A slim volume of two essays that challenge the very notion of a “post-racial” America.
It’s fitting that New York Review Books is the publisher, since both of these pieces by the publication’s frequent contributor read more like literary surveys than political broadsides. Not that Pinckney (Out There: Mavericks of Black Literature, 2002) sounds like some sort of academic drone; it’s just that he seems more interested in being precise than provocative. The lead (and title) piece derives from a lecture he gave at the New York Public Library describing the struggles of black voters to cast a ballot even after legally being accorded that right and the conservative attempt to again disenfranchise such voters by permitting states to impose onerous regulations. It mixes familial reminiscence with historical perspective, culminating in the mixed blessing of Barack Obama’s presidency: “Obama’s universalism had ‘morphed’ into a race-neutral or color-blind approach to policy that sidelined issues important to black voters, who accepted the situation because they felt that Obama had to be protected from the right.” The second and shorter piece, “What Black Means Now,” which appeared in the NYRB, encompasses a number of books on the subject, as it analyzes the notion of a monolithic blackness in identity, voice, culture and politics. It is particularly incisive on the process of marketing black stereotypes, “turning what have been regarded as cultural defects into cultural virtues.” He writes of “the part the rap aesthetic has played in reconciling the black revolutionary imperative with the materialism in American society” and how “hip-hop crossed racial and class boundaries, its transgressive postures speaking to almost any young man in its orbit.”
Not a manifesto but a thoughtful examination of ideas that others have been circulating.