First and foremost, I love, maybe even adore, Coates writing. He manages to weave narrative with fact and emotion with such grace and power. If I could write like anyone, it would be Ta-Nehisi Coates.
But I can’t write like Coates. Even if we wrote with the exact same words, I could not write like him because I am not him. For a long time, especially as a younger man, I believed that if I wanted to do something, it could be done and that no one could inhibit my success. More often that not, I was right. That is because I am a white male. In college, it was impossible to convince me that my race and gender had any bearing on my successes. As I’ve matured and reflected on my life, it became abundantly obvious that the advantages afforded to me have without a doubt shaped who I am. That is why I could never write like Ta-Nehisi. I have no idea what it is like growing up anything other than the way I did. That is why I read this book.
We Were Eight Years in Power is a collection of essays Coates wrote for The Atlantic. There is one essay for each year of the Obama presidency with forewords and introductions that really elevate each piece. The essays cover a surprisingly wide spectrum of topics considering they are all influenced by a single person. Coates discusses black conservatism, reparations, crime and mass incarceration, the Civil War, slavery, white supremacy, and of course, President Obama.
I can say with extreme confidence that I learned something I didn’t know with each essay. That is in addition to the perspectives I gained. Coates makes me reconsider long held opinions and rethink things I thought that I knew.
I really enjoyed the way that Coates could both appreciate and criticize the President. I think it improves both his praise and criticism. Of course this book discusses the author’s feelings on the 2016 election and includes a discussion he had with President Obama on the subject. I found it all fascinating but I’m prevented by my profession from engaging in politics so as not to politicize my organization so I am intentionally avoiding many of those topics here. I’ll just add that this book adds a reasonable voice to all the noise.
I recommend “We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy” to anyone who wants to see the world from someone else’s eyes. I think every high school student should read this book, whether they agree with the conclusions or use it as a jump off point to further discovery.
I know that I am better for having read another book by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I hope that this review encourages you to give it a try.