Sunday, September 23, 2018

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy


I received a free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4 Stars

I cannot think of a for fitting subtitle than the one for this book. An American Tragedy, indeed, well-deserving all caps, even. This collection of Coates' articles written during President Obama's years in office are a sobering and heart-wrenching look back at a groundbreaking presidency, only to be followed by such a ginormous shit-show that it is hard to believe we are talking about the same America. Sadly, we are.

Prior to this read, I was familiar with Coates' work and had enjoyed several of his articles for The Atlantic, though some of these were still new to me. And truthfully, I am having a very difficult time putting into words all the emotions I felt while reading this one. As a result, this might actually be one of the worst reviews I have ever written because no matter how I try, the words I write don't properly convey how important this book is. I might as well just stand on an actual soapbox on a street corner, banging a drum and shouting at passers-by that they MUST read this book. What I CAN say is that if you are looking for the voice of this generation in regards to writing, speaking, thinking about race, you can stop now; Coates is that voice, that writer, that thinker. Not only are the articles fantastic, but it is the in-between stuff that really pops. Coates prefaces each article with further writing, discussing his frame of mind at the time, what was going on when he penned that particular articles, and his reflections on it now that President Obama's time in office is receding further and further in the rear-view mirror. It is interesting to read of how his writing and thinking evolved over the course of Obama's two terms, and how that impacted him as a whole. You can certainly locate each individual article online, but please trust me when I say your time and money spent on the book would be well worth it. In fact, I wish this would become required reading in high school and beyond - especially two of the most powerful essays in a strong collection of work: "My President Was Black" and "The Case for Reparations". The latter is especially eye-opening, even for those who think they already have a solid grasp on how deeply racism is embedded into every day life in America, even in 2018. ESPECIALLY in 2018

In the final essay, the epilogue really to eight years of President Obama, comes Coates' final thoughts entitled, "The First White President". The title alone really makes one stop and think, with Coates providing his thoughts on why the statement is so infuriatingly accurate, and I thoroughly agree with his argument - that trumplethinskin's "entire political existence hinges on" a black president coming before him. he truly won for no other reason than being a white male, it really is that simple. This grossly unqualified candidate lead the way on the birtherism 'movement', and has demanded multiple times to see President Obama's transcripts, because OF COURSE a black man could not really be intelligent enough to attend an Ivy League school (sometimes when I type, I roll my eyes so hard I am worried they will roll right out of my head). If this line of thinking from trump makes you uncomfortable, good. It should. His thoughts, words, and actions are so normalized at this point, I fear we may never recover. 2020 can not come fast enough, and we must do all we can in the Midterm elections to right this ship before we reach the point of no return.

In addition to the aforementioned articles, Coates touches on a number of other topics as well in his selection of work from each year of the Obama presidency. One of my other favorites was a piece on Michelle Obama, her upbringing, and message sent in conjunction with that of her husband's. Also addressed at length is the epidemic of mass incarcerations and the impact that has on Black families - another fantastic piece that is timely and horrifying.

Basically what I am trying to say here is that the collection is superb. Even those articles from the earliest years of the Obama Administration are just as important now as they were then. We are also lucky enough to be able to go back to those articles now, with the knowledge we have gained in the time since they were first written. This brings another dimension to Coates' writing that we should be thankful for. In these articles, as well as the prefaces he has included for each of them, Coates writes in such a persuasive way, yet still allows himself to be completely open and vulnerable. He does not have all the answers, nor does he claim to. But to understand one another and work toward building a better, more inclusive future, his words provide a wonderful starting point - if everyone is will to take those steps and begin that journey.

I highly recommend this book to pretty much any and everyone. The unfortunate part is that those who might need it the most in all likelihood will never pick it up. Therein lies the problem. But the rest of us can and must pick up the slack and keep moving forward.

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