Book Review by Kam Williams
We Were Eight Years in Power
An American Tragedy
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
“For so much of American history, the fact of black people is a problem… The demonstrable truth has been evaded in favor of a more comforting story…
[But America is] a country trying to skip out on a bill, trying to stave off a terrible accounting… It’s clear to me that the common theory of providential progress, of the inevitable reconciliation between the sin of slavery and democratic ideal [is a ] myth.”
— Excerpted from the Chapter 1, (pages 66-73)
[Photo Credit: Gabriella Demczuk]
In 2015, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me” earned the #1 spot on my annual Top Ten Black Books list. And, after reading the equally-remarkable “We Were Eight Years in Power,” there’s a good chance he’s about to repeat that feat.
William Faulkner once observed that, “The past is not dead. It isn’t even past.” That unsettling sentiment courses through the veins of Ta-Nehisi’s latest opus.
The title ostensibly implies that it’s about Barack Obama’s being followed in office by a President with diametrically opposed values when it comes to the welfare of black folks. After all, Trump seems to believe there are good and bad Nazis and good and bad Ku Klux Klansmen. Isn’t that’s like suggesting there are good and bad rapists and good and bad murderers?
The book does bemoan the fact that the dramatic difference in administrations has been marked by a revival of the dormant white supremacist movement. However, Ta-Nehisi’s genius rests in his putting that resurgence into proper perspective.
There is a chilling precedent for what transpired last November when the nation elected the candidate running on the slogan “Make America great again!” The author cites how, in the wake of the Civil War, the ex-slaves were bitterly disappointed when the egalitarian Reconstruction plan for the South was dismantled by the former Confederate states and replaced by the Jim Crow system of segregation.
That devastating development inspired black South Carolina Congressman Thomas Miller (1849-1938) to lament, “We were eight years in power” in reference to the brief period of African-American optimism in terms of securing equality under the law. The quote serves a dual purpose, here, as it talks about a dream rudely deferred while simultaneously issuing a dire warning that history might very well repeat itself.
Thus, We Were Eight Years in Power serves as a clarion call for vigilance about the possible erosion of African-American advances presumed sacrosanct. Consider these riveting, well-reasoned ruminations of the most-prodigious black visionary around a must-read indeed.