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We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy

by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,2003712,387 (4.44)119
A portrait of the historic Barack Obama era features essays originally published in "The Atlantic," including "Fear of a Black President" and "The Case for Reparations," as well as new essays revisiting each year of the Obama administration.""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 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."--Dust jacket.… (more)
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» See also 119 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
When I read the author’s award winning book Between the World and Me, I was completely blown away. And I knew I would have to checkout his other books as well. This one came from the library at an opportune time, I was kind of in a slump and was definitely looking for a nonfiction and I’m glad I picked this up. And all I can say is I’m extremely unqualified to write a review for this one.

I didn’t know that this book was a compilation of eight of his essays from the eight years of the Obama presidency. And while I feared that that might make them a bit dated, and maybe a few points in them were, the author also gives a detailed explanation before each essay about his own personal journey during the time of the writing, the decisions he took during the process and is always self-critical about everything that he may have missed or misjudged. This lends so much more context and meaning to the articles themselves, and I loved getting to know both the author and his writings.

While each of the eight articles are important in their own right, my interest in them varied depending on how much I was aware of the topics beforehand or even in the way they were written. The piece on mass incarceration was one I had already read before but it’s worth a read again and holds a mirror to the kind of punitive and discriminatory society we live in. His various impressions of President Obama, the joy of seeing the first black president but also being critical of his policies and grappling with these dual emotions, and then not being entirely surprised by the backlash he received which culminated in the disaster that was 2016 - these were fascinating, emotional and even painful to read about, especially his epilogue about the current president and the way white supremacy is the undeniable core of this democracy.

But the two articles that really captured my mind were the one about Civil War and the other about reparations. They both showcase the systemic oppression from slavery to present day incarceration, interspersed in the middle with the civil war, Jim Crow, segregation, redlining and various other policies that have kept black oppression in place - and how the country, the politicians and its policies have striven to erase the people of their collective memory of the atrocity of it all and use platitudes to absolve themselves of the generational trauma caused upon millions of people which lasts till today. And the author rightly asserts that until the country, and particularly its white citizens reflect honestly and accept the truth about their past, there really can’t be an effective way forward towards inclusion and healing.

In the end, you might be wondering why my so called review is so disjointed and incoherent, but it’s just that the scope of ideas the author talked about in this book are vast and very important and I just don’t think I have the right vocabulary or understanding to talk about them. But this has really taught me a lot, and also made me want to read in depth about the subjects. Hope you will too. ( )
  ksahitya1987 | Aug 20, 2021 |
A must read for every person ( )
  elisalr22 | Jul 11, 2021 |
*snaps fingers* ( )
  LibroLindsay | Jun 18, 2021 |
This book was hard for me to personally get through. In part because of the topic and in part because each essay is very dense - though this is not a bad thing. But, it did mean I needed to stop somewhat frequently to give my brain time to digest what I had read. Though, since there were also points and specifics within the book that I had not heard about before there are undoubtedly parts of the book that I did not fully absorb with a single reading.

I think the format of the book really helped me to read through to the end because there were clear places I could pause to think. I also liked that he added notes before each essay where he in part reflected on what he had written in the past. Seeing this self reflection and acknowledgement of things that, after time has passed, he sees could be improved, shows a writer who will surely continue to improve.

I definitely want to read more of his work, especially things published after this book, but probably things published before as well. ( )
  Sara_Cat | Mar 7, 2021 |
There's a specific word that I notice Coates uses a lot and keeps surfacing throughout the book: plunder. The plunder that Coates details in these essays are multifold. The plunder of black wealth, life, spirit, time, family, all of which is stolen for the benefit of white supremacy. The most powerful essays for me, especially, were "The Case for Reparations," "The Black Family in The Age of Mass Incarceration" and "The First White President". I found these the best, in part, because he truly laid out in a sprawling essay form, the deep systemic nature of anti-blackness in the US, how if the US were a body, anti-blackness ran within it like blood. Strikingly, he says that even democracy itself was the product of slavery:

“It was slavery that allowed American democracy to exist in the first place. It was slavery that gifted much of the South with a working-class that lived outside of all protections and could be driven, beaten, and traded into generational perpetuity. Profits pulled from these workers, repression of the normal angst of labor, and the ability to employ this labor on abundant land stolen from Native Americans formed a foundation for democratic equality among a people who came to see skin color and hair textures as defining features.”

Coates' writing is both beautiful and deeply investigative. At one point he says that he wants to write like James Baldwin, to join the long line of "dream breakers", the writers in the African-American tradition who question the American dream fueled by the systemic plunder of black lives.

I don't think his writing is as soulful as Baldwin's but it's arresting in its own way. Coates writing is intensively thorough, with his investigative eye bringing our attention to the details as much as the breadth of the state machinery. The stats & research he provides is disarming. Things like racist housing practices, how 99.9% of clients of a lawyer handling lead poisoning cases were black, how a black person with a college degree has the same chance of securing a job as a white person with a criminal record.

At the same time, he writes with heartbreaking beauty, almost like a song, to remind us of the very real humanity & lives that have suffered under the weight of racism & white supremacy. Reading the account of a slave who had to see his wife & child sold away made me put aside the book & wipe away tears. Part of the power of his essays are when he gets to interact & interview people & relay their words. In his essay about mass incarceration, he relays the words of a former convict I found so striking: "I've never talked to a doctor until he be sewing me up after I got shot. I never talked with a lawyer until he was sending me to prison. I never talked with a judge until he convicted me"

His analyses were sharp & elegant in a way that swerves from the complicated intellectualising people may shore up in defence of racism. Take for example when he says: “Every Trump voter is certainly not a white supremacist, just as every white person in the Jim Crow South was not a white supremacist. But every Trump voter felt it was acceptable to hand the fate of the country over to one.”

Many times reading this, I remember what Zadie Smith said in a talk when she thinks about what African-Americans have gone through. She had mentioned how she read about the suffering African-Americans had been subjected to, about slaves being roasted alive, & when she considers this history,
she finds African-Americans to be living today with immense grace. "How are the streets not on fire?," she had said. I had the same thought. ( )
1 vote verkur | Jan 8, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ta-Nehisi Coatesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bachman, Barbara M.Designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grandgenett, BenCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mollica, GregCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sykora, ConnyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zach, MatthewCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"We don't just shine, we illuminate the whole show." —Jay-Z
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In 1895, two decades after his state moved from the egalitarian innovations of Reconstruction to an oppressive "Redemption," South Carolina congressman Thomas Miller appealed to the state's constitutional convention...
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A portrait of the historic Barack Obama era features essays originally published in "The Atlantic," including "Fear of a Black President" and "The Case for Reparations," as well as new essays revisiting each year of the Obama administration.""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 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."--Dust jacket.

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