My Book World
in Power: An American Tragedy. New
York:One World, 2017.
Of necessity this book is a sad one. It tells a truth, or many truths, really, that white people in our country must come to grips with—namely that our white ancestors committed crimes against black slaves and that, as descendants, we have failed and continue to fail to atone for their sins.
“If you see black identity as you see southern identity, or Irish identity, or Italian identity—not as a separate trunk, but as a branch of the American tree, with roots in the broader experience—then you understand that the particulars of black culture are inseparable from the particulars of the country” (54).
“I believed this because the reparations claim was so old, so transparently correct, so clearly the only solution, and yet it remained far outside the borders of American politics. To believe anything else was to believe that a robbery spanning generations could somehow be ameliorated while never acknowledging the scope of the crime and never making recompense” (159)
Whites could do with a healthy dose of walk-a-mile-in-my-shoes kind of empathy. Coates quotes one man: “‘When they tore down the projects here, they left the high-rises and came to the neighborhood with that gang mentality. You don’t have nothing, so you going to take something, even if it’s not real. You don’t have no street, but in your mind it’s yours’” (195).
In Coates’s introduction he makes clear that the eight years he is talking about—Obama’s eight years in power—are shadowed or echoed by an earlier period in the late nineteenth century, when black citizens, as part of Reconstruction, ran the state of South Carolina. Eight years only because whites took that away from them. Each of the eight essays in this book is a championing statement that clarifies the history of African-Americans: “The Legacy of Malcolm X,” “The Case for Reparations,” and “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration.” “My President Was Black” concludes this book which must be required reading for all Americans.
NEXT TIME: My Journey of States-18 Arkansas