Faithful followers of Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic may think there is no reason to read We Were Eight Years in Power because it publishes eight of his articles from each year of the Obama presidency, but they would be wrong. I read those articles when they were written, but he introduces each one by noting how his ideas have changed and what he thinks he got right or wrong in the original. Reading in retrospective casts them in a different context and, let’s be honest, Coates essays are packed with historical insight and the kind of original thinking that demands close and repeated reading.
The introductions tell us what was happening in America and in Coates’ development as a writer when the articles were written. This frames the essays anew with the retrospective knowledge that Obama’s presidency so incited racism in white America chose the most openly racist, most obviously corrupt, and most belligerently ignorant white man they could find to replace him.
The essays Coates chose are also among his most important, the evisceration of revisionist Civil War history, the call for reparations, they exposure of white fear of black success, and the devastation of the carceral state. They are worth reading and rereading to remind ourselves that we have to reckon with white supremacy if we ever hope to be free and democratic country.
Coates also deftly handles the ridiculous claims that economic insecurity and elitist condescension led to Trump’s success. White people did not vote for Trump because their feelings were hurt by Saturday Night Live. They voted for Trump to elevate and sustain white supremacy.
I have admired Ta-Nehisi Coates for a long time and read his blog, bookmarking some of his articles on the Civil War for when someone talks about the Civil War being about tariffs or states’ rights or anything but white supremacy. It can be hard to read his thoughts because there is no false comfort that that arc of history is bending toward justice any time soon. This is not a hopeful book, but that is what makes it important. Truth is not always hopeful and more than anything else, Americans need to face the truth about white supremacy and how it poisons our country.
I received a copy of Were Eight Years in Power from the publisher from NetGalley.
- Were Eight Years in Power at Penguin Random House
- Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic
- Ta-Nehisi Coates on Twitter