We Were Eight Years in Power
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Contributed by Andrea Barraza
Themes are described as ideas that dominate a particular piece of literature. In almost all cases, pieces of literature will be centered a theme or a number of them.
Activism and Call for the Rights of African Americans

The book discusses the several efforts made by various people in ensuring that black people would attain some level of recognition and gain a better position in the American society. For instance, the efforts made by Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. are depicted to have brought about a huge positive impact the position held by African Americans as they portrayed the challenges that African Americans faced in the past. Through protests, such as those led by Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., African Americans eventually got a chance to rise above white supremacy and ended up having Obama, as a first African American, to become president, the highest seat in the country. Many African Americans saw people like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. as their heroes because of their continued efforts in championing for their rights. It is also evident that African Americans were out to open up regarding the various challenges they experienced. For instance, they spoke out openly regarding skyrocketing murder rates and the plague of HIV/AIDS (Coates 22). This shows how African Americans were not comfortable with the life that they had been exposed to in the past and, thus, struggled to see have much better outcomes out of it.

Disillusioned America

Throughout the entire book, the author demonstrates the notion that much of what had often been portrayed about America was not entirely true as many disadvantaged communities continued suffering. For instance, Coates shows how freedom was considered to be the bedrock of the American society whereas, it is the same country that enslaved many African Americans; a concept that is way different from what it prides itself in. Another concept is based on the illusion of change that America had. With the election of Obama, that the author suggests that America had finally risen to desirable levels that would enable people from different races to tolerate each other. However, the election of Trump generated a great “sense of wonder” among many people since he happened to be open with his racist semantics during the campaign season. Many African Americans did not expect that Trump would clinch the seat and, as presented by the author, this was a huge setback to the struggle for the freedom of African Americans had fought for.


Coates broken-heartedly tells the readers the painful historical relationship between the white people and the black people in the United States. He demonstrates how black people struggled to free themselves from forceful and unfair treatment by white people throughout the American history as they were seeking recognition. Coates takes his book title form the quotes of a South Carolina Congressman, Thomas Thriller who was fighting against the discrimination of African American voters. Thomas also cited the achievements made by the blacks such as building schools and the establishment of charity organizations, a thing that seemed to be a threat to the whites. In the book, Coates quotes William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B) Du Bois, a former American civil rights activist, saying “if there is one thing that South Carolina feared than a bad Negro government, it was a good Negro government” (Coates 226). The Reconstruction Era of the American history was the basis in which Coates sets his essays. Coates writes how the Obama’s presidency has benefited him and other back writers who had the talent to write but could not get a foam. It is only after Barack Obama became president that he got to write to the most prestigious papers and rise to become recognized as a writer.

The Rise of Black Writers

The theme of back writers appears throughout the eight essays of the book. Coates portrays how the Obama presidency propelled his career to unexpected heights. He appreciates that President Obama had a lot to do with his success in the writing career. Coates admits that many black writers were talented but had nowhere to display their talent before Obama became president. It was only until the Obama era that new opportunities were opened for them to display their talents. Coates explains that ‘writers were talented, but the talent is nothing without a field to display its gift’’ (Coates 171). Writing to him was a mantle that he was reluctant to adopt but later became a calling and a thing that made him popular and appreciated by many in the United States. Obama winning the election was the best thing for him as he felt his country people have come to love them at last. Besides, he experienced the transformation that began with a black president because he could have faced a lot of rebellion as a black writer if it were not for the Obama presidency.

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