We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy

We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a collection of essays that Coates published in The Atlantic during and shortly after Barack Obama’s presidency. I had personally read quite a few of these essays when they were initially published, but it was intriguing reading them all together to see how Coates, both the writer and individual person, shifted his views on the nation as the Obama administration’s policies shaped the country. Coates was at times critical of Obama, which led him to be invited to the White House to discuss various matters with the president in person. One criticism includes a belief that Obama was too optimistic about the direction of the country, particularly when it came to not recognizing how damaging racism and Trump’s Birther Movement was to progress. Coates is more pragmatic in tone when it comes to discussing how racial tension and white supremacy led to the rise of Trump to the highest political office in the United States. Coates does not shy away from noting that racism, xenophobia, and sexism were responsible for Trump’s rise, which was a direct response to fear that power was slipping away from the white majority. Coates’ essays explore a wide variety of topics, including mass incarceration, reparations, ad police brutality.

The essays are very thoughtful in their own regard, but what I found the most fascinating what Coates’ introductions to each essay. Instead of simply allowing the essays to stand on their own, he has essentially added a chapter prior to the essay that details the United States’ political climate at the time he was writing, as well as where Coates was in his personal life. I admired how he was able to be analytical about his writing, including notes about areas of great engagement and success and areas that he feel he let readers down or did not have enough foresight to see the larger picture. In one area, he admits that he did not fully acknowledge on of his sources, and I believe his apology is sincere. Then, prior to the essay “This Is How We Lost to the White Man,” Coates acknowledges that his misstepped by only briefly mentioning the sexual assaults committed by Bill Cosby, even though the whole essay was an analysis of the respectability policies that Cosby was preaching. As a writer, I found this part of the book extremely insightful.

Whether you’ve enjoyed works by Coates before or if this would be your first exposure to his work, I recommend taking the time to read his essays thoroughly. I certainly learn something every time I read one of his pieces.

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