Necessary Formalities

[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.

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.

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