Busted in New York and Other Essays
A collection of essays that blend the personal and the social, from the celebrated literary critic and novelist
In these twenty-five essays, Darryl Pinckney has given us a view of our recent racial history that blends the social and the personal and wonders how we arrived at our current moment. Pinckney reminds us that “white supremacy isn’t back; it never went away.” It is this impulse to see historically that is at the core of Busted in New York and Other Essays, which traces the lineage of black intellectual history from Booker T. Washington through the Harlem Renaissance, to the Black Panther Party and the turbulent sixties, to today’s Afro-pessimists, and celebrated and neglected thinkers in between.
These are capacious essays whose topics range from the grassroots of protest in Ferguson, Missouri, to the eighteenth-century Guadeloupian composer Joseph Bologne, from an unsparing portrait of Louis Farrakhan to the enduring legacy of James Baldwin, the unexpected story of black people experiencing Russia, Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight, and the painter Kara Walker. The essays themselves are a kind of record, many of them written in real-time, as Pinckney witnesses the Million Man March, feels and experiences the highs and lows of Obama’s first presidential campaign, explores the literary black diaspora, and reflects on the surprising and severe lesson he learned firsthand about the changing urban fabric of New York.
As Zadie Smith writes in her introduction to the book: “How lucky we are to have Darryl Pinckney who, without rancor, without insult, has, all these years, been taking down our various songs, examining them with love and care, and bringing them back from the past, like a Sankofa bird, for our present examination. These days Sankofas like Darryl are rare. Treasure him!”
This robust group of essays written between 1994 and 2018 by novelist Pinckney (Black Deutschland) explores African-American identity, politics, and culture. Covering such topics as Aretha Franklin's "profound influence" and what Pinckney sees as Afro-pessimism's futility, the author puts his insightful perspective on full display in each selection. From the highs of Barack Obama's first presidential campaign to the lows of police violence in Ferguson, Mo., Pinckney acknowledges both the social progress that's been made and the urgency for further change. In the book's title essay, Pinckney recounts spending a night in the Manhattan municipal jail known as "the Tombs" after he and two friends were arrested for smoking a joint outside a nightclub. Spending that night and much of the next day behind bars, Pinckney observes how "the system" exercises absolute control over "the nonwhite young, the poor" in ways previously unknown to him and his friends, all educated professionals able to easily brush off the experience. Reflections on black women's experiences are relatively underrepresented, but nonetheless, Pinckney demonstrates his extensive range as a commentator on African-American life. This collection offers a deep dive into his prolific career as an indispensable critic of his times.