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

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We Were Eight Years in Power Themes

Ta-Nehisi Coates's We Were Eight Years in Power compiles eight essays written over the course of Barack Obama's presidency; the first essay was published in 2008, before Obama was elected, and the last in 2017, after Donald Trump's election. Each essay in the book addresses a different aspect of African American life and the way it was affected during the Obama administration.

Overall, the book looks at the lives and experiences of African Americans in America. Coates covers topics as far back as the beginning of slavery in North America in the seventeenth century and as recently as the 2016 election. Coates discusses the ways African Americans have been treated, the way that treatment has affected them as a community, and what Coates believes all Americans should do to make up for this legacy today and in the future.

Additional themes for each essay are addressed below.

Black Conservatism

In "This Is How We Lost to the White Man" (first published in 2008), Coates discusses a speech he witnessed in which Bill Cosby discouraged activism and instead encouraged black men to simply be better. The goals and ideals of black conservatives, Coates argues, accept racism as a part of life, and he disagrees with this viewpoint.

Society's Interpretations of Black Women

"American Girl" (2009) tells the story of the Michelle Obama that Coates saw and the ways in which white Americans (and particularly conservative white Americans) interpreted her differently.

The Importance of History

Coates poses a crucial question in the title and body of his 2010 essay: "Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?" The answer, he posits, is that the Civil War isn't a point of pride for black Americans the way that the Revolutionary War might be for white Americans. The Civil War is not the culmination of centuries of oppression, but rather another stopping point along a road to equality that is still unfinished.

Malcolm X in the Contemporary Lens

Coates looks at "The Legacy of Malcolm X" in his 2011 essay of the same name. For decades, Malcolm X has been an idol to African Americans, and Coates discusses the ways that Barack Obama's presidency carries on that legacy.

Race and Discomfort

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama rarely discussed the fact that he was black. In "Fear of a Black President" (2012), Coates explains why not addressing race was a crucial factor in creating a comfortable relationship with all Americans, and particularly white Americans.

The Necessity of Reparations to Address Systemic Racism

The state of African...

(The entire section is 616 words.)