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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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9872714,681 (4.46)113
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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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. ( )
1 vote bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
It's not great foreshadowing when you don't agree at all with the opening premise
that the author uses to draw readers in: "This story began, as all writing must, in failure."

I was hoping, if not for humor, at least some irony.

Given the overall positive LT reception for Eight Years, my concentration will be on improvements.

1. Middle and High School kids hate hearing that they come from a legacy of slaves.

2. Regarding coverage of the contradictions of Bill Cosby, Coates writes that
"...the depth of his commitment would seem to belie such suspicions..."

So, the "alleged" claims of that ONE woman, as well as those of more women,
are contradicted or "proven to be false" because of Cosby's alleged "commitment" ...?

What if that one woman, or ANY of the other ones, was Coates' mother, grandmother,
sister, daughter, wife, or granddaughter, would his reaction be so perilously weak?

3. President Obama gave everyone the opportunity to be proud of America.
And, what would have been the reaction if a white man had written that "He took Michelle Obama for white"...?!?
Coates covers her south side of Chicago with only mention of hip-hop, not a word of the depth
of The Blues or Creative Improvised Music (AKA Jazz) and little of Gospel.

4. The author is correct about Gone with the Wind STILL being widely read,
yet totally wrong when he states "...that Birth of a Nation is the most revered touchstone of all American Film."

Yes, its new film techniques deserve recognition, but it is primarily, except for KKK followers,
the most hated racist film ever made.

5. Coates describes the touch of a young black boy to Obama's hair as "mawkish" -
wonder what he would have written had the boy been white?

6. Many black and white people voted for Barack Obama because he was a black
liberal Démocrate who publicly showed real character and honest values and who
many believed would close Guantanamo and end all involvement in wars.

We were saddened that the money did not go for cures.

7. Coates does not appear to want to acknowledge that if President Obama
showed the Black Rage that he feels that both the Republican majority
and the increasingly conservative media would further undermine ANY good
that he was attempting.

8. Reparations are due to Native Americans, Women, and African Americans
in ways that will benefit people from the poor on up: jobs, fair and decent housing,
safe playgrounds, community centered law enforcement, walk-in clinics, coffee shops,
open air farmers markets, libraries, good and affordable transportation, free health care,
community schools and centers, more to strengthen and restore the good we already have.

9. President Obama may just be passable for Coates;
to many of us, despite our feelings about ending the wars, he was and is a hero.

Just like Che or Malcolm or Martin or the Kennedys or Ghandi,
every single day he faced more people who wanted him dead. ( )
  m.belljackson | Feb 29, 2020 |
We Were Eight Years in Power brings together eight essays which Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote for The Atlantic during the eight years of Barack Obama's presidency, prefaced with new introductions in which Coates reflects on the process of writing each piece and the evolution of his thoughts on politics, race, and American history. Revisiting these essays as the Obama Presidency recedes further into history and the Trump administration continues to push policies premised on unabashed racism and misogyny is a painful thing. Coates writes incisively and with pessimism, and gives the reader much to chew over (even someone like myself, who as a white woman but not an American both is and is not part of Coates' immediate audience). I admire Coates' ability to call out (un)consciously bigoted thinking in concise and elegant prose, and to persist even though the future ahead of us all seems bleak. ( )
  siriaeve | Sep 9, 2019 |
We Were Eight Years in Power collects eight essays by Ta-Nehisi Coates, one for each year that Barack Obama was in power. The essays were originally printed in The Atlantic and each is introduced by Coates' later reflections on how he feels about the issues since the election of Trump. The title itself was taken from the words ofThomas Miller, a Black man elected to the South Carolina House during Reconstruction, another period when it seemed Black people could succeed in US society only to have this early experiment in integration quickly snatched away by racism. The essays cover many topics including slavery, Jim Crow, the effects of gentrification and mass incarceration on the Black population, and the Black Conservatism of Bill Cosby. They are all well-written, well-documented, insightful, informative, and clear and they pack a real punch.

I was first granted access to this book back in 2017 from Netgalley and the publishers. At the time, although I read it immediately, no matter how many times I tried I couldn't seem to write a review and eventually gave up. However, in this era of Trump and the rise of white nationalism throughout the west including in Canada, I decided to read it again This is the kind of book that should be read by anyone who cares how we got to this sorry pass and where we may be heading in the future and I recommend it highly. ( )
  lostinalibrary | Jun 8, 2019 |
Essays aren't really my thing, and political essays are definitely not, so this wasn't the best choice for me.

We Were Eight Years in Power is collection of essays Coates wrote, one from each year of the Obama presidency, a time which paralleled Coates's own rise from novice columnist to acclaimed and authoritative author. Not every essay in this collection is political, but many of them are. Coates is a tremendous writer regardless of the topic he tackles, but he best holds my attention when the subject is more societal or historical.

As a complete collection, We Were Eight Years in Power is a bit too wandering and repetitive. This is like an album which purports to be a collection of the artists “most loved songs,” but leaves out some of the true “greatest hits.” A thoughtful collection overall, but one best suited for lovers of government.
  chrisblocker | Apr 29, 2019 |
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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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