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Teju Cole on American exceptionalism, Black Lives Matter, creativity, and more


The Financial Times talks with novelist and photographer Teju Cole. I enjoy Cole’s work because he always comes at it from a unique point of view. He does not shy away from expressing himself — his views are blunt and often involved.

Cole also happens to be savvy Instagrammer who’s already posting mesmerizing stuff on Instagram Stories. He used to dabble in Twitter but is now active on Facebook and still scoping out Snapchat.

Below are some of the interesting talking points from the interview:

On being partisan:

“I recognise as a value that journalists always have an angle. It’s just that some people embed theirs and hide it under the name of neutrality, and neutrality is very often the favourite language of power.”

On ‘American exceptionalism’:

“we need to move beyond this ‘greatest country that’s ever existed’ thing. What is that? What is this, the Roman empire?”

On ‘All lives matter’:

“If I say ‘black lives matter’, it means what it means. You don’t go to someone’s funeral and start shouting, ‘I too have experienced loss!’ That shit is obnoxious.”

On James Baldwin’s permanent state of rage as a black American:

“I’m not in a constant state of rage — it’s not good for my health. But there’s much that’s enraging and there’s a great deal that’s saddening. I don’t think I would go on record as saying America’s already great.”

On creativity and online expression’:

“Yes. Any tool, as long as it has … robust enough parameters, any tool can be the avenue for really serious creativity. I really believe that.”

In short, Cole is a masterful noticer and storyteller. He makes sense of the world through words and art, often combining both, to illustrate the subtleties and overlooked matters in American and global culture.


American selfie.
American selfie.