- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (August 23, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0307473430
- ISBN-13: 978-0307473431
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 229 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #201,205 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Negroland: A Memoir Paperback – August 23, 2016
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“Brave. . . . Revelatory. . . . Recall[s] a number of America’s greatest thinkers on race . . . James Baldwin, Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Powerful. . . . Margo Jefferson identifies and deftly explores the tensions that come with being party of America’s black elite.” —Roxane Gay, O, The Oprah Magazine
“Jefferson is a national treasure and her memoir should be required reading across the country.” —Vanity Fair
“Intricate and moving. . . . Powerful.” —The New York Times
“Enlightening. . . . Poetic and bracing.” —The Washington Post
“[A] masterpiece. . . . A phenomenal study-cum-memoir about the black bourgeoisie.” —Hilton Als, author of White Girls
“A veritable library of African-American letters and a sumptious compendium of elegant style. . . . [Jefferson] paints her rich inner and outer landscape with deft, impressionistic strokes.” —The Boston Globe
“Provocative and insightful. . . . Melancholic and hopeful, raw and disarming. . . . A moving memoir that is an act of courage in its vulnerability.” —Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns
“Poignant. . . . Harrowing. . . . In Negroland, Jefferson is simultaneously looking in and looking out at her blackness, elusive in her terse, evocative reconnaissance, leaving us yearning to know more.” —Los Angeles Times
“Jefferson combines memoir with cultural critique in a series of unsparing vignettes.” —The New Yorker
“Provocative and extraordinary. . . . Haunting.” —Time
“Lyrical. . . . Vibrant and damning. . . . Dares to throw a wrench—class—into our tortured debates about race.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Razor sharp, self-lacerating and singular.” —More
“A candid observer, Jefferson articulates the complicated and calculated performance of upper-class black life.” —New York
“Brilliantly written. . . . Not reading this remarkable, indeed unique book, would be an immense mistake. . . . One of the great books published this year.” —Buffalo News
“Truly indispensable.” —Flavorwire
“A nuanced meditation from a life lived in the upper echelons of Chicago’s black bourgeoisie, beginning before the civil-rights era and trailing off in our still-conflicted present.” —Vulture
“Beautiful. . . . Artfully self-aware. . . . Jefferson succeeds at something remarkable: she tells her story while at the same time not only evocatively capturing her era but situating her experiences into a centuries-long cultural tradition.” —Bookslut
“Shines a spotlight on a fascinating slice of the American experience of which many people are barely aware.” —Tampa Bay Times
“Filled with incisive commentary and unexpected observations, all of it delivered with a sly wit and in crystalline prose.” —PopMatters
“Marvelous, complex, stimulating and thought-provoking.” —Geoff Dyer, author of White Sands
“A beautiful scorcher of a book, essential reading.” —Patricia Hampl, author of The Florist’s Daughter
“Elegantly pithy and violent. In the fissures between and among items, she revolts. Her words are ascetic. She doesn’t want me to envy her life, the fullness of which is only hinted at. She wants me to leave her alone to live within this sentence of her mother’s: ‘Sometimes I almost forget I’m a Negro.’” —David Shields, author of Salinger
“A great book, destined to be read for a century.” —Edmund White, author of A Boy’s Own Life
“Reads with the blast force of a prose poem.” —BookPage
About the Author
The winner of a Pulitzer Prize for criticism, Margo Jefferson was for years a book and arts critic for Newsweek and The New York Times. Her writing has appeared in, among other publications, Vogue, New York magazine, and The Nation, and Guernica. Her memoir, Negroland, received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography. She is also the author of On Michael Jackson and is a professor of writing at Columbia University School of the Arts.
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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 equal. 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 malignant.
Negroland 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 unique 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.
The first thing this book does is to look at how people lived in a narrow subset of American society at a particular time: the black upper middle class in the 1950's and 1960's. Perhaps a particular place should be added - Chicago - but what's most clearly drawn are class and race differences. These people were top layer of an ethnic group that was at the low end of the American social scale, and held on to that positions with an extraordinary amount of discipline. It was far more "comfortable" to grow up as Margo Jefferson than as most other African American children in the period, but it was not necessarily any easier. She shows this in a multitude of ways, some very funny, some heart-breaking.
The next thing that happens, of course, is that time moves on, throwing Ms. Jefferson into the racial and gender turmoil of the 1960's and 1970's. All of a sudden, her careful, successful "Negroland" background was judged by many of her peers to be inauthentic, adopted, "not black enough". It was difficult enough to be a young white woman in the period, when lots of things you'd be brought up to believe turned out not to be so at all. Being a young black woman, Ms. Jefferson makes clear, was a whole lot harder. Even feminism, which was important to her, would be judged by others on the basis of race.
And through the whole social/political progression runs the memoir of an individual. Race is an inescapable part of that, since race necessarily affects so much that she experiences. But race affects different people in different ways. For example, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Ms. Jefferson both suffered from racism, but they are wildly different people, and write about race in wildly different ways. Ms. Jefferson's book is less dramatic, and less incendiary. For me, however, it was just as compelling an experience of seeing the world through someone else's eyes.