Elided Citizens of These Yet to be United States

“Now they were calling the kind of music they were playing ‘cool jazz.’ I guess it was supposed to be some kind of alternative to bebop, or black music, or ‘hot jazz,’ which in white people’s minds, meant black. But it was the same old story, black shit was being ripped off all over again.” Miles Davis, Miles: the autobiography (1989)

“Blacks have never been, and are not now, really considered to be citizens here.” James Baldwin, The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985)

In a stunning revelation of how much New America is just like Old America, the Los Angeles Times has published a “Roll Call of Cool” showing seven whites, zero anyone else. (March 9, 2014, page E2)

The Times gives a mention to Miles Davis, but no black people are cool enough to be included in the pictures, selected from a National Portrait Gallery exhibit called “American Cool.” Presumably the Smithsonian has better sense than to exclude African-Americans as the primary source of the “cool” concept.

Gloria Naylor says “cool” started with African drums. Baldwin describes it as a form of grace under pressure, specifically, the risk of living under the constant threat of humiliation and homicide.

The contribution of California casual to the concept of “cool” should not be overrated. Whites should be very careful in their attempts to overtake and define “cool” for their own purposes, without remembering where it came from. This is no small thing. The whitening of the good, while consigning blackness to danger and inferiority, has firm roots in slavery and contributes to the death of young men such as Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis.

Black people have been here since 1513. They have made great contributions to our language and culture. They have given us our music, as Du Bois knew very well. Exclusion is inexcusable, and above all, just Not Cool.

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