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Negroland: A Memoir (2015)

de Margo Jefferson

MembresRessenyesPopularitatValoració mitjanaMencions
5972732,359 (3.58)89
"At once incendiary and icy, mischievous, and provocative, celebratory and elegiac, 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 to distance itself from whites and the black generality, while tirelessly measuring itself against both. Born in 1947 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 post-racial 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. (With 8 pages of black-and-white illustrations.)"--… (més)
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Mixed feelings on this memoir. Another one that I don't remember where I heard about it but added it my list of books to read.

I'm reading the book from a place of white privilege and I learned a great deal. There is a great discussion in the book of the racism that is America. She speaks of her family trying to act white but not too white. Never fitting in with other lower-class blacks and not fitting in with whites either. Being on the radar of whites but being careful to better themselves but not too much.

I also feel ashamed. Why do we treat each other this way?

I didn't find it written well at all. Bad grammar and bad punctuation. There were sentences that didn't have any punctuation. Some of it was written like poetry. Some written like text. Entire paragraphs in italics. I couldn't quite figure it all out. Where was the sense in it all? It was all over the place. Like you walked into a conversation mid-conversation and you were never able to contribute because you had no idea where the author was going or what the hell she was talking about. When it was good it was good but when it was bad it was bad. She was trying to teach a history lesson mixed in with her memoir; which is fine but the way she went about it was hard to comprehend sometimes.

Why did the book win so many awards? Is it because she talked about race? Is it because she talked about a different class of blacks we aren't used to hearing about?

There is so much history of courageous men and women in this memoir that I loved learning about. The list of names I wrote down to do more research on begins with names like James Forten, Frances Jackson Coppin, Cyprian Clamorgan, Charlotte Forten, Ida B. Wells, Anna Julia Cooper, and many more.

Some passages really affected me.

From page 32: In speaking of Anna Julia Cooper: "Like so many women's rights leaders she insists on believing women possess sympathies and spiritual gifts men lack. But - and here she becomes a tough-minded political pragmatist - women cannot reform society without working to educate themselves. And white women can reform nothing until and unless they are willing to relinquish their caste privilege, those codes of racial and social superiority they extol in their men and instill in their children."

From page 43: Margo's mother, when asked if they were upper class, "We're considered upper-class Negroes and upper-middle-class Americans but most people would like to consider us Just More Negroes."

From page 96: She speaks about other perceived lower-class Negro children moving into the neighborhood she lived in bringing in a culture she knew nothing about. Her parents then decided it was time to move again. Better to be upper-class Negro in a white neighborhood than upper-class Negro in a black neighborhood.

From page 114: Margo writes of family members that pass for white. "He was a former white man. And my parents looked down on him a little. Not because he'd passed, but because he'd risen no higher than a traveling salesman. If you were going to take the trouble to be white, you were supposed to do better than you could have done as a Negro."

It was definitely worth the read but overall I didn't like the style it was written in. ( )
1 vota WellReadSoutherner | Apr 6, 2022 |
Margo Jefferson's Negroland is a memoir of growing up in 1950s Chicago as a member of the "Talented Tenth" or the "Third Race"—upper-middle-class Black people whose very successes made them all the more conscious of race, class, and the visible performance of respectability. Jefferson's prose is cool and crisp and consciously analytical, sometimes wry, sometimes rueful; she shies away from the more lurid sharing of intimacies that characterises other memoirs. Yet despite that there is something vulnerable and raw in this book, as Jefferson lays out the mental burden imposed on her and other Black people by constantly reckoning with racial injustice, with class issues, with gender roles. An engrossing read. ( )
1 vota siriaeve | Aug 5, 2021 |
Fascinating and frustrating. A vivid memoir where it is a memoir, a sharp portrait of a social group not often described. Also fragmented, sometimes repetitive, rambling...still a fine demonstration of how insidious and pervasive race prejudice has always been and still is, through the eyes of a privileged child. It becomes something almost more shocking when the daughter of the chief pediatrician at a Chicago hospital, raised with music lessons and art camps and society balls and beautiful clothes and immaculate manners, is quietly told she will not be invited to a social event because the hosting mother is from Georgia and just would not allow it. Her family and friends' families, who are stern in judgement against "lower class Negroes," will simply not be accepted by their white peers, no matter how elegantly they dress or perfectly they behave. Worth the read, just wish it read less like someone's notes for a book she's working on. ( )
  JulieStielstra | May 17, 2021 |
This is exceptionally well-crafted, and shares the story of a community not often written about, well-educated affluent Black people in the second half of the 20th century. That said I did not find myself captivated. I know the story of various newer Americans striving to become educated and wealthy and to turn that into acceptance by the White Christian overlords have many similarities from one community to another, but the stories of various groups also differ in their particulars. That said, while many groups are shut out of mainstream success, particularly in the heartland, there can be no question that successful educated blacks have faced the greatest hurdles. Not only are they often not accepted by their white peers, those peers have historically assiduously held them back.

I was a little Jewish girl whose mother took her to a (Black) salon for hair straightening with lye and hot combs, who wore white anklets and black patent leather shoes, and was expected to behave in a generally waspy manner so as not to stand out (I generally failed miserably at this.) I expected that I would feel some small sense of kinship with Jefferson and her family, but as I read the story it seemed so familiar that it bored me. Nonetheless, its a really honest and beautifully written book. (ETA: I did the audio for this, and the reader was very good.) ( )
  Narshkite | Jul 24, 2020 |
Jefferson was born into a privileged family in Chicago; her father was head of paediatrics at a famous local hospital and her mother was a well-known socialite. Even though she had a rarefied upbringing and decent education in 1950’s America and could be considered part of the local elite, she was never going to be accepted by society in general, because she was black.

“I call it Negroland because I still find “Negro” a word of wonders, glorious and terrible. A word for runaway slave posters and civil rights proclamations; for social constructs and street corner flaunts. A tonal-language word whose meaning shifts as setting and context shift, as history twists, lurches, advances, and stagnates. As capital letters appear to enhance its dignity; as other nomenclatures”

Jefferson’s family were members of what she describes as Negroland, an exclusive club of privileged blacks or what her mother calls, “upper-class Negroes and upper-middle-class Americans”. They were excluded from the very high society of Chicago because of their colour whilst never managing to integrate themselves fully in the black community there. Through her eyes, we see American societies crucial turning points in the late 20th century; civil rights, gender awareness and prejudice.

“Privilege is provisional. Privilege can be denied, withheld, offered grudgingly and summarily withdrawn. Entitlement is impervious to the kinds of verbs that modify privilege. Our people have had to work, scrape for privilege, gobble it down when those who would snatch it away weren’t looking. Keep a close watch.”

The writing is conversational and at times chatty, but most importantly it is full of wry commentary, provocative observations and melancholic musings. She shows perseverance in trying to make her way in a country that has made real progression with regards to race, but still has so far to go. Worth reading for an insight into a culture and a country so very different to mine. ( )
  PDCRead | Apr 6, 2020 |
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"At once incendiary and icy, mischievous, and provocative, celebratory and elegiac, 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 to distance itself from whites and the black generality, while tirelessly measuring itself against both. Born in 1947 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 post-racial 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. (With 8 pages of black-and-white illustrations.)"--

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