We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Reviewed by Sylvia Kocses.

In honor of Black History month, this recent review of We Were Eight Years in Power  deserves a second look, if you didn't catch it the first time it published.

In 1967 during my freshman year in college, I had to read Walden by Henry Thoreau. As I studied, outlined, re-read and memorized passages of this book, Thoreau challenged me to examine my priorities, my values, and my cultural assumptions. I realized I didn't want to live a life of quiet desperation as a slave and prisoner of others’ expectations, nor find my purpose in the pursuit of material possessions. I was motivated to change by Thoreau’s thoughtful essays: Few books are that profound.

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates (One World Publishing Co., 2017) rises to that level. The book contains eight essays he wrote from 2008 to 2016 for Atlantic magazine on issues of race, historical injustice, white supremacy, and Barack Obama's presidency. Each original essay is introduced with a blog-like commentary about the election of Donald Trump. 

All 16 essays focus on the myriad of difficult issues facing our country today. "Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?" addresses the National Football League’s controversy over singing the national anthem. The fourth essay "How We Lost to the White Man") explains Black America’s historic intellectual divide between the "Twice as Good" mantra espoused by the African-American educator Booker T. Washington and the protest movement of Black Lives Matter today. The final essay (“Fear of a Black President”) is a critical analysis of the effectiveness and legacy of Barack Obama.

The author’s prose is lyrical, scholarly, poetic—and brutal. He is "the arsonist who burns with his pen, regardless," sing sings the rapper Whiteface Killah in “Daytona 500." You can't escape the heat this book generates. We will not all agree with the author’s views on reparations, immigration or the political policies of President Trump, but these topics need to be discussed.

Coates, an atheist, expresses a bleak picture of race relations today. "For most African Americans, white people exist either as a direct or an indirect force for bad in their lives. Biraciality is no shield against this; it often intensifies the problem."

As a believer in Jesus Christ and in the power of God to change hearts, I will remain hopeful. James 1:19 commands believers to "be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger." Civility, mutual respect and healthy debate can guide us in the hopes of finding compromise and solutions to our deep problems.

Learn more about the book:

The author’s website

A review of Eight Years on the black culture website The Root

An interview with the author on YouTube

Review of The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency by Randall Kennedy

Public Library/B&N/IndieBound/Amazon