We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy
By Ta-Nehisi Coates
One World (2017)
This remarkable book is a collection of essays about white privilege, Obama’s inability to live up to his campaign promises, and the role of his presidency in setting the stage for Donald Trump.
Coates’ approach to the topic of white privilege is largely historical. He traces the brutal reversal of Reconstruction reforms and re-institution of de facto slavery with Jim Crow laws; the Great Migration north of 6 million African Americans during the early 20th century; the deliberate exclusion of African Americans from New Deal programs such as Social Security, Aid to Families with Dependent Children and FHA (Federal Housing Administration) mortgage insurance; as well as the War on Drugs and mass incarceration of African Americans.
Coates has the best definition of white supremacy I have seen anywhere. In his words, white privilege is “banditry.”
“To be black in America is to be plundered. To be white is to execute and benefit from it.”
Coates gives numerous examples to justify this view: the exclusion of African Americans from wealth creation programs such as FHA and VA (Veterans Administration) mortgage loans, long time job discrimination and wage suppression, the recurrent decimation of prosperous Black communities via white race riots, predatory owner “contract” financing of home purchases, and predatory targeting of Blacks for subprime mortgagae they can’t repay.
My favorite essay is the one advocating for African American reparations, based on the argument that systematic exploitation of Blacks didn’t end with slavery but continues to the present day. As a precedent Coates cites the $7 billion (in today’s dollars) West Germany paid Israel in 1953 in compensation for Germany’s genocidal treatment of European Jews during World War II.