Necessary Formalities

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[Jelani C.]

First things first: thanks go to Ta-Nehisi Coates for inviting me to add my 16 bars to this collaboration. He and I go back to the days of X-Clan and Africa medallions. We discarded the fragile canards of nationalism around the same time and are fellow members of the Society of Large Black Thinkers.

I'm freshly back from a semester in Russia where I taught African American history at Moscow University. I'll be pitching in on that experience, what I taught and learned there. In addition, I weigh in on politics, history and whatever random corner of the culture I find myself in at any given time.

There is a note on my printer that says "Writing is not as hard as picking cotton." I (mostly) believe that, and I once wrote a bio stating:

William Jelani Cobb: a mild-mannered professor who ingested radioactive watermelon seeds and developed superhuman capacities for sarcasm and irony. My alter-ego is a Race Man in a postracial world doing combat with the arrayed forces of silliness, absurdity and crippling levels of triflingness. He could be that gold-toothed brother who just gave you directions to go "scrate up the screet" or that three-button-and-windsor-knot black man who helped straighten out your portfolio. Straight up: I contain multitudes.

That just about covers it.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle. More

Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.

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