Author: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Reviewed by Cedric L. Suzman, retired founding EVP & Program Director, World Affairs Council of Atlanta
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and this book is a collection of his essays, including his iconic “The Case for Reparations” that brought him to national attention. Other essays include “Fear of a Black President” and “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration.” These titles say it all, and to my mind this is the most compelling and important statement on the condition and experience of being black in America today that I have read.
The book is organized around the eight years of President Obama’s presidency, with each chapter leading with a short commentary on where Coates was in his life during that year, followed by one of his previous essays. The title comes from a statement made by South Carolina Congressman Thomas Miller in 1895, about how his state moved from Reconstruction, painted as a corrupt era of “Negro Rule,” to an oppressive “Redemption” that placed it on the road to prosperity. Coates feels that the country still suffers from the persistent and haunting impact of the nation’s unreconciled history, and only by honestly facing our history and our current condition, can we move forward as a nation.
Coates’ essay on “The Case for Reparations” was for me the most important in the book, and in many respects a revelation. It is not about reparations for the crime of slavery as so often discussed, but so much more. He cites in painful detail so many examples of injustice and how black Americans were systematically prevented from accumulating capital and fully participating in the economic life of the country – which in the final analysis is the essence of the “American Dream.”
This is a must read for anyone interested in fully understanding what it means to be black in our society today.
Editor’s note: This review is part of Global Atlanta’s annual project asking influential readers and community leaders to review the most impactful book they read during the course of the year. This endeavor has continued each year since 2011. Purchases through the Amazon affiliate links at top will provide a commission to Global Atlanta. All reviews were written independently with only mild editing from our staff.