Dexter Thomas, Guardian, April 14, 2015
Obama seems to be the King Midas of political cool. Any topic he touches–whether it’s climate change, rap music, or health care–suddenly becomes hip. Even when he mixes up Star Wars and Star Trek, or makes an awkward attempt at greeting people in Jamaican patois, America is constantly giving him cool points.
But this will never happen for Rand Paul (should he by some strange turn of events be elected), or most other Republicans. The right wing are scrambling to figure out how to win over the youth–a group that is, more than ever, obsessed with coolness. The key to reaching this group might very well be to be cool; to beat Obama at his own game. But they won’t succeed. This is because they’re white–and white people are not as cool as black people.
Pity the conservatives: they will never win the cool war. Being cool is always going to mean reaching curiously towards something foreign and, as long as the right wing is focused on pushing the foreign away–whether that be immigrants, gay people, Muslims, women, or especially blacks–it will never be cool.
To be cool, you need to be part of a minority–not one so minor that it is invisible, but one that is easy for a lay person to imagine and understand. Also, it’s not enough that you reject the majority–it needs to reject you first.
In the United States, the most visible and easily understandable population of rejects is black people. This is why the bleeding edge of cool is always black (which is apt, because black people have been bleeding for centuries). When other minorities enter white spaces, reactions range from polite disinterest to hostility (when California’s first Muslim judge was appointed this year, people called him the “Jihadist Judge”). But when black people enter a white space, they’re cool by default. This is because for black people, even squares like Obama, being cool is completely effortless. Sometimes, it’s even unwanted.
If you’ve ever been the only black person at a party, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Once the music comes on, all eyes are on you. You might have two broken left feet and a bad back, but in that moment, every white face turns to you, waiting for you channel the spirits of Michael Jackson, James Brown, and Bobby Shmurda into a dazzling display of exotic dancing majesty. You could do jumping jacks at this point and people will copy you, in hopes of absorbing some of your coolness. You’re automatically hip, even if you don’t want to be.
But this isn’t me gloating. The fact that blacks are still cool by default is probably a sign that the white American market still needs black coolness, in order to fill some ambiguous hole in its heart. The week that Walter Scott was shot in South Carolina and America muttered a collective sigh of annoyance at the prospect of yet another month of black-related news coverage, the Billboard Top 10 was dominated by black artists. The officer who shot him was listening to a hybrid rap/blues song when he pulled Scott over. This should be no surprise. We hold our blacks close in our ears, and push them away in our hearts.
There may come a day when the black monopoly ends, and white people have an equal shot at being cool. That will be the day that black people cease to be exotic, because white America will view black America as part of the same America, instead of just a source for sports highlights, mp3s, and “on fleek” tweets from Denny’s. It will also be the day that we stop searching for reasons why black children deserve to die. In other words, it will be the day that racism ends.
On that day, I will no longer be automatically hip at parties.
I’d be cool with that, though.