Over the weekend, you might have seen people online talking about "The Cool Zone." What is this zone, and why are we living in it right now? Well, a lot of it has to do with the unique combination of terrible things happening that are intersecting right now.
The phrase "The Cool Zone," comes from this tweet, from former Bernie Sanders volunteer Sean Moorhead.
At the time, the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout seemed like one of the biggest crises this country had ever faced. We had not yet envisioned that a widespread, international protest against police brutality and utter failure by the Democratic party would occur simultaneously during the ongoing pandemic. When you try to hold all that in your head, you start to understand The Cool Zone. It's where everything seems possible, because every day we are faced with new horrors as well as the amplification of long-running systemic failure and inequality.
The Cool Zone is usually defined by people on Twitter as a period in history that's super cool to read about, but much less cool to live through. This definition is usually attributed to Matt Christman from the leftist podcast Chapo Trap House. Looking back on what parts of history I like to read about, it makes sense. Reading about the long, protracted war in Vietnam is fascinating, for instance, but I do not wish to live through any part of the Vietnam War. Nor do I wish to live in Vichy France, or be part of the original Black Panthers movement, or to wage a revolution against the King of France, or be tossed in jail for a lunch counter sit-in like my father was in Selma. I counted myself lucky to be able to read about resistance leaders who took stands without being forced to make such a stand myself. Except, well, now I am, as I march in the streets with thousands of others all across New York City and the country.
Protests began in Minneapolis last Monday, and by Friday had spread to dozens of other cities to stand in solidarity, and protest their own racist police forces. Since then Twitter users have clamored to declare that we are officially in The Cool Zone.
There's been a clash of ideologies when it comes to jokes like this. On the one hand, they're very funny. On the other, activists and organizers want people to focus on what this uprising is about: Black people, their humanity, and the racist violence enacted upon them. As much as a period of political upheaval is what this country clearly needs—when the president of the United States threatens to send the military to quell protests, we don't have any other choice—we need to follow the leads of the people affected. For their sake, we can't romanticize The Cool Zone. For every example of incredible activism in the face of an out-of-control police force, there are also protesters being disappeared in Chicago, or NYPD officers driving their cars into crowds.
At the same time, thinking about what I am living through as The Cool Zone is the only way I can make sense of it. Most of the time in America, I am resigned to the way things are. I spent many years resigned to the fact that I am treated differently by the police from my white peers. I have always played by our society's racist rules, knowing that doing all the right things will not necessarily keep me or my future children from being killed by police anyway. In The Cool Zone, that's no longer a certainty. Another way to define The Cool Zone is as a place in human history when anything feels possible. Empires toppled during other historical Cool Zones. Kings are beheaded in The Cool Zone. In The Cool Zone, marginalized groups are given a voice, and fascism can be beaten back.
Last night, as I walked down Fulton with thousands of other protesters, watching the sun set on Brooklyn, dozens of people leaned out their window to cheer for us. I thought to myself fleetingly, my heart a butterfly, "this must have been what my father felt like when he marched." The Cool Zone isn't exclusively a place of horrors. In The Cool Zone, we can also rediscover hope.