October 3rd, 2017

171003 ta-nehisi coates 1a

TIMEMARK 7:25—Great writing is necessarily a selfish act. You have something inside you that you are trying to express, or a question that you are trying to answer and you hope that the answer you produce resonates with a wider audience.

TIMEMARK 45:10—Joshua Johnson: What gives you the most hope? Ta-Nehisi Coats: I get this question all the time. I’m a writer. My influences are other writers… I don’t know why it is the expectation that I will be any different than other writers and other journalists. Writers and journalists are generally not in the business of giving hope. They are in the business of reading, reporting, researching and then writing. That’s what I do. If I make you feel hopeful, that’s great, if it doesn’t then see your pastor. That’s not my job.

Michael Harriot, in We Were 8 Years in Power Moves Ta-Nehisi Coates to Top of Black America’s Draft Board for The Root, writes:

[We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy] is characterized as an in-depth look at the Obama presidency from one of America’s greatest living writers. It dissects 2008-2016 with the surgical precision and insight of a master medical examiner.

Even though the work is being sold as a piece of historical analysis and political commentary, it is neither of those things. It is a look at the history of race in America. It is an unapologetic laying out of facts. More than anything, We Were Eight Years in Power settles an argument: If, by chance, we ever came together to draft someone to pen the story of being black in America, there is no doubt that Ta-Nehisi Coates should be the consensus first-round pick.

Coates opens with the often forgotten reminder that after the Civil War, black men were elected to serve in the House of Representatives and Senate in comparatively large numbers. Coates quotes civil rights activist and South Carolina Rep. Thomas Miller as saying, near the end of Reconstruction (referred to by Coates as the “Redemption Era”):

We were eight years in power. We had built schoolhouses, established charitable institutions, built and maintained the penitentiary system, provided education for the deaf and dumb, rebuilt the ferries. In short, we had reconstructed the State and placed it on the road to prosperity. —Thomas Miller, 1895

Although the compilation of essays written from 2008 to 2016 examines every detail of the first black presidency in microscopic, high-definition detail, Coates’ primary argument is not about the successes, failures and political nuances of Obama’s time in office. It is really not about politics, history or even Obama. Eight Years is less about an American presidency than it is about America.

I chose to pull the two quotes about writing and writers from Ta-Nehisi’s interview because I found the task of excerpting what he had to say about President Donald John Trump and white supremacy impossible. I would however, ask you to pay special attention how he weaves the response of W.E.B. Du Bois to Miller into his narrative.

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