"We were eight years in power" is a quote from South Carolina state congressman Thomas Miller, an African-American who was elected at the end of Reconstruction. He was highlighting the achievements made during Reconstruction, arguing against the disenfranchisement of black voters. They had built schools, established charities, educated the deaf and dumb, and built infrastructure. But his very argument was a threat to white supremacy. Coates quotes W.E.B. DuBois in his book: "If there was one thing that South Carolina feared more than bad Negro government, it was good Negro government."
This incomplete & halted era of reconstruction is the framework against which Ta-Nehisi Coates sets his book. He pulls eight essays written around the eight years of the Obama presidency, and shows how "the symbolic power of Barack Obama's presidency - that whiteness was no longer strong enough to prevent peons from taking up residence in the castle - assaulted the most deeply rooted notions of white supremacy and instilled fear in its adherents and beneficiaries."
The essays chosen for the book tackle a myriad of topics: the erasure of black history, mass incarceration, what it means to be black in the public eye, and, in my opinion the most compelling essay of them all, the case for reparations. Coates provides notes before each essay, explaining the context in which they were written, why they were relevant then, and why they are relevant now. The book shows an evolution, both in Coates' writing and thought, but also in the national conversation surrounding race, swirling towards the final chapter & epilogue, in which Donald Trump, the main force behind birtherism and much of the racist drum-beating, has been elected president.
This book is brilliantly written, incisive, and extremely relevant. Read it with your families, use it in your classrooms, and give copies to your friends.