Blackballed: The Black Vote and US Democracy
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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.”
how blacks behave still has more to do with the self-consciousness of integration, of having to prove ourselves worthy of inclusion. To many blacks, exhortations about or reproaches for our behavior can come across as a way of saying that blacks are not ready to participate fully in American society. Any black barbershop audience will tell you that no other group in the US is spoken to or about in this language, only the people who are not the descendants of immigrants. But they will add without
that the law ought to be color-blind. It is clear to Cole that the justices were prepared to abandon all judicial restraint in the case. “They object to laws that take race into account, even for purposes of protecting minorities against discrimination.” We have, in Cole’s words, a radical Court, not a conservative one, an activist Court willing to hinder the federal government’s ability to enforce the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments by either ignoring or repudiating decades of precedent set
and spoke instead of guaranteeing to each state a republican form of government. In the US, the vote has been a much-debated and set-upon instrument, from the questions of who has authority over the vote, local, state, or federal, and who is eligible to vote (in the early expansion of U.S. territory, aliens and noncitizens were given the vote in some locations) to when and how we vote (the secret ballot was widely used by the 1850s, coinciding with the invention of the hydraulic press and the
we—they—did change the country. A revolution in consciousness won and we ourselves live in our heads in a more open and accepting society. No one wants the social clock turned back, not even the conservatives who want to confine socially everyone except themselves. The 1960s are all over YouTube. The young are very aware that they live in a world that was changed by political protest and cultural challenge. No one ever thought we’d get this far, the elderly say. I think of my father years ago,
Sellout: The Politics of Racial Betrayal (2008). One of the magical elements of President Obama’s rise was that no one had predicted it, in spite of Edward Brooke of Massachusetts and Douglas Wilder of Virginia, who had demonstrated that a culturally assimilated black candidate could appeal to white middle-class voters. Obama’s victory was celebrated in the streets as a promise of American democracy fulfilled, and the triumphalism among the black professional class was astonishing. But this was