Sunday, December 17, 2017

We Were Eight Years in Power

Donald Trump is adamant--the Obama years were a "disaster."  Objectively that seems ridiculous, but for some people it masks a streak of racism in America.

Ta-Nehisi Coates articulates that racism is firmly established in America.  His title actually comes from an earlier time after the Civil War at the time of Reconstruction when in South Carolina, blacks for an 8 year term had real power and were able to accomplish some constructive things.  Their feats were dismissed, twisted and mocked.  Despite a lot of problems and maybe some justified criticisms Obama also accomplished a number of things in his eight years that made Americans better off, but the legacy is being deliberately destroyed.

The book contains essays that were first published in The Atlantic over an eight year period, but each is preceded by some more up to date personal context.  Coates is very introspective continuously trying to determine his own motives.  As with most of us his thought evolves.  The articles by themselves advance his thesis.

To those who believe the evils of slavery are history with no consequences you should read an earlier post on "The Half Has Never Been Told.  Coates brings up a wide range of statistics that prove his point, but he makes an honest effort to be balanced.

Coates points out that Americans love to tell the world about how important freedom is and how they are so great because of democracy, but in fact their freedom and economic growth was largely based on land stolen from natives and slave labour.  The Greeks also owed part of their democracy to slavery that allowed the elite to ponder the decisions of the day.  While Coates and other blacks contend the bigger problem is racism they have to contend with the notion that class might be a more critical problem.

Reparations are discussed, even trying to figure out an amount, but concedes nearly impossible to impose.  The established whites overlook how they accumulated their power.  Income is important, but accumulating wealth gives more choices.  One way of accumulating wealth has been through housing.  Blacks were deliberately obstructed in trying to build wealth in this manner.  Today affirmative action is attacked as if everyone really has the same opportunity.

Another way to advance oneself is through families.  The slaveholder mentality carried on even after the Civil War when whites found excuses to incarcerate blacks and turn them into cheap labour.  In more modern times blacks still easily run afoul of the law and are disproportionately incarcerated. This continues to force families to survive often with the breadwinner in jail or unable to get a viable job after release.  Coates points out how this aggravates an already difficult situation.

He feels Obama was in a very unique position to be the first black president.  He lived a life with loving white grandparents and was given opportunities to advance his education.  Obama felt it was not politic to criticize whites for past injustices, but to appeal to their better nature.  Do not be a threat.  Earlier in the book Coates talked about Bill Cosby who became a very popular tv star and perhaps encouraged more whites to accept blacks.  Of course Cosby's name is derided now, but by not being threatening he became very successful.  Later he became very critical of fellow blacks who he felt were not doing the right things.

Obama and Seth Myers joked at the expense of Donald Trump at the 2011 White House Correspondents dinner.   Some observers felt the humiliation is what motivated Trump to run for president and not merely replace Obama, but to destroy his legacy.  Too many whites found it difficult to accept that a black man could make a significant contribution to America.  Now the whole world suffers.

Coates ends his book with:  "I see the fight against sexism, racism, poverty and even war finding their union not in synomity, but in their ultimate goal--a world more humane."

To learn more about the author, Ta-Nihisi Coates check his website

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