I went to a high school that was relatively small. The graduating class of 2000 at George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science (E&S for short) consisted of roughly 200 people. Everyone knew who everyone else was, in name at least.
Like any high school, E&S had an in-group of “cool kids” who were, I guess what you call the social elite, or at elite as you can get in a run-down converted elementary school building in the middle of North Philadelphia. (That photo is me standing in the hallway of the newly renovated E&S in the summer of 2016).
I remember sitting in homeroom one day my junior or senior year (homeroom occurred after our first & second-period classes) of high school, and hearing an in-group girl sharing a personal problem with a friend.
“In my math class, it’s only me, __________ (in-group person), and _________ (in-group person) — that’s it. The rest is all corny people.”
I was in that math class with her. And our homeroom seats were next to each other; I’m sure she knew that I could hear everything she was saying. Safe to say, I was not part of the in-group.
I laughed to myself remembering and writing that story. Around ten years ago, when I was still actively using Facebook, I was friended with almost everyone from my high school graduating class, including this particular female. I’d estimate that she’d gained about 45 pounds since graduation.
I know her name but I’m leaving it out, as this post is not about her. It’s about the in-group — not the one at E&S, or the group at your high school (I’m sure there was one) — but in-groups everywhere.
See, if you weren’t part of the in-group, nothing you did could ever be cool. Once in English class, we were instructed to form 4-person groups and had to make some sort of presentation. Four guys in that class — not in-group kids, much closer to nerds — decided to do a Jerry Springer-type skit where guests attacked each other, a security guard had to break things up and the host egged on the altercations. It was funny. I laughed a lot. The handful of cool kids in the class, a couple of them basketball team teammates of mine, screwed up their faces, unable to acknowledge or accept anything from anyone who wasn’t in the in-group. It was like an unspoken code.
I wrote about Kanye last week and how many people had jumped to attack his positive statements about Donald Trump, #MAGA, and “free thought.” One of the takeaways from that post was to not jump to conclusions when everybody else is doing exactly that; to think on things before you blurt out opinions. Well, there’s a writer who followed that advice (though I’m pretty sure he didn’t get it from me).
Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote an intelligently stated, grab-the-dictionary long form article bashing Kanye this week (20 minute read). The headline to this article, which I encourage you to read, says, “I’m Not Black, I’m Kanye,” a play on the opening lyric from Jay-Z’s The Life of OJ off Jay’s last album.
I hadn’t even read the article yet, and I could see where Ta-Nehisi was going. This was a Kanye takedown piece.
This line, I’m not black… was an actual quote that OJ Simpson made back in his day, before the murder trial and all (if you haven’t watched the 5-part ESPN OJ Simpson documentary Made In America, make it your business to see it. I’m not a TV/movie person, and loved it). OJ seemingly cared a lot about fitting into the mainstream, and perhaps considered separating from his blackness a necessity for doing so. I don’t know the context of the quote, but I do know he spoke the words.
In his article, Ta-Nehisi draws a parallel between Kanye and Michael Jackson, a Black man whom Coates believes was dying to be White (many Black people agree with the MJ assertion, having judged from Michael’s skin bleaching and nose-jobbing over the years).
Coates alleges that Kanye is lost and trying to be White also, and presents his evidence: Kanye admitting on TMZ to getting liposuction, the same procedure that led to his mother Donda West’s death; Kanye’s marriage to Kim Kardashian and subsequent residency in Calabasas, far removed from the bleakness of his native Chicago; Kanye’s support and positive tweets re Trump, when there’s so much evidence, the author affirms, that Trump is staunchly anti-minority.
I’m not here to argue Coates’ points. He’s a full-time writer who researches his topics thoroughly; where Kanye is operating in the Grey area of free thought, Coates combats Ye with black and white (pardon the pun) facts, support by hyperlinks. You can read the article yourself and form your own opinions.
What Coates presents in his article isn’t a new perspective. I mean, just last week, #MuteKanye was trending on twitter after the slavery clip made its rounds. My sister, a college professor who’s as woke as it gets, has been railing against Kanye as an attention whore for just as long as he’s been back tweeting.
In the middle of his piece, Coates shares how, in 2015, a book he authored blew up and made him a mini-celebrity. He shares how his new fame, even on a small scale, had changed his life and how he wasn’t just a regular-guy journalist anymore. He talked about how he had unknowingly and unwillingly become one of the cool kids.
I don’t watch or read the news; I don’t follow any news companies on social media. When I want to know what’s going on, I go to the National trending topics on the twitter homepage and tap on any that catch my eye.
Ta-Nehisi Coates was trending Monday morning.
I browsed the tweets hashtagging Coates and saw overwhelming praise from all the “smart” people who loved the eloquent and intellectual way Coates had undressed Kanye in 5,000 words. That’ll show him to go against our opinion!
Coates said the exact same things everyone else has been saying. The difference is, Coates is the best writer amongst the cool kids, with the largest vocabulary. The cool kids of social media are scoring this one an overwhelming victory.
For Your Game
I never wanted to be in the cool kids group in high school, for a few reasons.
- That unspoken code from my English class. Once someone is deemed “not cool,” any acknowledgement of this person, especially in a good way, was against the rules. No one is always-good or always-bad. No is always right or wrong. I can not be a fan of a person, yet still agree with something they’ve said; I agree with some points Mr. Coates made in his article, for example, while I don’t like the overall idea behind it. I’ve never subscribed to this way of all-or-nothing thinking when it comes to people.
- Blanket acceptance or demonization. Ta-Nehisi was speaking at a college sometime last year when a white student asked him why it was so wrong for white people to use the word nigga, even when singing a song or even when their Black friends freely used the word around them. His answer was masterful. I haven’t yet read his book, but I can tell that the guy is a great writer just by listening to the way he speaks (Note: If you can’t bear listening to a person talk, you’ll never want to read their writing — unless they hire a really good co-author). I didn’t like Ta-Nahesi’s angle on Kanye: I Disagree with your co-signing of Trump, so I’ll accuse you of wanting to be White. You’re no longer one of us. He’s demonized Kanye — a classic cool kid tactic — and that’s not cool. What’s sad is that Coates is such a good writer that many of his fans and readers wouldn’t dare question his angles or tactics — to many, he seems so smart that he can’t possibly be mistaken.
- It’s impossible for a group of people, whether it’s a group of two or forty, to all have the same opinion, all the time. How can all twenty of you agree on everything? It’s not real. There’s a lot of faking going on in that group, and it’s based on fear: Fear of having to stand alone on your own beliefs and ideas. That’s scary for many people. Not for Kanye, though.
You went to, or are in, high school — what did you see in the cool kids group (whether you were in it or not)? Did the characterizations I noted apply in your experience? Were you ever guilty of any of these? Reply and share with me.