Blackballed is Darryl Pinckney’s meditation on a century and a half of participation by blacks in US electoral politics. In this combination of memoir, historical narrative, and contemporary political and social analysis, he investigates the struggle for black voting rights from Reconstruction through the civil rights movement to Barack Obama’s two presidential campaigns. Drawing on the work of scholars, the memoirs of civil rights workers, and the speeches and writings of black leaders like Martin Luther King and Stokely Carmichael, Andrew Young and John Lewis, Pinckney traces the disagreements among blacks about the best strategies for achieving equality in American society as well as the ways in which they gradually came to create the Democratic voting bloc that contributed to the election of the first black president.
Interspersed through the narrative are Pinckney’s own memories of growing up during the civil rights era and the reactions of his parents to the changes taking place in American society. He concludes with an examination of ongoing efforts by Republicans to suppress the black vote, with particular attention to the Supreme Court’s recent decision striking down part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Also included here is Pinckney’s essay “What Black Means Now,” on the history
of the black middle class, stereotypes about blacks and crime, and contemporary debates about “post-blackness.”
The tactics have changed since the days when an "all-white school board in fired 32 black teachers who'd applied to register," and when "no blacks were registered to vote" in a Mississippi county "that was 81% black," but as novelist and essayist Pinckney (High Cotton) observes, there are now "new means by which to achieve the old aim: voter exclusion." Pinckney conveys, calmly and lucidly, what this portends for American democracy. Other themes are embedded in his observations about the ballot: the impact of Obama's presidency, which encompasses both his profound symbolic significance and the unfulfilled promise of a post-racial society; a purposeful and moving tribute to Pinckney's parents and their generation's engagement with civil rights; and the changes that have occurred since the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the "most important piece of civil-rights litigation since the Fifteenth Amendment." The emergence of new forms of discrimination include "gerrymanderings, redrawing districts, or at-large voting instead of district-by-district voting," all "in the direction of trying to reduce the impact of the minority vote." Pinckney's book, which is the outgrowth of a lecture, is much like Doctor Who's TARDIS: it appears small on the outside, but a capacious and mind-opening experience awaits within.