A Review on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Power
Ta-Nehisi Coates is New Yorker that works for The Atlantic. The book, We Were Eight Years in Power, reflects how people throughout America see such racial issues, their views on how they came about, and what they can do to prevent African Americans from suffering any further.
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Looking at the beginning of the book, Coates describes how he became an author and how hard it was to support his family as a struggling author with no degree, not to mention being a black man in America. Bill Cosby was a large part of the beginning portion of the reading. He was seen as someone who would be “real” with people. During what was introduced as a “call out”, Cosby would get on stage and pretty much lecture the “at-risk youth” about how they need to get up and do something productive with their lives instead of obsessing over materialistic things. It wasn’t only targeted at the black teenagers. He would also talk about black parents “for not holding up their end of the civil rights bargain” (Coates 2017, 9) by naming their children “black” names. Cosby went on for years giving such speeches about how the African- American community needs to stop blaming white people and succeeding on their own terms. Coates describes how the call-outs may have been an attempt by Cosby to cover up the rape allegations that had come up during that time. Today, people are still talking about the allegations and it is seeing a new light. According to Leora Arnowitz from USA Today, “Cosby was convicted in April 2018 of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand at his home outside Philadelphia in 2004. He’s been accused of sexual assault or misconduct by dozens of other women.” (USA Today, paragraph 3) Despite such allegations, Cosby went on to share his views. During an NAACP awards ceremony, Cosby preached how times have changed where yes, people are more accepting and understanding; but the black community was taking a big advantage of it. He talks about how society doesn’t shame young men that run away from their fatherly duties young women are getting pregnant before marriage.
Looking further into the book, Coates describes how Barack Obama, when elected president, received a lot of backlash because he wasn’t “exactly black.” From Coates’ point of view, it meant that Obama wasn’t the typical black man. He didn’t grow up in a struggling community where his mother was always working and where he sold drugs. Michelle Obama, as described in the book, is “a six-foot black woman who says what she means.” (46) Coates does a wonderful job explaining and interpreting what M. Obama says. He highlights the parts that are important and that justify his claims that times have changed for the better- and for the worse- but these public figures all have different views on the situations occurring today. At a luncheon in Chicago, M. Obama appeared to explain how she grew up and how it differs today. “I am always amazed at how different things are now for working women and families than when I was growing up… Living with one income, like we did, just doesn’t cut it. People can’t do it—particularly if it’s a shift worker’s salary like my father’s.” M. Obama goes on to explain how she worried about her children like every other mother, despite being the First Lady of the United States of America. This portion of the book connects them to the First Lady by explaining how she is more like an ordinary woman than some people can imagine. She grew up on the South Side of Chicago with her family relying on one income then attended Harvard Law School. “She joined the Chicago law firm Sidley & Austin, where she later met B. Obama, the man who would become the love of her life.” (The White House, paragraph 4) She didn’t stop being a regular person when her husband became president; she just used the title to make a change in the world. M. Obama creating movements like “Let’s Move!” to overcome child obesity.; “Joining Forces” to help military families and veterans find employment opportunities and to seek wellness and an education; “Reach Higher” to encourage students to finish high school and further their education; and “Girls Learn” to promote staying in school for girls around the world.
In Chapter 4, Coates revealed to them that his mother, who grew up in the projects of West Baltimore, was shamed for having kinky hair. A lot of black women that grew up getting perms or were shamed for having “nappy hair” know exactly what he is referring. Everyone on social media see the pictures online; They laugh at the memes all over Twitter that refers to people saying things like “My momma permed my hair when I was a kid. It broke off so bad.” But they don’t realize that that is a part of self-hate their family instills into them at a young age. “My mother began relaxing my hair when I was 8. I have bruising memories of sitting for hours atop telephone books, roasting beneath a hooded dryer, my hair in rollers. The dryer’s heat was uncomfortable; the roller pins on my scalp torturous.” (Oprah Magazine paragraph 2) Coates’ mother’s experience was quite similar. Her head would burn when “the beautician would grow careless with the [petroleum] jelly…But on the long walk home, black boys would turn, gawk, and smile at my mother’s hair made good.” (Coates 2017, 94) Black women all over the world can think of a time where they were expected to change to look more “presentable.” It may be for a job interview, to blend in with their peers, or to feel accepted by their family. In the 21st century, the pressure of getting a relaxer has been mainly lifted. More women are motivated to wear their natural hair, grow dreadlocks, and even wrap cloth around it.
Those who keep up with the news and politics may remember what happened to Shirley
Sherrod. Sherrod worked for President Obama but was fired after being falsely accused of speaking on getting revenge on a white farmer for being racist. Coates brings up the topic not to pity her or to bad-talk the former president, but to shed light on the fact that B. Obama had to fire her without hesitation because if he hadn’t, it would have looked bad. When B. Obama had to speak on an incident where a police officer arrested someone for breaking into his own home, he appeared to have held himself back because of the majority white country. After all, he was the first black president of the United States. “He should’ve feared white innocence.” (115) He was just speaking his mind and it came out more biased “when Obama claimed that the Cambridge police officer had “acted stupidly.”” (121) Another racial issue affected America during President Obama’s term: The shooting of Trayvon Martin. Everyone wanted to know the president’s thoughts on the matter. Was it murder? Would he have been shot if he was white? Was it self-defense? No one knew. But President Obama had a lot of time to think about what he was going to say about the subject. “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon. I think they are right to expect that all of us American’s are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and that we’re going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.” (121) He appeared to have come off as neutral, but everyone heard their own versions and interpreted it in their own way.
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If they look throughout Chapter 6, they will notice how there are many subheadings, motioning to the different stories Coates tells. He talks about slavery then moves all the way through to talk about the discrimination throughout a town. Beginning in 1917, the city of Chicago became segregated so that the value of homes wouldn’t drop. A realtor would sell houses for much more than they were worth to blacks in order to get them to either look elsewhere, or take their money when they knew they wouldn’t be able to keep up on the payments. Chicago because sectioned off into zones in order to make sure certain houses kept their values and to keep the races separate. “Separate but equal” they always claim. “By the 1940s, Chicago led the nation in the use of these restrictive covenants in about half of all residential neighborhoods in the city were effectively off-limits to blacks.” (189) Eventually, whites became so scared of living in what they believed would become “the black ghettos” that speculators in North Lawndale would talk them into selling their houses for a low price just to get out of the neighborhood. Once the speculators got them to sell for a cheap price, they would sell them to blacks for a way higher price and under a contract. Coates continues to tell us about how men like Clyde Ross, Mattie Lewis, and Ethel Weatherspoon had to work multiple jobs just to live in a place where they knew they were being taken advantage of. But back then, blacks didn’t have much of a choice. It was either live with your family or move out and make a family of your own.
Works Cited Page
- Markowitz, Leora. 2019. “Bill Cosby Is ‘Extremely Popular’ in Prison, ‘Looks Amazing’ after Weight Loss, Rep Says.” USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network. June 19, 2019. https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/people/2019/06/18/bill-cosby-jail-losing-weight-giving-motivational-speeches/1490124001/.
- Coates, Ta-Nehisi. 2017. We Were Eight Years in Power.
- “Everything You Need to Know About Quitting Relaxing.” n.d. Oprah.com. Accessed July 24, 2019. http://www.oprah.com/style/going-natural-hair-how-to-stop-relaxing/all?scrlybrkr=2e498a98.
- “First Lady Michelle Obama.” n.d. National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives and Records Administration. Accessed July 24, 2019. https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/administration/first-lady-michelle-obama.
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