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We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy

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“We were eight years in power” was the lament of Reconstruction-era black politicians as the American experiment in multiracial democracy ended with the return of white supremacist rule in the South. In this sweeping collection of new and selected essays, Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the tragic echoes of that history in our own time: the unprecedented election of a black president followed by a vicious backlash that fueled the election of the man Coates argues is America’s “first white president.”

But the story of these present-day eight years is not just about presidential politics. This book also examines the new voices, ideas, and movements for justice that emerged over this period—and the effects of the persistent, haunting shadow of our nation’s old and unreconciled history. Coates powerfully examines the events of the Obama era from his intimate and revealing perspective—the point of view of a young writer who begins the journey in an unemployment office in Harlem and ends it in the Oval Office, interviewing a president.

We Were Eight Years in Power features Coates’s iconic essays first published in The Atlantic, including “Fear of a Black President,” “The Case for Reparations,” and “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” along with eight fresh essays that revisit each year of the Obama administration through Coates’s own experiences, observations, and intellectual development, capped by a bracingly original assessment of the election that fully illuminated the tragedy of the Obama era. We Were Eight Years in Power is a vital account of modern America, from one of the definitive voices of this historic moment.

359 pages, Kindle Edition

First published October 3, 2017

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About the author

Ta-Nehisi Coates

373 books13.6k followers
Ta-Nehisi Coates is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Between the World and Me, a finalist for the National Book Award. A MacArthur "Genius Grant" fellow, Coates has received the National Magazine Award, the Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism, and the George Polk Award for his Atlantic cover story "The Case for Reparations." He lives in New York with his wife and son.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,353 reviews
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 118 books157k followers
October 25, 2017
Review forthcoming. Thoughtful, sobering essay collection with moments of memoir. Some exceptional moments, some repetitive ideas, a glaring absence of reckoning with the intersection of race and gender. Well worth a read.
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.5k followers
August 22, 2021

In We Were Eight Years in Power, Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of Between the World and Me (2015), has given us not only another essential work of African American literature but also a classic example of American prose.

Although it lacks the concentrated power and beauty of Between the World and Me, there is a good reason for this, for it is a collection of eight essays written for The Atlantic Monthly over a period of eight years, the years of the Obama presidency. In the prefatory “notes” to each essay (and year), in which the author provides both the context of each composition and its role in his growth as a writer, Coates admits that, for the first four of these years, He was still learning his craft. Yet even these four essays (shorter than the rest, they comprise the first third of the volume) reveal Coates to be a writer of great promise and penetrating intellect, and the remaining five—including the epilogue—are texts which I hope will be studied in high schools and universities for years to come.

Of the first four essays, I particularly recommend “This is How We Lost to the White Man,” about Bill Cosby’s black activism, and “American Girl,” about Michelle Obama as a child of the middle-class Southside Chicago neighborhoods. In the Cosby essay, although Coates does not agree with Cosby’s “pants on the ground” harangues targeted at black youth, he makes it clear that Cosby is an extension of the “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” tradition of black activism, stretching from Booker T. Washington through Marcus Garvey to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. In “American Girl,” Coates argues that Mrs. Obama was ideally suited to be the first black first lady because she is the product of a large stable, middle class black enclave (one of the few in the US), and because this background allows her to exude a confidence in herself and her worth which registers (even to white people) as distinctly American.

It is the last essays of the book, however, dealing primarily with the present day consequences of slavery (“The Case For Reparations” and “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration”) and with the presidency of Obama (“The Fear of a Black President” and “My President was Black”) which form the heart of the book. “Reparations” and “The Black Family” are primarily expository, demonstrating how slavery continues to wound the black citizen in the 21st century, plundering him of what little wealth he acquires through red-lining, real estate scams and municipal fines, and marginalizing him through a racially charged definition of family (courtesy of Daniel Patrick Moynihan), all of which makes mass incarceration inevitable, which in turn creates the basis of a new Jim Crow and opens up further opportunities for plunder.

The other two essays, although their content is primarily factual, are highly personal too. They are of course about Barack Obama, about how fear of a black president may have caused him to be too cautious and how racism continually obstructed his presidency's final years, but they are also about Coates himself. Coates, an atheist and pessimist, profoundly doubts the president’s message of hope and change, and yet can’t help but be profoundly moved, not only by the undeniable fact of a black president, but by the character and particular genius of Barack Obama the man.

I must single out for special mention, though, the “epilogue,” an essay entitled “The First White President," in which Coates makes the argument that Trump is the “first white president” because he is “the first president whose entire political existence hinges on the fact of a black president” :
To Trump whiteness is neither notional nor symbolic but is the very core of his power. In this, Trump is not singular. But whereas his forebears carried whiteness like an ancestral talisman, Trump cracked the glowing amulet open, releasing its eldritch energies.The repercussions are striking: Trump is the first president to have served in no public capacity before ascending to his perch. Perhaps more important, Trump is the first president to have publicly affirmed that his daughter is a “piece of ass.” The mind seizes trying to imagine a black man extolling the virtures of sexual assault on tape (“And when you’re a star, they let you do it”), fending off multiple accusations for said assaults, becoming immersed in multiple lawsuits for allegedly fradulent business dealings, exhorting his own followers to violence, and then strolling into the White House. But that is the point of white supremacy—to ensure that that which all others achieve with maximal effort, white people (particularly white men) achieve with minimal qualification.
Profile Image for Always Pouting.
568 reviews716 followers
February 28, 2020
Ta-Nehisi Coates was unemployed and struggling before Obama's presidency was announced. With a black person running for president, and becoming president though there was a shift in the opportunities available for a writer who was addressing race. Ta-Nehisi Coates puts together eight essays he wrote through out the years of Obama's presidency and reflects on them in terms of his own head space at the time he wrote them and his growth as a writer. He tries to explain to us what he was trying to capture with each piece.

I have read article written by Coates in the past and been firmly in the camp of people who tend to really enjoy his perspective and writing. This book has just reinforced those feelings, and I really want to read Between The World And Me as well soon. I think the parallels that he drew to the period after the reconstruction era and what happened with the election of Trump was insightful and something I wouldn't have known about. His argument for reparations were also pretty convincing, and I actually don't get why we can't study the harms of slavery as a first step, even if we don't end up paying reparations. Also the last section about how Trump is the first white president, and the way he broke down the statistics so that the working white class argument was falsified was depressing but also refreshing. I do wish the talk around racism in this country was more open and clear about it. It is really irritating that people get mad about being called a racist as if that's as bad as the thing they're doing to reinforce the stereotypes or structural norms that are actually hurtful for people.

I wish more people would just own up to not feeling comfortable with people who they perceive to be different from them because then at least we could have a conversation in good faith about it. So I'm really glad that Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about these things so openly and persuasively. Especially because a lot of times it can be hard to see the structural inequalities or the historical context that led up to the inequalities we see today, and Coates does a really good job of clearly laying out these things so that it can't just be written off as people not working hard enough.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,688 followers
October 18, 2017
"White people are, in some profound way, trapped; it took generations to make them white, and it will take more to unmake them."
- Ta-Nehisi Coates, from his notes to the fourth year, We Were Eight Years in Power


The framework is basic. Ta-Nehisi Coates takes one essay he wrote from the Atlantic during each of the eight years of Barack Obama's presidency*. That's it. Well, actually, if that was it you could just Google his Atlantic essays (see list below) and not have to bother with the book. The essays were great (many REALLY, REALLY great), but since I've read them much they weren't the real gift of this novel. The GIFT are the introductions. The value add that Coates writes between. The space between the essays. His context and honesty about where he was in his writing, his thinking, makes the evolution of the essays feel more coherent. This book become a development of a writer. I really enjoyed it.

I just can't give it 5-stars because it doesn't quite measure up to his previous work. It isn't Between the World and Me. It is more inline with his other book The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons and an Unlikely Road to Manhood. His essays are pretty amazing (just not, for me, quite 5-stars fantastic) and introduction essays are pretty great too. So, I don't know 4-stars? I realize I would have been suckered by just the eight essays alone, but despite their near-genius still feel constrained a bit (not quite as constrained as Mehrsa Baradaran) to give the book something just below five stars. The book really is MORE than just the eight republished essays, so 4-stars I guess. Thanks BHodges. Even though you didn't change my rating, your perspective DID change my thinking, a bit and I've changed/patched my review (a bit).

Here are the eight original essays. I warn you, however, that you are only cheating yourself if you skip the book. Those binding essays, those value add spaces, the introduction and the epilogue are all worth your time, and yes, your money. If you have never read Coates, pick an essay. Read it. If he unmakes you a bit. Good. Read more.

Year 1 - This is How We Lost to the White Man - May 2008
Year 2 - American Girl - Jan/Feb 2009
Year 3 - Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War? - Feb 2012
Year 4 - The Legacy of Malcolm-X - May 2011
Year 5 - Fear of a Black President - Sep 2012
Year 6 - The Case for Reparations - June 2014
Year 7 - The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration - Oct 2015
Year 8 - My President Was Black - Jan 2017

* His Civil War essay seems to ignore this rule/format, but meh.
Profile Image for BookOfCinz.
1,404 reviews2,366 followers
August 21, 2017

I cannot stress enough how essential this book is to the world and most importantly to America. This book comes at the most relevant time in America's history and should be read by every American. I am not even American and this book spoke to me in ways I could not imagine. Ta-Nehisi Coates is as Ghostface puts it, "an arsonist who burns with his pen".

The writing in this book is impeccable, it is thoroughly researched and timely. Coates speaks on an American Tragedy- mainly on race issues but everything about this book is eloquently, rich and beautifully put together.

Having read and loved Between The World And Me I knew this book would live up to the hype. Not only that, it is clear that Coates is the voice of this generation, especially on matters concerning race. He is the James Baldwin of our generation and his writings should not be ignored.

I woke up shocked to hear and I am somewhat still in disbelief that Trump is the President of the USA. I remain baffled every single time his is referred to as President, it is like a nightmare that wont end and I cant help but think, "how did this happen?!!!!"... As Coates put its:
"If there was a difference between me and the President, it was that I thought Trump wouldn't win, whereas Obama thought categorically, that he couldn't. What amazes me thinking back on that day is the ease with which two people, knowing full well what this country is capable of, knowing that it had once sent hundreds of thousands off to die in service of slavery, knowing it had looked away during the era of lynching, knowing that it was conceived in slavery, dismissed the possibility of a return to the old form."

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and recommend that everyone goes out and get a copy. This is essential must read material.

Thanks Netgally for the ARC!
Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews966 followers
April 20, 2020
A collection of eight essays first published in The Atlantic, We Were Eight Years in Power reflects on the deteriorating state of race relations in America during the Obama presidency. The subjects of the essays are wide in scope, ranging from Michelle Obama’s representation of herself on the campaign trail to the legacy of Malcolm X. In the two best essays, “The Case for Reparations” and “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” Coates writes urgently about history, race, and politics, and he synthesizes the ideas of intellectuals and activists in accessible and lucid ways. Because these essays weren’t written with a book in mind, there is a good deal of repetition among them, and the autobiographical pieces that attempt to stitch them together fail to do so. Coates’s refusal to deal with the politics of gender also limits the depth of his analysis. Still, the strongest of the essays are full of insight and also can be found online at The Atlantic.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,742 reviews2,268 followers
October 3, 2017

”People get ready
For the train to Jordan
Picking up passengers
From coast to coast”

“Faith is the key
Open the doors and board them
There's room for all
Among those loved the most”

-- “People Get Ready” – Curtis Mayfield

In 1895, South Carolina congressman Thomas Miller appealed to the State’s constitutional convention with these words -

‘We were eight years in power. We had built schoolhouses, established charitable institutions, built and maintained the penitentiary system, provided for the education of the deaf and dumb, rebuilt the ferries. In short, we had reconstructed the State and place it upon the rode to prosperity.’”

The title of this book, this collection of Coates’ essays, comes from this quote.

On 4 November 2008, over one hundred years later, Barack Obama was declared the President-elect.

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.”
President-elect Barack Obama – 4 November 2008

As in his 2015 “Between the World and Me,” this is a book about race in America. Eight articles written during the eight years of America’s first black presidency, one for each year.

Along with an essay for each year, there are accompanying notes on his life, his thoughts, his frustrations on the then current events around the topic of race, and his thoughts on Barack Obama, the man, before he was President Obama, to his slow recognition that this man might actually become our president, and then through the years of his presidency. The relationship between Obama’s eight years as president followed by the election of Donald Trump.

And now, slightly more than eight years have passed since Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, the first black president of this country. I would have thought that we, as a country, had become more accepting, that those who had feared Obama would be able to look back at the good that had taken place.

”In short, Obama, his family, and his administration were a walking advertisement for the ease with which black could be fully integrated into the unthreatening mainstream of American culture, politics, and myth.
And that was the problem.”

In the past 7 months plus, as I write this, since Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President, I am astonished at how emotionally charged our atmosphere has become, how much has visibly changed, how much more open and visible hatred has become. How timely this book is.

“There ain't no room
For the hopeless sinner
Who would hurt all mankind
Just to save his own”
-- “People Get Ready” – Curtis Mayfield

”I have often wondered how I missed the coming tragedy. It is not so much that I should have predicted that Americans would elect Donald Trump. It’s just that I shouldn’t have put it past us.”

A myriad of emotions flowed through me while reading this, sadness to anger, shame, fear, pride, hope. At times this lay heavy on my soul, but more often I found myself re-reading portions to further embrace and internalize his words. Faith, that intangible belief in something bigger and better than us, that’s what Coates words made me reflect upon.

”Have pity on those
Whose chances are thinner
'Cause there's no hiding place
From the kingdom's throne”

“So people get ready
For the train a-comin'
You don't need no baggage
You just get on board”

-- “People Get Ready” – Curtis Mayfield


Pub Date: 03 Oct 2017

Many thanks for the ARC provided by Random House Publishing Group – Random House
Profile Image for Dan Wilbur.
Author 2 books61 followers
October 14, 2017
I don’t want to spoil anything, but at the end of this book, Donald Trump becomes president of the United States. It’s a bummer.
Profile Image for Blaine.
748 reviews608 followers
March 24, 2021
The main essays in We Were Eight Years in Power are reprints from articles Coates wrote for The Atlantic. Preceding each of those articles (except the epilogue) is a new, shorter essay in which he contextualizes the article within both public history and his own personal development as a writer.

The best article of the first half of the book was “Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?,” in which Coates debunks the “lost cause” narrative for the War, and asks “what it means to live in a country that will never apologize for slavery, but will not stop apologizing for the Civil War.” But the back half of the book is what really shines. “Fear of a Black President” and “My President Was Black” are outstanding portraits of President Obama. “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration” examines how purportedly race-neutral criminal laws have decimated the black community and have a far more racially motivated origin than people generally realize.

The best piece—and the one that has had the most effect on political discourse over the last several years—was “The Case for Reparations.” Coates goes beyond slavery and Jim Crow laws to explore how America in the mid-20th century was still passing laws (such as the GI Bill) and tolerating systems (such as redlining) that permitted the white middle class to prosper while excluding African-Americans from those same opportunity to build wealth. The article is persuasive, and builds to a powerful conclusion:
Perhaps no number can fully capture the multi-century plunder of black people in America. Perhaps the number is so large that it can’t be imagined, let alone calculated and dispensed. But I believe that wrestling publicly with these questions matters as much as—if not more than—the specific answers that might be produced. An America that asks what it owes its most vulnerable citizens is improved and humane. An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future. More important than any single check cut to any African American, the payment of reparations would represent America’s maturation out of the childhood myth of its innocence into a wisdom worthy of its founders.
We Were Eight Years in Power is not perfect. It is a collection of articles that were written over eight years. They were not intended to be read one after another, and so in this format there are portions of some essays that were a bit repetitive. But Coates is an immensely talented writer, and the world will someday be better for his examination of the African-American experience in 21st century America. A must read.
Profile Image for Erin .
1,231 reviews1,140 followers
December 3, 2017
I of course read Ta-Nehisi Coates bestseller Between The World And Me and loved it(I may reread just to give it a proper review). So when I heard he was publishing a collection of essays he wrote for The Atlantic during the Obama years, I knew I had to read it.

I like Mr. Coates felt that the 2016 election of 45 simply reconfirmed my disgust for "my" country. This book is a gut wrenching and maddening overview of what lead the majority of white Americans to follow the Presidency of the first black President with the election of the most unqualified and openly racist President in modern history. Now to paraphrase the author, obviously not every person who voted for 45 is a white supremacist but they did all find it acceptable to hand over the fate of the country to a white supremacist.

A few known facts about 45: His political career was built on birtherism, In his many years in New York real estate he fought to keep blacks out of his buildings, He offered a reward to anyone who could find proof that Obama falsified his college transcripts because he didn't believe Obama was smart enough to attend an Ivy League school, truly believes all Muslims are terrorist, and all Mexicans are rapist and murders.

45's world view and ideology is one of white supremacy. The fact of a black President was viewed as a personal insult to 45. 2016 was a referendum on racism and misogyny and racism and misogyny won. The subtitle to this book is An American Tragedy and I don't know a better way to describe this country.

Essential reading for All Americans.
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,084 reviews17.5k followers
January 15, 2020
I think commentary on a nonfiction book of this style is somewhat hard to do, so here are a few, brief thoughts.

Each of these essays stands alone as fascinating and relevant reads. I have read The Case for Reparations before and it still resonates well. Elements of the book as a whole, especially examples used to back articles (the same statistics will be cited, and the same personal anecdotes), feel a bit repetitive—factor of the compilation. I think this is fine. There is still original thought unique to each piece, and the effect is counteracted by the interest of Coates looking back at his own career. Roxane Gay is right in mentioning a lack of focus on gender.

I cannot stop thinking about My President Was Black or Epilogue: The First White President. I grew up with politics, and I grew up into Barack Obama’s political world: one in which I felt anger, upset, but also hope, knowledge that the world was moving forward. This was, of course, accompanied with the naïveté of a child: U.S. imperialism was lost on me until sophomore year of high school, when it became my main focus for months. But what was lost on me further was the fact that white supremacy was not a slowly dying force: it was a strong one, one that could win a national election.

The election of Donald Trump was a defining moment of the generation born in the 2000s. It was the death of my hope in politics, in a way difficult at best to convey: I almost overnight stopped reading the news at age 15. The sense of dying hope is almost impossible to convey. Ta-Nehisi Coates does so here.

It should not be a radical take that the term ‘identity politics’ is a term racists use as a strawman for black people; it should not be, but it is.

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Profile Image for Erin.
2,956 reviews485 followers
November 18, 2017
Audiobook narrated by Beresford Bennett 13h 39m

I have so much to say, but find it difficult to articulate all my thoughts and feelings. Although I think I prefer my "Between the World and Me" audio because it is narrated by the author, this is definitely a great audio that I would recommend. As many of my fellow reviewers have already stated, this is a collection of eight essays written by Coates during the Obama presidency. I only discovered the author in 2017 and I truly enjoy his perspective. If I had to pick a favorite portion, I truly felt most affected by his essay on Barak Obama and Malcolm X(The Legacy of Malcolm X). I listened to it twice and then went online and read the essay. Perhaps it was most affecting because I just recall that most of the coverage of Obama's election caused most Canadian media to allude to Martin Luther King Jr and his "I have a dream " speech which I now realize was far from really giving us any sort of understanding about how significant this moment really was. No offence to Canadian newsagents, but "go deep." Something which all the essays in their turn do- present readers with a deeper understanding. I have tried to discuss with my friends , but I think I am a poor translator. Simply put, it is worth your attention.
Profile Image for B. P. Rinehart.
747 reviews254 followers
June 20, 2019
"By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the willows
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for entertainment,
our plunderers demanded songs of joy;
they said, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’
but how can we sing the Lord's songs in a foreign land?
" - Psalm 137:1-4

"I had started in an unemployment office . I had started with the refuse of failure — a reporter’s pad half - filled with notes on some soon - to - be - disgraced entertainer — had graduated to a blog written for the amusement of my father and myself , had assembled a horde of post - docs , nerds , and feminists to enlighten me , and on their wisdom had been throttled into this odd world of awards , fellowships , and praise . I do not mean to sound so passive . But my struggle is to remain conscious , to remember the gifts of so many out there , treading , drowning . And the praise will make you forget all that , will convince you of your own special nature , instead of reminding you that you had the great fortune of living and writing in the most incredible of eras — the era of a black president ."

"The idea that America would follow its first black president with Donald Trump accorded with its history . I was shocked at my own shock . I had wanted Obama to be right ."

This year is apart of the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent...ironically.

That last quote, I hope by the end of this review you have full context for it. When I first got this book, I thought this would be a "best-of" with minor introductions. What this turned-out to be is a story of two men Ta-Nehisi Coates & Barack Obama; the main story is about the former and his relationship to the story of the latter. The interplay that Coates uses between himself and Obama are some of the most creative story-telling of biographies in modern times. The essays that preceded his journal/blog articles are the main attractions: these are the autobiographical sections of the book that tie all the journal pieces together. You can read all the original journal articles on The Atlantic's website, so a book collection would have to be a little more special.

Around this time (October) in 2008, I was in Richmond, Virginia in my first year of college and also as a volunteer for the city's chapter of the Obama campaign. Up to that point, the idea of a black president had been as imaginable as Santa Claus being president. But by that time, it seems like it was happening, I was watching myth become real and wanted in on some of it. The night he won, my school and every other school in the capital of the former Confederacy marched across the city in jubilation. Though it seems like a distant-memory, it was as real a moment as any in my, or my former peers, lifetime.

Coates was struggling to simply feed his family, he had submitted an article to The Atlantic on Bill Cosby that he now considers a failure and would have to wait until his second assignment on Michelle Obama before any economic stability would assert itself. During this time he was hired to be a blogger for The Atlantic and hosted the greatest comment section on the internet before his success led to it being closed. This era of Coates is still optimistic in the Obama world. It seemed that his Black Nationalist upbringing is being proven false before his eyes, but the opposition to Obama is about to crush this idealism. He was also starting to study the American Civil War & slavery in-general and this would be the beginning of his modern formation. TNC credits American Slavery, American Freedom with opening his eyes. He would gain his trademark pessimism after reading more histories like A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century and Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945.

When I come to the 5th year, it becomes less me reading about his career and more remembering it. I first heard of Ta-Nehisi Coates when his article Fear Of A Black President started making the rounds. I thought it was decent, but I was still engulfed in the inner-turmoils of my life and was not able to give him the attention he deserved. This article marks him in his current phase. Much of the optimism and idealism from the first-term has been crushed by things like the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr., the killing of Trayvon Martin, and the firing of Shirley Sherrod. "Obama’s first term was almost over, and the limitations of his ascendancy now came into view: a black president whose power was bracketed by the same forces that bracketed the lives of black people everywhere. He represented our aspirations and hopes but could never forthrightly address the source of our agony."

"I got so many theories and suspicions
I'm diagnosed with real----conditions
Today is the day I follow my intuition...
I double parked the Aston in the red
My mama told me that I'ma work myself to death
My girl told me don't let these hoes get in my head
My world been ecstatic, I checked the signal that read—
Buzzin', radars is buzzin'
Yah, yah, yah, yah
Yah, yah, yah, yah, yah, yah...
" - YAH. by Kendrick Lamar

Coates' chapter of his sixth year is on his masterpiece: The Case For Reparations. If there is one work by him that I can read over-and-over it is this one. The article is about the effects of the government-sanctioned housing discrimination and dispossession of African-Americans over the course of the 20th century. When talking about this essay, Coates notes that he was originally against reparations, but had his mind changed over years of researching the evidence. I have already talked about this article in my review of Race and the American Idea: 155 Years of Writings From The Atlantic, but enough cannnot be said about it. I thought I knew just how systematic the discrimination was, but this article defied my wildest nightmares. As Mr. Clyde Ross said, "there was no law." I would argue there still ain't, when the chips are down.

After that article, Coates was a semi-household name. I was definitely paying attention to him then, and he was given a contract for some books, including one on the Civil War that ended up writing as a letter to his son after Ferguson. His notes on the seventh year is mostly about that, with a shorter introduction on his article The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration. Coates had already done blog-posts on the Moyniham Report and mass incarceration (which included one of the last book reads with The Horde-his legendary comment section-of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. "the Horde" would officially be disbanded in the wake of Between the World and Me's success), but now he was taking all the research and combining it with new info coming out. This story would see him consolidate his intellectual fame, despite being overshadowed by the success of Between the World and Me. This also landed him the gig of his career.

"Please, come back, baby
Something I want to say
When you left you took all of me with you.
" - Distant Lover by Marvin Gaye

Ta-Nehisi Coates says in this book that the top two journal articles of his career are The Case For Reparations & his interview with President Obama, My President Was Black. His story of his relationship with the White House in a symbolic way is what this book is about he said that the interest in his work only appeared when Obama's presidency began, but his personal relationship to the White House was not so simple. As he explained in his essay preceding his article American Girl, he was not warmly received by the Obama campaign when he first started following them. It got a little better, than worse once the White House got wind of the blog posts and Atlantic essays Coates wrote criticizing Obama's respectability politics and other aspects of his policy. Coates particularly hated Obama's habit of always talking-down to black audiences every chance he got. Of course, he took the Obama Administration to task in a major way for the firing of Shirley Sherrod based on false evidence from Andrew Breirbart. When Obama first invited Coates to the White House, Coates was overwhelmed by the occasion and felt he had been taken-advantaged of. His return visit ended in a crazed shouting match with the President and he did not know if he was ever coming back until he got the call from the White House for the interview.

I recommend going to The Atlantic's website to check out the full series of interviews that got edited to one that was published in the magazine and the book. they take place up to and after doomsday. We learn a lot about Obama and Coates in this interview. President Obama, takes stock of his 8 years and probably gives as genuine an assessment as possible. Obama's scholar-side is able to go toe-to-toe with Coates. His optimism is amazing for how genuine it it, despite all he's been through over the last 8 years. Though Coates is by now as cynical as Obama is optimistic, they both knew one thing, America would not elect a crazed white supremacist president.
"It seemed to me that white people, if only out of an instinct for self-preservation, would reject Donald Trump. If there was a difference between me and the president, it was that I thought Trump wouldn’t win, whereas Obama thought, categorically, that he couldn’t. What amazes me thinking back on that day is the ease with which two people, knowing full well what this country is capable of, dismissed the possibility of a return to the old form."
The grand thesis of this book is Coates' daring to defy the order of the world around him. The existence of Barack Obama gave him the closes thing to a religious experience of faith and he simply wants to recapture it, despite the history of the world being against it. One thing that grabbed me is Coates explaining just the marvel of Barack Obama in Black history: "Basketball was a link for Obama , a medium for downloading black culture from the mainland that birthed the [University of Hawaii] Fabulous Five . Assessing his own thought process at the time , Obama writes , ' I decided to become part of that world . ' This is one of the most incredible sentences ever written in the long , decorated history of black memoir , if only because very few black people have ever enjoyed enough power to write it ." This shows how President Obama defies ethno-categorization, even when embracing it. While putting the interview together for the magazine, Coates only listened to Marvin Gaye's Distant Lover.

"We all woke up, tryna tune to the daily news
Lookin' for confirmation, hopin' election wasn't true
All of us worried, all of us buried, and our feelings deep
None of us married to his proposal, make us feel cheap
Still and sad, distraught and mad, tell the neighbor 'bout it
Bet they agree, parade the streets with your voice proudly
Time passin', things change
Revertin' back to our daily programs, stuck in our ways; Lust.
" - LUST. by Kendrick Lamar

The prologue/introduction of this book dealt with the why? of a President Trump. The name of this book is taken from a passage from Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880, recounting the protest of Thomas E. Miller, a black South Carolina state senator who was present when white supremacist rewrote the state's constitution to disenfranchise the African-American population and inaugurate, officially, the reign of terror that would grip the state , and the rest of the American South, for a century (or more).
"'We were eight years in power. We had built schoolhouses, established charitable institutions, built and maintained the penitentiary system, provided education for the deaf and dumb, rebuilt the ferries. In short, we had reconstructed the State and placed it on the road to prosperity...'

It seemed fairly clear what South Carolina wanted was not reform even in the narrow sense; that what it was attacking was not even stealing or corruption. If there was one thing that South Carolina feared more than bad Negro government, it was good Negro government.
It was true then and has remained true for South Carolina and the United States as a whole. The epilogue of this book, The First White President, is the why? & how? to Donald Trump. Nothing really revolutionary to anyone paying attention or who has any knowledge of the collapse of the Reconstruction-era. While many people wanted to see the gains of the last 8 years, one group regardless of location, earnings, gender or class wanted to see a Donald Trump presidency according to the polling and they all identify as white. Trump built and successfully executed a campaign of white supremacy. It brings us up to the current point, an egotistical white supremacist is president of the United States because the idea of being white for a plurality of Americans sounds better than the idea being sane or safe. "To Trump whiteness is neither notional nor symbolic but is the very core of his power . In this , Trump is not singular . But whereas his forebears carried whiteness like an ancestral talisman , Trump cracked the glowing amulet open , releasing its eldritch energies ."

For myself, I do not regret the idea of a black president. Like Mr. Coates, I saw something that for the first 17 years of my life was thought to be impossible, but it had still happened and it was done well. He defied-for a moment-the whole of America's founding myth and we were better-off for it. I don't personally have the same weariness as Coates. While I grant that it is not certain that history is not guaranteed to end well, it is not guaranteed to end poorly: history is history--nothing else. I'll let Ta-Nehisi Coates have the last word on Obama and Trump.

"Yet despite this entrenched racial resentment, and in the face of complete resistance by congressional Republicans, overtly launched from the moment Obama arrived in the White House, the president accomplished major feats. He remade the nation’s healthcare system. He revitalized a Justice Department that vigorously investigated police brutality and discrimination, and he began dismantling the private-prison system for federal inmates. Obama nominated the first Latina justice to the Supreme Court, gave presidential support to marriage equality, and ended the U.S. military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, thus honoring the civil rights tradition that had inspired him. And if his very existence inflamed America’s racist conscience, it also expanded the country’s anti-racist imagination. Millions of young people now know their only president to have been an African American. 
Writing for The New Yorker, Jelani Cobb once noted that 'until there was a black Presidency it was impossible to conceive of the limitations of one.' This is just as true of the possibilities.

"And there can be no conflict between the naming of whiteness and the naming of the degradation brought about by an unrestrained capitalism , by the privileging of greed and the legal encouragement to hoarding and more elegant plunder . I have never seen a contradiction between calling for reparations and calling for a living wage , on calling for legitimate law enforcement and single - payer health care . They are related — but cannot stand in for one another . I see the fight against sexism , racism , poverty , and even war finding their union not in synonymity but in their ultimate goal — a world more humane ."
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,412 followers
November 29, 2017
Coates intersperses notes of his experience each of the eight years of Obama’s presidency along with some of his carefully-researched larger essays previously published in The Atlantic. It is especially worthwhile to read again his earlier pieces in their context with the hindsight a few years bring, and not having to search around several places for his ideas makes this book especially valuable. Most of us were not prepared for Ta-Nehisi Coates when his work first appeared in the monthly magazine. It was his explosive Between the World and Me that shook us awake.

The centerpiece of this collection, “The Case for Reparations,” talks about a
“national reckoning…more than hush money or a reluctant bribe…What is needed is a healing of the American psyche and the banishment of white guilt.”
The banishment of white guilt. That is something I would not have gone for. If that is required, I’m not sure we’ll ever get there. I’m on board with “an airing of family secrets, a settling of old ghosts—[a recognition] that American prosperity was ill gotten and selective in its distribution.” But if it comes to making white people, mostly Christians, banish their guilt, I don’t think it will happen. These folks wear guilt like a fur coat.

Whenever he is asked about hope for the future, Coates says he is not responsible for bringing good news. He merely reports the news. He looks at what we have and says what he thinks. But I think “…Reparations” is his most hopeful essay, though filled as it is of horrible instances of degrading racism and exclusion. In it Coates sees a possible way out…if only.
"I believe wrestling publicly with [issues around reparations] matters as much as—if not more than—the specific answers that might be produced…More important than any single check cut to any African American, the payment of reparations would represent America’s maturation out of the childhood myth of its innocence into a wisdom worthy of its founders."
It seems we have been hearing Coates everywhere these days—back-to-back interviews on the Radio Atlantic podcast, another podcast of a conversation in Chicago for Krista Tippett’s On Being, etc. But Coates is not overexposed. He still has a way of saying things in a way that allows us to hear him. He’s not asking for anything. He’s just laying it out there, giving us the opportunity to step up.

Right after his ground-breaking essay on reparations, the first paragraph of his notes for year seven of the Obama presidency takes away any hope he might have given us about the possibility for change.
“To be black in America was to be plundered. To be white was to benefit from, and at times directly execute, this plunder. No national conversation, no invocations to love, no moral appeals, no pleas for ‘sensitivity’ and ‘diversity,’ no lamenting of ‘race relations’ could make this right.”
Boom. “Racism was banditry, pure and simple. And the banditry was not incidental to America, it was essential to it.” How lucky we have been that this man escaped everything that conspired to hold him silent: “black people in America do not generally have the luxury of recording their ‘feelings…’”

Born to a black household secure in their determination to be black and proud of it, and having been educated in the heart of black learning at Howard University, Coates did not unlearn or give away his heritage to fit in with white culture. He is talented, but he is also unusual in that he didn't have to give away large parts of himself to get where he is. We are the beneficiaries of such a voice, for there aren’t enough who can express with such clarity and singularity of purpose arguments we need to consider. Ibram X. Kendi, author of Stamped from the Beginning, is another.

One of Coates’ last essays in this collection, “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” begins with the themes Daniel Moynihan wrote about in a report written for Department of Labor during Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, called “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” i.e., the disintegration of black American families under the pressure of centuries of oppression and neglect. From the poisonous atmosphere in a government where Moynihan’s ideas circulated freely without policy recommendations, arose a means to solve that problem: incarcerate wrong-doers, something Moynihan had not recommended.

Coates’ exegesis of the Moynihan argument is thorough, and non-ideological. He is not quick to praise because there is plenty to dislike, but he recognizes where Moynihan was correct in his analysis. By the end he is pointing out something that many of us can now identify:
“[Moynihan’s] 'The Negro Family' is a flawed work in part because it is a fundamentally sexist document that promotes the importance not just of family but of patriarchy, arguing black men should be empowered at the expense of black women.”
In Coates’ final essay, his Epilogue, talks about “The First White President,” the man who won the presidency only because he was a white male. What an insight! But I want to highlight what Coates says in “My President was Black,” about President Obama.
“…I found it interesting that [Obama’s] optimism does not extend to the possibility of the public’s accepting …the moral logic of reparations…that the president, by his own account, has accepted for himself and is willing to teach his children...The notion that a president would attempt to achieve change within the boundaries of the accepted consensus is appropriate But Obama is almost constitutionally skeptical of those who seek to achieve change outside that consensus.
Not that we expect it to be easy, but sometimes people are more ready than we imagine.
Profile Image for Clif Hostetler.
1,076 reviews711 followers
January 19, 2019
This book is a collection of eight essays by Ta-Nehisi Coates previously published in The Atlantic, one from each year of the Obama administration. Each essay is accompanied with an opening commentary that describes the circumstances, political environment and state of mind in which the essay was written including the author’s personal and professional situation at the time.

In a real sense this book is a recapitulation of some political issues taken from the past eight years and examined from an African American perspective. For regular readers of The Atlantic this may be previously read material, however the added commentary will add fresh perspective for them as well. But for the rest of us these essays provide a thorough elaboration of some issues that perhaps haven’t been previously considered.

For example, the issue of reparations explored in the “Sixth Year” is a most convincing description of the “Case for Reparations”. The clincher for me is the fact the African Americans were restricted from history’s largest wealth building program for the American middle class, the post war FHA and GI home loan programs. This is a fact from history of which I was unaware until the recent publishing of the book The Color of Law. These restrictions continued until 1968 which in my mind is just yesterday. Consequently, the average wealth of white household is six times wealthier than for blacks, a fact that is a consequence of many years of policies— partly post-war and partly historical remnants of Jim Crow and slavery.

Another memorable essay is “My President was Black” from the "Eighth Year" that provides a thorough recollection and analysis of the Obama years. The title of Part Two of this essay provides what impresses me as a fit summary of Obama as president, "He Walked on Ice but Never Fell." Some of us tend to forget how vicious his critics were—and still are. It's an example of the old truism, a Negro needs to be twice as good to succeed. That certainly can't be said about the subsequent administration (i.e. not twice as good). Reading this essay is a reminder of the days when Americans weren't daily embarrassed by some stupid tweet from POTUS. I miss those days.

Then there's the essay, The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration, which revisits the 1965 report written by Daniel Patrick Moynihan titled, "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action." This report has been praised and criticized by strange combinations of various groups. In this essay Ta-Nehisi Coates generally defends the content and intent of the report and accuses most critics of latching on to limited portions and ignoring the overall message and context. In many ways this essay reinforces the message contained in Michelle Alexander's book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness . The point made is that the rate of prison incarceration in the United States is absurdly high and is the result of many decades during which politicians were falling over each other trying to prove themselves to be the toughest on crime. The public went along with the trend because of latent racism.

The book includes an Epilogue that functions as an unnamed ninth year in which the author savages Trump's white-supremacist ideology. It is taken from an essay titled, "The First White President: The foundation of Donald Trump’s presidency is the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy."

I received an advance uncorrected proof of this book from the publisher through Goodreads' giveaway program.
Profile Image for Bam cooks the books ;-).
1,851 reviews231 followers
October 6, 2017
An excellent collection of essays written by Coates during the eight years of Barack Obama's administration. Where is the 'American tragedy' you may ask? In what follows those eight years. In the shattering of 'the dream of a post-racial America.'

"...writing is always some form of interpretation, some form of translating the specificity of one's roots or expertise or even one's own mind into language that can be absorbed and assimilated into the consciousness of a broader audience."

In these essays, Coates discusses the hypocrisy behind the founding ideas of America, his studies of the American Civil War, the case for reparations, the state of the black family in the age of mass incarceration, and the rise of white supremacy once again after the election of Donald Trump. Eye-opening. Mind-expanding.

Many thanks to NetGalley, the publisher and author for the opportunity to read an arc of this important work.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,967 followers
December 3, 2019
Off and on throughout the years, I've gone through major stints into the world of political thought, diving in head-first to swim through the sometimes murky and oftentimes polemical and myopic drive for change.

This is not one of those books. Each essay in here is very well researched and backed up with a plethora of references I've either already read before or have been featured in grand scale elsewhere.

The big question being raised must also be willing to be extremely courageous.

We might assume this could be a last hurrah for equal rights for blacks right before the great backsliding, or we might assume that the issues are not as dire as they are portrayed, but I think both of these assumptions are false.

What am I trying to say?

Three hundred years of injustice just changes its face but never its core tenant. This is a systemic racial problem masquerading as a poverty problem. Of course, if you set up the housing issue so that blacks pay for worse housing at a much higher rate, we don't call it racism, we call it redlining. Never mind that it causes systemic poverty.

Or how about the fact that in five decades America now has 25% of the world's total inmates while only containing 5% of the world's total population? Or that reports were made right before this shift in policy that outlined the need to break away from the segregation of the 60's, the need to educate, equalize the possibilities for housing, and reversing the course of the breakdown of families due to opportunity and poverty in general... but yet, right after that time, all choices went another direction: prisons. Trump up drug charges and use draconian punitive measures for every inmate. No rehabilitation, just punishment. Make the prisons a moneymaking business, stack the deck against anyone getting out to lead a decent life, and then realize that 7 times as many men in the system are black. Instead of giving them jobs and education and the ability to move away from a system that now has tons of single-mothers raising their children in poverty, we are just putting a heel on an entire subset of humanity.

If that isn't racism, I don't know what is.

It doesn't even have anything to do with individual voices or desires. It doesn't have anything to do with single mothers working harder to break through the circular hell that is this system. It has to do with the system itself.

You know that housing bubble? The predatory lenders that sold hope to millions of people and downplayed the bottom line that their mortgages would increase in time, or drastically increase with a single missed payment? When you look at who they targeted the most, you should see things clearly.

Black men and women aren't a race of super predators no matter what the crime rates say. And the crime rates say a lot of things. Very interesting things... such as the increases in crime and decreases in crime remain pretty stable across all countries. Almost as if they are a function of population pressure, and not inherent badness. The measures taken, such as harsher sentences and the three-strike rule and more and more prisons DO NOT MAKE A DIFFERENCE. All we're doing is making a new class of slaves locked into poverty and despair.

This hasn't changed. Eight years of Obama as president has not changed anything except give a tiny glimmer of hope, properly squashed with the next big backlash.

This book spells out the tragedy.

Hell, most of the stats aren't new. What is really awesome about this book is it's writing. One needs to have this presented well for it to make any difference at all. Coates is a good writer and his objectivity is peerless. Of course he spells out where he is less than objective, but let's get real here: most whites don't scratch the surface to SEE what's going on.

Systemic oppression on multiple axis, approved of at every level, and reinforced by narratives that seem valid only because the actual causes are ignored.

So many things in our world follows the same suit.

Naysayers get screamed down by louder blustery demagogues.

Propaganda works because all you need is more voices saying the same lies repeatedly before the general populace starts believing it.

Is racism alive and well? Obviously. It might even get worse.

So what kind of world do we really want to live in?

All this money and effort that the system has put into segregating blacks (unofficially) could have gone into education and real opportunity. The old horrors of slavery have only taken new forms.

Who are we to let this continue?

Yes, I'm a freaking white man. I don't approve of this s**t. The injustice is real and pervasive and overwhelming.

And I don't know what to do except talk about it. Honestly. And from the heart. And it makes me so damn angry. This should never have happened.
Profile Image for Roy Lotz.
Author 1 book8,177 followers
April 15, 2021
Racism was not a singular one-dimensional vector but a pandemic, afflicting black communities at every level, regardless of what rung they occupied.

With this book, Ta-Nehisi Coates has turned what could have been a routine re-publication of old essays into a genuine work of art.

The bulk of this book consists of eight essays, all published in The Atlantic, one per year of the Obama presidency. But Coates frames each one with a kind of autobiographical sketch of his life leading up to its writing. The result is, among other things, a surprisingly writerly book—and by that I mean a book written about writing—a kind of Bildungsroman of his literary life. Even on that narrow basis, alone, this book is absorbing, as it shows the struggles of a young writer to hone his craft and find his voice. And that voice is remarkable.

But this book is far more than that. Though the essays tackle diverse topics—Bill Cosby, the Civil War, Michelle Obama, mass incarceration—they successfully build upon one another into a single argument. The kernel of this argument is expressed in the finest and most famous essay in this collection, “The Case for Reparations”: namely, that America must reckon with its racist past honestly and directly if we are ever to overcome white supremacy. Much of the other essays are dedicated to criticizing two principal rivals to this strategy: Respectability Politics, and Class-Based Politics.

First, Respectability Politics. This is the notion—popular at least since the time of Booker T. Washington—that if African Americans work hard, strive for an education, and adhere to middle-class norms, then racism will disappear. Though sympathetic to the notion of black self-reliance, Coates is basically critical of this strategy—first, because he believes it has not and will never work; and second, because it is deeply unjust to ask a disenfranchised people to earn their own enfranchisement.

His portraits of the Obamas—both Barack and Michelle—are fascinating for Coates’s ambivalence towards their use of respectability politics. Coates seems nearly in awe of the Obamas’ ability to be simultaneously black and American, and especially of Barack Obama’s power to communicate with equal confidence to the black and white communities. And he is very sympathetic to the plight of a black president, since, as Coates argues, Obama’s ability to take a strong stance regarding race was heavily constrained by white backlash. Coates is, however, consistently critical of Obama’s rhetorical emphasis on hard work and personal responsibility (such as his many lectures about black fatherhood), rather than the historical crimes perpetrated against the black community.

Coates’s other target is the left-wing strategy of substituting class for race—that we ought to help the poor and the working class generally, and in so doing we will disproportionately benefit African Americans. The selling point of this strategy is that, by focusing on shared economic hardships, the left will be able to build a broader coalition without inflaming racial tensions. But Coates is critical of this approach as well. For one, he thinks that racial tension runs far more deeply than class tension, so that this strategy is unlikely to work. What is more, for Coates, this is a kind of evasion—an attempt to sidestep the fundamental problem—and therefore cannot rectify the crime of racism.

The picture that emerges from Coates’s book is rather bleak. If the situation cannot be improved through black advancement or through general economic aid, then what can be done? The only policy recommendation Coates puts forward is Reparations—money distributed to the black community, as a way of compensating for the many ways it has been exploited and disenfranchised. But if I understand Coates correctly, it is not that he believes this money itself would totally solve the problem; it is that such a program would force us to confront the problem of racism head-on, and to collectively own up to the truth of the matter. Virtually nobody—Coates included—thinks that such a program, or such a reckoning, will happen anytime soon, which leaves us in an uncomfortably hopeless situation.

The easy criticism to make of Coates is that his worldview is simplistic, as he insists on reducing all of America’s sins to anti-black racism. But I do not think that this is quite fair. Coates does not deny that, say, economic inequality or sexism are problems; indeed, he notes that these sorts of problems all feed into one another. Furthermore, Coates reminds us that racism is rarely as simple as a rude remark or an insult; rather, it is as complex, diffuse, and widespread as an endemic disease. Coates’s essential point, then, is that racism runs far more deeply and strongly in American life than we are ready to acknowledge—mainly, because persistent racism undermines most of our comfortable narratives or even our policy ideas, not to mention our self-image.

For a brief moment, after Obama’s election, we dreamed of a post-racial America. But, as Coates shows, in the end, Obama’s presidency illustrated our limitations as much as our progress. This was apparent in the sharp drop in Obama’s approval ratings after he criticized a police officer for arresting a black college professor outside of his own house. This was shown, more dramatically, in the persistent rumors that Obama was a Muslim, and of course in Trump’s bigoted birtherism campaign. And this was shown, most starkly, by the fact that Barack Obama—a black man entirely free of scandals, of sterling qualifications, fierce intelligence, and remarkable rhetorical gifts —was followed by Donald Trump—a white man with no experience, thoughtless speech, infinite scandals, and who is quite palpably racist.

As so many people have noted, it is impossible to imagine a black man with Trump’s resumé of scandals, lack of experience, or blunt speaking style approaching the presidency. Even if we focus on one of Trump’s most minor scandals, such as his posing with Goya products after the CEO praised Trump’s leadership, we can see the difference. Imagine the endless fury that Obama would have faced—and not only from the Republican Party—had he endorsed a supporter’s product from the Resolute Desk of the Oval Office! Indeed, as Coates notes, Trump’s ascension is the ultimate rebuke to Respectability Politics: “Barack Obama delivered to black people the hoary message that in working twice as hard as white people, anything is possible. But Trump’s counter is persuasive—work half as hard as black people and even more is possible.”

Whether Obama’s optimism or Coates’s pessimism are borne out by the country’s future, I do think that Coates makes an essential point: that racism is deeply rooted in the country, and will not simply disappear as African Americans become less impoverished or more ‘respectable.’ Communities across America remain starkly segregated; incarceration rates are high and disproportional; the income, unemployment, and wealth gaps are deep and persistent; and we can see the evidence of all of these structural inequalities in the elevated mortality suffered by the black community during this pandemic. The intractability of this problem is bleak to contemplate, but an important one to grapple with. And it helps that this message is delivered in some of the finest prose by any contemporary writer.
Profile Image for Raymond.
338 reviews247 followers
October 17, 2017
This was a very good collection some of Ta-Nehisi's essays from the past eight years. I had read five of them before and my intention was just to read the three that I had not read and the new essays but I changed my mind. His new essays preface the ones that he wrote for The Atlantic. He talks alot about where he was as a writer and what he was thinking about race relations. The new essays were so good that I felt compelled to reread the old essays. Overall I highly recommend this book to readers who are not familiar with his work and those who are. Reading these essays together was definitely an experience seeing the lines connecting as well as Coates' evolution as a writer and thinker. I especially enjoyed the epilogue about America's first White president.

****Update: Here are three great interviews with Ta-Nehisi Coates conducted by his colleagues at the magazine where he has come to prominence The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/personal/...***
Profile Image for Monica.
592 reviews622 followers
October 24, 2022
Coates is an amazing, thoughtful and insightful writer. More to come...

4.5 Stars

Listened to the audiobook then turned around and re-read some of the essays. Beresford Bennett did a good job. There are probably better narrators out there, but Coates' material is stellar, so the narrator doesn't matter as much as the content.
Profile Image for Andre.
520 reviews141 followers
August 19, 2017
Superb. Ta-Nehisi Coates has become the go-to guy on writing about race from the perspective of African-Americans. Happily, this is a role he doesn't shirk from, in fact he eagerly embraces his status. "I had become The Atlantic’s “Black Writer”—a phrase that described both my identity and my interests. There was always a sense that African American journalists should avoid being tagged as “black” lest they be “boxed in” and unable to pursue more “universal” topics such as the economy and global policy. But the more I wrote, the more I saw I wasn’t boxed in as much as those who dismissed my chosen beat were boxed out."

That perspective, I think is important and makes him an effective writer, you have to be purposeful in your writing to have the kind of impact he has had in these last eight years. So the book is a collection of eight essays pulled from his writing at the Atlantic magazine, but with each essay, we get a companion piece that gives us an idea what Mr. Coates was thinking at the time and where he was, not only mentally but physically in his personal life. "The title comes from congressman Thomas Miller. In 1895, as his state moved from the egalitarian innovations of Reconstruction to an oppressive “Redemption,” Miller appealed to the state’s constitutional convention: We Were Eight Years in Power and then he lists the great things that were accomplished over the past eight years hoping to stave off the dismantling of reconstruction. Ta-Nehisi smartly has his finger on the pulse of race relations in this country and is clear and unambiguous in his writing and these essays are a powerful testament to his talent. It is interesting to read his commentary on his own work as he looks back in the companion portions.

The strongest essay is probably also the one that helped put his name on the proverbial map, The Case For Reparations.The numbers, the situations, the wrongs, the overall plunder of Black life eloquently described in this essay leaves little room for questions other than how and when will reparations be executed. He certainly makes the case for reparations crystal clear to the point of how can one object to the argument, but with emotional and financial rebuffs. "With segregation, with the isolation of the injured and the robbed, comes the concentration of disadvantage. An unsegregated America might see poverty, and all its effects, spread across the country with no particular bias toward skin color. Instead, the concentration of poverty has been paired with a concentration of melanin. The resulting conflagration has been devastating." Is this not indisputable?

This is a book that needs to be read and studied. Ta-Nehisi is fully engaged and is brave, bold and brilliant in these pages and is not hesitant to call out white supremacy, respectability politics among Blacks, and even then President Obama in print and in personal meetings. All of this feels timely given the current state of affairs. I'm glad he Ta-Nehisi has risen to international prominence, his voice is needed and we're lucky to be able to read such an honest, intelligent, committed young man. Do yourself a favor and mark October 3, 2017 on your calendar. A big thank you to OneWorld and Netgalley for providing an advanced ebook in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Donna Davis.
1,758 reviews235 followers
October 28, 2017
Ta-Nehisi Coates is pissed. He has a thing or two to say about the historical continuity of racism in the USA, and in this series of eight outstanding essays, he says it well. I read it free and early thanks to Net Galley and Random House, and I apologize for reviewing it so late; the length wasn’t a problem, but the heat was hard to take. That said, this is the best nonfiction civil rights book I have seen published in at least 20 years.

Coates started his writing career as a journalist, and became the civil rights columnist for The Atlantic. For those Caucasians that advise Black folk to just get over this nation’s ugly history because slavery has been gone for 150 years, he has a response. Pull up your socks and be ready. To Bill Cosby and Patrick Moynihan and anybody else that wants to blame the high poverty level on the demise of the Black family, look out. And for anyone that seriously believes that the election of Barack Obama to the presidency is proof that America’s institutional racism is dead and gone, step back a minute.

When Coates sets out to make a point, he comes armed for conflict. Not only is he searingly eloquent, his research is hard to dispute. Addressing white folk that hold ourselves blameless for what our ancestors have done, he asks why we feel so free to claim our veterans every May and November and yet pretend that our white bedsheeted predecessors have nothing to do with us.

He has a point.

He speaks to those of us that are persuaded that the election of Donald Trump to the White House is more about economics and the unemployment of poor white people or the abrasive nature of Ms. Clinton than about white supremacy; Coates has some cogent arguments that run in the other direction. It’s enough to make you stop and think, and that’s why I am tardy with my review. I read in small bites, and then I had to reconsider some of my own conclusions. And although it stings, great writing does this. If we are paying attention, we have to realign some of our own thinking in order to meet the reality this book presents.

Coates is bemused by Caucasian readers that love his work. I understand his bewilderment; nobody likes to hear bad news about the characters of their ancestors, let alone about themselves. But if a thing needs doing, it needs to be done right, and in that respect, Coates is undeniable.

Highly recommended to everyone genuinely interested in civil rights in the USA.
Profile Image for Angela.
173 reviews28 followers
December 9, 2019
Some parts were a bit repetitive but I'll give it a pass because this book is a collection of essays/articles Coates wrote in the 8 years of Obama's presidency, so they weren't originally telling a singular story therefore the repetition wasn't repetitive in its individual publishing.

In this Coates discusses mass incarceration, redlining, the Civil War, reparations, Obama, Black Power Movement, Trump, and also debunks the newly-created and annoying myth that white America has always loved MLK and the Civil Rights Movement. All in all great read but incredibly frustrating and disheartening. Although that is to be expected. The pessimism of Coates might be off putting for some, but I think what he does is take the rose-colored whitewashed glasses off America, and instead speaks about the way it is and has always been rather than the sanitized version that absolves the sins and tells black ppl the only "true patriots" are ones who wrap themselves in a flag that suffers from dual personality disorder. I'm similar to Coates in that I don't have much optimism or faith. Also, I don't want to misrepresent the book as solely opinionated. He does point to some historical/present-day evidence and statistics, in some articles more than others (e.g. The Case for Reparations). I hadn't read these essays before except for the last one entitled, The First White President. That one was published pretty recently, so I'll admit that I skimmed the last couple of pages.

Reading this made me think of when President Obama was still in office, and how I sometimes imagined going up to him and shaking him saying, "Quit being so damn positive all the time. F****** tell them off! Even when it was their own white children being murdered they still refused to work with you. They rolled their eyes over you crying for them. Stand up for yourself! If they're going to be hypocritical; lying racists then go ahead, be the angry black man. Lord knows we've had our fill of the angry white man. If that's what they expect then that's what they deserve. Why do we have to put up with it all the time? They can yell and scream and stomp their feet for 8 yrs and tell you to put your mouth on their gun with no repercussions but we can't so much as take a silent knee?!" Of course Obama could and would never do that. As Coates discusses in the book, he doesn't have that generational grief and anger that most African-Americans have (after all his black side isn't a product of slavery like the rest of us), and in a way, I'm glad for him. Although, he does bare some blame in regards to playing to the "culturally depraved" and "respectability politics" narrative about black people that conservative, neoliberal, and black elites often use to absolve themselves of systemic problems they aren't interested in fixing. His politics aren't exactly in the progressive spirit of what we know black liberation, Civil Rights, and the Poor People's Campaign struggles to have been in.

I'm not going to go into an in depth review, but just know I'd highly recommend it, and this is coming from someone who still hasn't read Between the World and Me. Just keep in mind this isn't going to make you happy lol. Get ready for a lot of ignorant; bigoted quotes from average citizens to ppl holding political power that craft/uphold bigoted policy. And don't even get me started on Cosby and his ilk (Pound Cake speech). Ugh...
Profile Image for Leonicka.
150 reviews43 followers
August 8, 2017
I cycled through rage and anguish while reading this. It is a thorough retrospective on the (all too brief) moment of Obama's presidency, how it fits into the writer's life and how it fits into America's history.
Profile Image for Cindy.
407 reviews112k followers
August 26, 2018
Ta-Nehisi Coates is an incredibly smart human being with great writing chops. His essays are thoughtful, if not provocative, with several compelling arguments and stand-out lines. His writing enlightened me with topics I haven't thought deeply enough otherwise (i.e. the complexities of black conservatism, the case for reparations). Even the topics I was already familiar with (i.e. Obama juggling his black identity vs leading a white supremacist country) could still be enjoyed without feeling redundant, because he articulates his points so well in ways that many people never could. What keeps me from rating this 5 stars is the inconsistency of quality in the essays; some are very well done, while others aren't as strong. He unfortunately doesn't cover the intersectionality of race and gender. The memoir-like additions that he adds prefacing the essays felt like filler that was thrown in for the sake of having new content for a book. All of these essays are available on The Atlantic, and since I didn't care for the new content he wrote in, I felt like getting this book wasn't necessary compared to just looking it up online.
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,657 followers
December 15, 2017
It’s good because Coates is an excellent writer and thinker so 5 stars for that, but it’s a collection of essays that he’s already published so there’s really nothing new here except the prologue to each essay. Those words are good and it was nice to read the essays again in order, but it’s not a new work.
Profile Image for nettebuecherkiste.
513 reviews125 followers
December 9, 2020
Als 2008 mit Barack Obama zum ersten Mal ein Afroamerikaner zum Präsidenten der Vereinigten Staaten gewählt wurde, wurde dies von vielen als Meilenstein im Kampf gegen den Rassismus im Land gefeiert. Die Karriere von Ta-Nehisi Coates als Journalist begann damals gerade, er schrieb einen Blog für die Zeitschrift The Atlantic. Im vorliegenden Buch sind acht Essays vorhanden, die Coates während der Amtszeit von Barack Obama für den Atlantic schrieb. Sie befassen sich mit verschiedenen Aspekten des Rassismus in den USA und der Präsidentschaft Obamas.

Ich begann mit dem Hören des Hörbuchs kurz vor den amerikanischen Präsidentschaftswahlen, denn ich wusste, dass in dem Buch auch darauf eingegangen wird, wie es zur Wahl von Donald Trump kommen konnte. Und mit Joe Biden trat der Vizepräsident Obamas gegen diesen an. Das Buch beschäftigt sich jedoch keineswegs ausschließlich mit Obamas Präsidentschaft. Im ersten Essay „This Is How We Lost to the White Man“ etwa erläutert Coates das Phänomen des „schwarzen Konservatismus“, vornehmlich am Beispiel des Schauspielers Bill Cosby. Gleich ein Thema, über das ich wenig wusste. Konservativen Afroamerikanern geht es häufig darum, dass nicht länger die ganze Schuld (aus ihrer Sicht) auf die Weißen zu schieben, sondern die Sache selbst in die Hand zu nehmen. Sie kritisieren oft Aspekte, die in der schwarzen Bevölkerung eine große Rolle spielen, wie Schwangerschaften bei Teenagern. Coates kritisiert diese Einstellung und bringt stichhaltige Argumente.

Dass auch Barack Obama innerhalb des afroamerikanischen Spektrums eher auf der konservativen Seite steht, hat mich zunächst überrascht, wenn man darüber nachdenkt, ist das aber durchaus nachvollziehbar. In einigen Essays nennt Coates auch Beispiele dafür, wie Obama darauf achten musste, sich in seinen Statements nicht zu eindeutig auf die Seite der Schwarzen zu stellen, und wie er sofort von seinen weißen Gegnern abgestraft wurde, wenn er dies einmal tat. Ta-Nehisi Coates konnte Obama während seiner Amtszeit mehrere Male interviewen. In einem solchen Interview gegen Ende der Präsidentschaft äußerte Obama auch, wie sich viele offenbar vorstellten, er könne als Präsident alles tun, was er wolle. Wie sehr ihm oft die Hände gebunden waren, sollte allen bewusst sein.

Besonders kontrovers ist der Essay „The Case for Reparations“, in dem Coates Argumente dafür vorbringt, dass die USA ihrer afroamerikanischen Bevölkerung Reparationen zahlen sollten. Dies ist sicher weit davon entfernt, ernsthaft von der amerikanischen Regierung in Betracht gezogen zu werden, aber Coates Argumente sind schlüssig. Das Wort „eigentlich“ schwebt da im Raum.

Ta-Nehisi Coates Texte zeigen, wie zutiefst rassistisch die Vereinigten Staaten in weiten Teilen nach wie vor sind. Ausführlich geht er etwa darauf ein, wie der „War on Drugs“ vor allem auf Afroamerikaner abzielte (der Besitz „weißer“ Drogen wurden etwa viel milder bestraft), wie katastrophal die Gefängnispolitik der USA für die schwarze Bevölkerung ist, wie stark Schwarze bei Wahlen benachteiligt werden. Die Texte haben ein hohes intellektuelles Niveau, nicht umsonst wird Coates heute als "die schwarze Stimme Amerikas" angesehen. Das Buch ist rundum empfehlenswert.

Der Untertitel des Buches „Eine amerikanische Tragödie“ kommt nicht von ungefähr. Was Obamas Präsidentschaft angeht, ist der Schluss, den ich aus „We Were Eight Years in Power“ ziehe, besonders tragisch. Denn ein schwarzer Präsident, der für die White Supremacy des Landes eigentlich nicht sein durfte, machte es erst möglich, dass ein völlig inkompetenter Social Media-Star, von dem ich es nicht über mich bringe, ihn als Politiker zu bezeichnen, gewählt werden konnte. Er versprach, Obamas Errungenschaften rückgängig zu machen. Trump ist die Rache der White Supremacists für Präsident Obama.

Zum Hörbuch: Beresford Bennet liest das H��rbuch sehr gut verständlich und ausdrucksvoll. Bei Zitaten wendet er auch den jeweiligen Akzent der zitierten Person an. Ein wenig hat mich gestört, wie er beim Zitieren von Frauen seine Stimme etwas verstellte, das wäre denke ich nicht nötig gewesen.
Profile Image for foteini_dl.
430 reviews119 followers
January 30, 2018
“White people are,in some profound way,trapped;it took generations to make them white,and it will take more to unmake them”.
Σ' αυτό το βιβλίο υπάρχουν 8 άρθρα που έγραψε ο Coates για την εφημερίδα “The Atlantic” και καθένα απ’ αυτά αντιστοιχεί σ’ένα έτος της κυβέρνησης Obama.Πέρα απ’το να μιλήσει για το πώς αντιμετωπίστηκε τόσο απ’ τους Αφροαμερικανούς,όσο και απ’ τους λευκούς,η θητεία ενός Αφροαμερικανού προέδρου,εστίασε και σε μια σειρά ενδιαφέροντα θέματα που διατρέχουν ολόκληρη την ιστορία των ΗΠΑ (βλ. ρατσισμός,σκλαβιά,μαζική φυλάκιση και η λειτουργία του αμερικάνικου σωφρονιστικού συστήματος).Βέβαια,αυτά τα θέματα δεν υπάρχουν απλά στην αμερικάνικη ιστορία,αλλά αποτελούν τα θεμέλια της ίδιας της κοινωνίας•μιας λευκής κοινωνίας που υπάρχει και θεωρείται ανώτερη ηθικά και κοινωνικά ακριβώς εξαιτίας της εκμετάλλευσης των Αφροαμερικανών.Αν το δούμε πιο γενικά,η εκμετάλλευση κάποιων ανθρώπων από άλλους δεν αποτελεί το βασικό χαρακτηριστικό ολόκληρων κοινωνικο-οικονομικών συστημάτων (καπιταλισμός τώρα,φεουδαρχία παλιότερα κοκ);
Βέβαια,όσον αφορά τη θητεία του Οbama,ο συγγραφέας σημειώνει “Α black president would always be a contradiction for a government that,throughout most of its history,had oppressed black people”,ενώ δεν παρέλειψε να σημειώσει ότι ο πρώην πρόεδρος άσκησε μια “colorblind” πολιτική,κάτι που ο ίδιος (και πολλοί άλλοι,φαντάζομαι) δεν περίμεναν.
Στο τελευταίο άρθρο-επίλογο,ο Coates μας μεταφέρει στο τώρ�� και την εκλογή του Trump,ενός ένθερμου υποστηρικτή της υπεροχής των λευκών,ο πυρήνας της οποίας είναι “to ensure that that which all others achieve with maximal effort,white people (and particularly white men) achieve with minimal qualification”.Ο συγγραφέας κλείνει το βιβλίο,γράφοντας:
“And there can be no conflict between the naming of whiteness and the naming of the degradation brought about by an unrestrained capitalism,by the privileging of greed and the legal encouragement to hoarding and more elegant plunder.
(…)I see the fight against sexism,racism,poverty,and even war finding their union not in synonimity but in their ultimate goal-a world more humane”.
Profile Image for Patrice Hoffman.
553 reviews259 followers
November 6, 2017
Where do I begin when reviewing We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates? I don't think... actually... I know I don't have the words to express how impressive this collection of articles is. I'm reminded of Zoolander 2 when Zoolander says he literally does not have the vocabulary to respond. I am in that moment. For those thinking what an idiot I am for throwing Zoolander into a review of Coates, who is a stunning writer, is absolutely correct. So...

For those familiar with Ta-Nahisi Coates are reintroduced to the ideas or experiences he had before writing said article during the eight years of Obama's presidency. For the rest of us, you need to read this and become acquainted with his brilliance. I put myself in the "rest of us" category because I was unaware he existed. In hindsight, I feel like I deprived myself for many years so it's imperative that I right this wrong and absorb all the Coates I can.

Allow me to digress in explaining how I've come to this place of awe with all things Coates. I recently decided to go back to school for receipts. Receipts are degrees. I bought into the idea that if you work hard you'll get somewhere but I burned out of working hard after spending two years clocking out of one job to clock into another. Looking back on what was my life six months ago, I wanted to prove the Facebook commenters wrong when describing the black community or underpaid workforce. I was making a 32,000 a year and struggling (even while living in my mother's home... with no children) so I figured I'd take on another gig and I started making closer to 46,000 a year. But... I began to see a flaw in this working hard BS that everyone claims is the path to the American Dream, this key to prosperity, this machine that disenfranchised many, and convinced others that they don't work hard enough therefore they don't deserve a living wage.

With much trepidation and fear of losing my car, I stepped out on faith and hope that if I finally finished school I'd have the degrees proper tools to make it in this world. Plus, I had dropped out of college twice before. It was time to finish what I started.

Now, let's get to how I was introduced to Coates. Well, I was given an assignment in my Sociology class to read The Case for Reparations and was even quizzed on it. After reading Coates Atlantic article I was pissed. I mean mad as hell. For the last 3 years I've been gainfully employed with a company that I really love. The work I do is no longer customer service focused and allows my work to be noticed by the president of the company. Yes, the company is small but I love it. I loved all of it except this overwhelming sense that I needed to be careful. There are only 4 people of color in this 200+ company and I've never been more aware of my "blackness" than at this company. I mean... I grew up in Evanston, IL where diversity is golden. A sort of Utopia I allowed to blind me to the truths of the real world. The truth is that racism exists in all its glory to this day even after having a black president. It just isn't always overt. The Case for Reparations proved this by giving a face to the red-lining practices of the 60s to present and because I'm a victim, I compared my situation to this article. I worked hard and tried to be better than the rest. I bit my tongue when something wasn't right... yet... the white people around me were receiving recognition for doing their jobs.

I've digressed some. My point is this, Coates wrote this article and referenced a man who'd worked hard and was still treated as a second class citizen that outsiders looking in would suggest he didn't work hard enough. To the contrary. He worked super hard, procured a home mortgage, tried to play the game and was still counted out. No it doesn't discourage me from getting my receipts, but it does make me relate to the people in the black community who feel no matter what or how they behave, it will not change the way America's racism is ingrained so far in its fabric, there is probably no way to unravel this thread... ever.

Either way, I decided to read more of his work. Most recently I read The First White President article after seeing him speak at my high school Evanston Township, and witnessed his brilliance first-hand. After writing brilliance I have to kinda fall back a moment. This collection of articles and the prelude to them are brilliantly written, no doubt. He's rightfully been compared to James Baldwin and others of his magnitude when relaying the subject of race and their relations. Yet, his brilliance is based on a life full of first-hand knowledge.

Yikes...I've super digressed. Suffice it to say, I could actually write a more traditional review and highlight or quote Coates but seriously, I don't think there was one page that didn't get highlighted. I understand and felt a lot of the frustration he expounded in the writings that provide insight to the article's purpose or reasoning behind it.

Ultimately, I loved We Were Eight Years in Power. I even enjoyed rereading the few articles I'd already read on The Atlantic's website. There's really no way to review this work except to encourage someone, anyone who feels they're tired of hearing the woe-is-me that they liken to the black experience, or those who feel no one else is aware of the struggle that faces being black in America really is. This collection is for you. To open the eyes of the naysayers and to encourage the downtrodden.

Copy provided by Random House Publishing via Netgalley
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