Wednesday 2 November 2016

Review: Negroland: A Memoir

Negroland: A Memoir Negroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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 Privilege can be denied, withheld, offered grudgingly and summarily withdrawn.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.

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