — desire of political leaders to have it both ways – to pillage while appearing benign. In the U.S., the liberal establishment clung to its belief in a palatable nation in which we could maintain our wasteful, consumerist lifestyle, hopefully come together as one, bridge the inherent conflict in maintaining a huge military budget, while supposedly being a beacon to the world of harmonious progress. In his role as President, Obama had to set the course for both the nation and the empire, but like many imperial leaders, he overlooked the plight of some of his colonial subjects – amongst others, Blacks themselves, who, as inhabitants of the Empire, were seeking a liberator and have scant need for Cool Black Friends because we are our own Cool Black Friends.
Writer and Teacher