Biting cultural and political analysis from the award-winning journalist.
Coates (Between the World and Me, 2015, etc.), a MacArthur Fellow and winner of the National Book Award and Kirkus Prize, reflects on race, Barack Obama’s presidency and its jarring aftermath, and his own evolution as a writer in eight stunningly incisive essays, most of which were published in the Atlantic, where he is national correspondent. He contextualizes each piece with candid personal revelations, making the volume a melding of memoir and critique. The opening essay focuses on Bill Cosby’s famous effort to shake black men “out of the torpor that has left so many of them…undereducated, over-incarcerated, and underrepresented in the ranks of active fathers.” Cosby’s black conservatism, writes the author, reflected “a collective feeling of disgrace that borders on self-hatred.” Obama’s ascent, though, felt like “the wind shifting,” and it coincided with Coates’ visibility as a writer. After writing a profile of Michelle Obama (“American Girl”), he started a blog that came to the Atlantic’s attention and soon joined the magazine. After “Fear of a Black President” won a National Magazine Award in 2012, Coates was sought out as a public intellectual for his insights about race. His conclusions are disquieting, his writing passionate, his tenor often angry: “white supremacy,” he argues, “was so foundational to this country that it would not be defeated in my lifetime, my child’s lifetime, or perhaps ever.” He considers “The Case for Reparations” to be “the best piece in this volume to my mind,” but surely “My President is Black,” his assessment of Obama (“he walked on ice and never fell”) and crude, boorish Trump, is a close contender. Coates considers bigotry to be the deciding factor in Trump’s appeal. “It is almost as if the fact of Obama, the fact of a black president, insulted Trump personally,” and he unleashed violent resentment among his supporters. Although Coates subtitles the book “An American Tragedy,” he allows a ray of hope for “a resistance intolerant of self-exoneration, set against blinding itself to evil.”
Emotionally charged, deftly crafted, and urgently relevant essays.