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At once incendiary and icy mischievous and provocative celebratory and elegiac—here is a deeply felt meditation on race sex and American culture through the prism of the author’s rarefied upbringing and education among a black elite concerned with distancing itself from whites and the black generality while tirelessly measuring itself against both   Born in upper crust black Chicago—her father was for years head of pediatrics at Provident at the time the nation’s oldest black hospital; her mother was a socialite—Margo Jefferson has spent most of her life among call them what you will the colored aristocracy the colored elite the blue vein society Since the nineteenth century they have stood apart these inhabitants of Negroland “a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty”   Reckoning with the strictures and demands of Negroland at crucial historical moments—the civil rights movement the dawn of feminism the fallacy of postracial America—Jefferson brilliantly charts the twists and turns of a life informed by psychological and moral contradictions Aware as it is of heart wrenching despair and depression this book is a triumphant paean to the grace of perseverance


10 thoughts on “Negroland A Memoir

  1. says:

    This is a wonderful book The author's story of the slings and arrows of outrageous racism in a country that is supposed to have overcome it's dreadful past now Obama is a two term president is interesting We hear so little from the African American middle and upper classes Many people from my island where they are kings in their own country go to the US to study or work all of them middle class none of them from ghettos They come back for holidays dressed in sharp suits and 'been to foreign' accents I wonder how it is for them in the racist USA that the author illuminates so wellMy son whose father is Black and upper class cannot identify with this book at all West Indians for all their superficial similarities share very little of modern lives with African Americans You might think that this is because Blacks have had political power in the Caribbean for a very long time and my son comes from a political family but Sir Hilary Beckles says about Barbados that it is as if Whites have allowed Blacks political power but kept control of the economics themselves InterestingI listened to the abridged BBC audio book 125 hours long and was so impressed I bought the hardback It is the history past and recent of the Black upper class I didn't know that one of the first legal slaveholders in the US was a Black person That was something new and surprising It's also killingly awful just how much White privilege is unnoticed by those who possess it and whose unconscious expression of it is often experienced as discrimination by those who don't Unintended racism racism that would never ever be felt let alone expressed and in fact might be denied uite genuinely but racism nonetheless absolutely institutionalised and worse because those who inflict it have no idea at all that they are doing so Rewritten 7 Dec 2019


  2. says:

    Negroland by Margo Jefferson is her memoir of growing up in an upperclass African American household in Chicago during the 1950s and '60s While Jefferson does discuss her upbringing she also discusses what it means for her to be African American in this country in terms of class race and gender From all these anecdotes I gleaned Jefferson's definitive take on race and for this I rate the book 4 stars Margo Jefferson was born in 1947 to Ronald and Irma Jefferson of Chicago's vibrant upper class African American community Ronald a physician and Irma a seamstress desired that their children excel in this country so they enrolled them in University of Chicago Lab School a progressive school which admitted African American students It was in a context with few role models or peers who looked like her that Jefferson learned about race relations in her city While the schools had few people of color prior to the 1964 passage of the eual rights act popular culture contained few others The select few who made it including Lena Horne Dorothy Dandridge and Sammy Davis Jr who did succeed were either cast in stereotypical black roles even when they achieved fame Along with Jackie Robinson on the ball field these Hollywood stars were looked up to by a generation of black children who were likewise not expected to succeed in society Because of the low expectations successful African Americans like the Jeffersons stayed in Negroland a separate society of upper class blacks who created a culture in which their children could achieve greatly in the United States Jefferson was fortunate that her parents taught her and her older sister Denise to be aware of prejudiced behavior On a family trip in 1956 the Jeffersons were looked down upon in an Atlantic Beach New Jersey hotel and only remained one evening Likewise if Margo had to sing a song with derogatory lyrics in school her mother explained to her why it was such and persuaded the primarily white school to change what the students were studying Not all blacks were as fortunate as the Jeffersons however and they even chose to live in upper class Hyde Park where they were surrounded by likeminded blacks and whites as opposed to a lower class African American community This shows to me that class played almost a larger role in Jefferson's upbringing as did race As the feminist movement took shape Margo explained that it was important to view things in the context of class race and gender The early feminist movement was primarily for white women so she chose whether to label herself a feminist or a black rights advocate In this regards she taught people to view race in a lens of one voice and chose which movements to align herself with A successful journalist I found Jefferson's Chicago much different than the North Side I am familiar with Other than the mention of Marshall Fields on State Street Jefferson for all purposes was describing a foreign city to me Before the eual rights act light skinned blacks could choose to pass for white in order to ensure a better future for themselves and their children Likewise successful blacks like the Jeffersons enrolled their children in white schools while still teaching them African American culture through community organizations I found Negroland to be an eye opening experience about life in the African American community in Chicago and enjoyed the prose's structure of alternating anecdotes lists and Jefferson's own story I highly recommend this one voice look in African American class race and gender to all


  3. says:

    It was very interesting and a rare glimpse into the world of privileged African Americans It is a memoir however it reads less like a novel and like non fictionessay


  4. says:

    Stray thoughts about Negroland What if Roxanne Gay was born 30 years earlier? That's what kept running through my mind as I read this book Negroland had a tethered relationship with the pop culture of half a century ago Jefferson relies upon references of the times to tell her story While I'm certain a lot of what she is saying would resonate with my mother; a lot descriptions and comparisons went over my headI'm reminded of the story of Oprah when she went shopping abroad and a store clerk at an exclusive high end shop didn't recognize her and refused to show her a ludicrously expensive handbag Yeah it's a demonstration of obvious racism but it's kind of hard to drum up sympathy when you are casually shopping for a handbag that costs than what most people will make in 10 yearsRich Negroes are upset because they get treated like all the rest of the Negroes in spite of the fact that they are rich Their sense of entitlement has been taken from them Again hard to drum up sympathy when these people who think they are better than most Negroes are treated like the rest of the Negroes Essentially if they were treated the way they believed they should be treated they wouldn't give a hoot about Civil Rights or the plight of lesser Negroes Money is what matters NopeRich people while growing up struggle with identity issues Rich Negro people while growing up struggle with identity issues Poor people while growing up struggle with identity issuesHer discussion about her relative who passed as white until he retired then moved back to his roots and reconnectedacknowledge his Negro heritage definitely reminiscent of The Autobiography of an Ex Colored Man Signifying the necessity of staying true to who you are Negroes often have to be something else in order to thrive in the working world Forced to disregard their otherness Suppression of identity when finally released comes on strong People lament an resent the fact that they had to mutedisfigure who they are character not appearanceI grew up a Negro middle class military brat Honestly our upbringing was not that different No camps or cotillions for me but my older sister was a Debutante I found a lot of similarity if not in our experiences Jefferson and myself; in our environments Yes different times and my mother was a Registered Nurse rather than a Socialite but she was also an Officer's wife with all of it's associated protocols and social expectationsTo be fair Jefferson is merely recounting her life as a member of the talented tenth She is not looking for sympathy or support She is allowing us a glimpse into a lifestyle that perhaps we were not exposed to before There is a lot that is familiar to all African American women in her tale In fact there is a lot that is familiar to most women in her tale No matter where you are in class structures there are certain treatments of women that a still prevalent today Your appearance matters far than it probably should and oftentimes trumps substance andor character People will accept and reject you because you are a Negro People will accept and reject you because you are a woman People will accept and reject you because you are wealthy People will accept and reject you because you aren't wealthy enough People will accept and reject you for reasons you may never know There is an implicit unfairness to lifeThis was an interesting memoir and there is a lot to like and ponder here My one critiue is that I read very little in the book about things that Jefferson enjoyed or that made her happy Surely her whole life was not this joyless The book is an examination of a life It's not a downer but it's not uplifting either 375 Stars


  5. says:

    Honest talk I would totally have DNFed this if I hadn't felt uncomfortable about not finishing a book on race that everybody else seems to love I just kept hoping for something I just didn't like the writing style at all as it seemed incoherent and disjointed I had a really hard time figuring out if she was uoting from old journals or magazines talking to methe reader or telling a story of her childhood The writing style made the whole story very insubstantial and without a lot of emotional or intellectual heft If you put the word memoir in the title that's what I'm going to expect Not some random mishmash of stories and reflections and I don't know even what I get that it's a memoir of what she calls Negroland a specific cultural subset and not the memoir of her life but still nope


  6. says:

    While evoking another era America in the 1950s and 1960s Margo Jefferson’s Negroland A Memoir is still relevant to the current social and political climate Jefferson defines privilege afforded to African American elites in this historical context How this privilege is defined against other groups even when referring to ancestry is much complex than any racial or cultural identification It is about belonging as well as finding a way to differentiate themselves from other African Americans through achievement education and even fashion At the same time Jefferson recognizes that despite any achievements on their part Whites will still lump them together with the rest of their race Negroland is a compelling and accessible memoir that sheds lights on another era as well as our own


  7. says:

    There was much to absorb and ponder in Margo Jefferson’s Negroland a fascinating recollection of life growing up in the titular purgatory between two worlds centered on race class and wealth in a changing American landscape Jefferson’s parents were well to do professionals “comfortable” as her mother described it to the young curious author rich by black standards upper middle class by white standards Therefore Ms Jefferson had a rare experience for the times and one that caused on going self image frustrations and a constant internal tug of war She describes her family as belonging to “the Third Race poised between the masses of Negroes and all classes of Caucasians”Ms Jefferson’s writing brilliance gives a strong voice to these memoirs tackling a host of topics all couched within her personal family history as she moves from child to adult She gives her distinctive biting perspective on the relentless and myriad demonstrations of racism from next door neighbors to desk clerks in Atlantic City hotels She learns by observing her parents’ frustrated and angry reactions to things she is too young and naïve to understand like the discomfort or refusal by whites to address her pediatrician father as “Doctor” or her fourth grade music teacher engaging the class in singing Stephen Foster songs with their racial epithets in the lyrics Ms Jefferson juggles the implicit racism from the white community with the mixed messages and issues of authenticity she received as an educated upper middle class black person in America It was a delicate balancing act “Negro privilege had to be circumspect; impeccable but not arrogant; confident yet obliging; dignified not intrusive”It’s important to distinguish that this is no angry vindictive rant against an America that continues to struggle with and even acknowledge racial problems but rather a thoughtful retelling of one woman’s distinctive experience as a well to do black woman in a nation not yet ready to accept successful blacks as eual This book is not overflowing with seething rage or snarky ridicule of racists but offers instead the powerful and compelling memoirs of an intelligent and reflective woman with a gift for taut prose In the wrong hands this could’ve been yet another wedge hammered into the chasm of our national racial split In Ms Jefferson’s talented hands it is an evocative photograph one that shows all Americans just how matter of fact these issues are In short this is who we are as Americans These are the divisions that separate us by race education gender and income fueled by socially accepted stereotypes evidenced in ways subtle and overt benign and malignantNegroland is a book that will start debates introspection and shed light on racial relations in America It’s a book that should be read because it gives such a uniue and fresh perspective on being black in America Given the news of the day this book is enormously timely as well as being a great read


  8. says:

    What a waste of a topic What a painful disjointed chaotic rambling I was so excited about reading Negroland I thought the topic would be a rare glimpse into a world that is difficult to infiltrate yet a world that intrigues meI was wrongAs so many reviewers have written it's not a memoir The first 50 or so pages cover a confusing history of hierarchies within Black communities throughout history The history is disjointed jumping from character to character and I often couldn't figure out who the speaker was And that just continues throughout the book as Jefferson switches to talking about her own life She jumps from time period to another switches the narrator and most disappointingly for me doesn't ever really delve into the life she lived or the communities she was a part of Everything feels very surface nothing personal no real struggle of obstacle I hope someone out there can take this topic and really do it justice


  9. says:

    It has taken me a while to actually write a review I'll try to be briefI am a part of the generation after hers who also grew up in the world of sorority functions debutante balls cotillions proper decorum at all times etc The author and my mother and her sisters are the same age and I would say that they look back upon this time in upper middle class Black America uite differently Grantedwe are southernTexan women so that brings a different slant to things certainly Segregation in southern states never really allowed for too many feelings of otherness They were around Black people of all socioeconomic levels all day every day By the time I came along in the late 60searly 70s the family could have moved anywhere but chose not to so that we could have that same sense of balance Our school friends were overwhelmingly white many Jewish but we came home to play in the streets with kids who looked just like us At no point were any of us allowed to flaunt our relative privilege compare skin color or even tease about such things because Black is Black is Black or any of those things that would have exhibited poor manners Of course that's not to say WE weren't teased in the neighborhood and at school but it was always drilled into our heads to be better than rise above and so forth So I didnever even realizing there may have been a choice in the matterPeople are often shocked when I reveal that I am of the fourth generation of college graduates On my maternal side most everyone starting with my great grandfather has a graduate or professional degree I consider myself fortunate to be a part of a family where education was emphasized There is no shame or embarrassment in this as it also allowed us to encourage others to do the same by example in some cases and financially in othersMy 2 stars are less about her feelings because only the author owns those but to the writing I wanted less of her angst and of the story and perhaps analysis Yes excellence was the expectation at all times and I'm not sure there is salve to cover the cracks whenever they began to appeareven today But I got out of her NPR interview than I did out of the book so I went in with very high expectations I was left with uestions about her her world today friends viewpointsis she still a member of any of those organizations??? and how all of that fits in with her upbringing


  10. says:

    I enjoyed reading Negroland very much It left me wanting though in almost every category it touched on There are extraordinary thoughts here but they didn't cohere for me into a whole There is a pan historical thread for example that considers too briefly how a handful of African Americans navigated racism and extreme hostility to become educated and prosperous prior to the 1950's There is a thread that speaks in the voice of we and is roughly defined throughout the book as economically successful well educated African Americans in the separate but eual era of the 1950's There is also a personal story but the anecdotes from Jefferson's own life seem picked to show a moral or make a social point rather than rising organically or providing a complete sense of Jefferson's life experiences So while deeply readable it left me wanting Maybe my sense of incompleteness from the book is completely perfect though Margo Jefferson makes freuent interjections in her story to examine her own hesitant feelings about her subject; to acknowledge her ambivalence to speak about Negroland at all after being drilled as a child to never complain to always be an example for others to always put her best foot forward This ambivalence about how much to share becomes a subtext in the book that both enriches it and prevents it from being a completely open and honest look at an era and a way of life that is no