Brilliant on the question of the American race



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The journalist Te-Nehisi Coates is

Photograph: Nina Subin

The journalist Te-Nehisi Coates is updated with "We have had the power for eight years".

Journalist Te-Nehisi Coates masterfully sheds light on race as a crucial factor in American culture and history. Fedja Wierød Borčak read a social analysis whose sharpness and stylistic quality are unique.

We had power for eight years – an American tragedy

Non-fiction

Author: Te-Nehisi Coates

Translation: Eva Åsefeldt

editor: Norstedts

The so-called racial question has probably been the most pronounced social problem in American history and remains so, not least in these times of Trump. Blacks are significantly overrepresented in prison statistics, income disparities are huge, and unarmed black youth are still being slaughtered by police.

I first came into contact with the problem in the 1990s through the rap group Public Enemy, which strongly criticized structural racism in the country. I was maybe eight years old and my older brother came home with one of his albums. It was a revolutionary experience. Although I did not understand the words, I felt in my body: anger, that there was something at stake, the call to do something (whatever it was). It was my first real aesthetic experience and came to define important aspects of my life.

Award-winning American journalist Te-Nehisi Coates describes his first encounter with hip hop in a similar way as something "mysterious and surprising," which reveals a particular kind of beauty in language that can get people moving. Hip hop works for him as a source of inspiration for a type of narrative that does not create "story telling stories" or that has "the obligation to be hopeful or optimistic." This perspective is clear in Coate's writings. He does not give answers or intelligent solutions to the problem he has involved throughout his adult life: the experience of black oppression in a society that is characterized by a white power order at all levels.

The essence of the book consists of eight essays published during the Obama era, one for each year. In the first, Bill Cosby's black conservatism, which attacks a "degenerate" black culture (not least on the hip), is criticized and believes it will probably succeed if blacks shrug. Coates also writes about slavery, black absenteeism in the history of the American Civil War, and mass custody of blacks in connection with the "war on drugs" from the 1980s onwards. One of the most interesting texts is about long-range discrimination in the real estate market, which gave rise to the formation of ghettos and tremendous economic uncertainty for the black middle class that has spanned generations.

Coates added a personal note to each essay, which he comments both retrospectively and describes Coate's own journey from being a college deserter to becoming an influential writer. These two tracks work very well together. The flashbacks are particularly interesting as they portray Coate's own confusion in an exceptional moment of hope that Obama has managed to subdue the black population, not least. Can not a black man be president of a racist country?

Coates is partly skeptical of Obama and suggests that his success, rather than proof of the decline of racism, is related to successful navigation beyond the delicate racial issue. Obama does not mention race in his election campaign and when he does during his time as president, he has to endure mass criticism.

The starting point in Coate's method is the insistence on racism as a central cause of many of the issues that otherwise seem to have to do with "colorblind" factors such as culture, class, or educational level. In an extraordinarily clear and convincing way, he manages to highlight crucial moments in history that indicate that it is the fear of the Vita of blacks that is the problem. Not that the blacks are lazy and incapable, as Cosby would say.

The clarity of reasoning is supported by the language of Coate, which is dazzlingly clear as it overflows with rage and legalism. In a brilliant way, he can write in a ruthless and deeply empathic way at the same time. This makes your book difficult.

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