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on December 6, 2013
One of Nelson's best works. Her description of journalism is a must read for anyone interested in joining the field. She is also raw and revealing about her own decisions, and in some cases shortcomings, to keep the reader interested. Nelson has always been very "human" in her work and this is no exception.
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on June 2, 2016
It was fine.
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on December 6, 2012
i had to read this for my class then do my final paper on it i end up liking the book its a great read educational and interesting
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on December 15, 2011
I enjoyed this memoir, but I did find it very self indulgent. The author lives a life of privilege, yet seems to wallow in self pity, never acknowledging how much better off she is than many other people of color. I can hardly believe she would be surprised to find that a corporate media outlet like the Washington Post is racist and stifling. She is also very superficial and elitist, and ranks people by what they look like how much they weigh, what clothes they wear, etc. Never once does she acknowledge solidarity with other oppressed peoples or express compassion for anyone but herself and her circle, outside of referring to herself as a "race woman" and flatteringly categorizing herself with people like Harriet Tubman, and Thurgood Marshall. Also she seemingly has no concept that anyone exists outside of the U.S. concepts of black and white. Often her snark is also annoying and un-funny but that's what kept me reading I wanted to see if she ever changes or examines herself more deeply but it does not happen. Still an interesting and quick read.
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I wish I could say that this is the best book I ever read. It wasn’t. I wish I could say it was the worst, though it came close, it wasn't. The title caught my attention on the library shelf. Hence, I borrowed it. It’s supposed to be about the author’s experience with racism at The Washington Post. Question: What racism? I read the entire book and I didn’t see any act of racism towards her. I did see two acts of sexual discrimination toward her by two African American men, including one very crude incident, but no racial bias.
First off, the author is very hostile from the very first page of her ramblings on about being black. I guess from her experience she had to be. I read a great deal: whatever interests me. From the get go, she is very aware she is black. Perhaps that is why without even looking at her, others around her were so aware. Me, I don’t care who you are; sex, race, religion; ethnicity; if your book interest me, I’ll read it. That is what happened here. She says she’s from the upper middle class and educated, but her writing does not reflect it. Perhaps, it is her hostility that hides it. Personally, I don’t know what she was expecting. She was called out of the blue for a premiere job to a ‘white’ run newspaper in 1986; mostly run by white men. She went from being a free-lance writer making $20,000 a year in New York City to making $50,000 a year without the typical qualifications the Post looked for. Yes, she discovers that they hired her as a token black woman to fill a quota, but they could have hired someone else. It was up to her to make a difference, not only for herself, her daughter and blacks everywhere, but she didn’t. Here was a golden opportunity for a woman, a black woman and she didn’t run with it. Why didn’t she? Why did she turn it into a white world versus black me instead? I don’t get it. We all face racism and/or sexism every day in every way and yet we endure and try to make something of it. Why couldn’t she? She chose not to. I’m willing to bet that even now, instead of learning from this experience and moving on, she still focuses on it and hasn’t moved on.
As another reviewer said, she didn’t know the first thing about office politics and obviously wasn’t willing to learn. She was a trouble maker with a big mouth, but if you listen to her, everyone was against her because she was a black woman and not because she didn’t like her job. She signs a travel voucher using her bosses’ initials and sees nothing wrong with that. It was forgery plain and simple. When she gets a week suspension without pay, does she see the error of her ways? No, she blames the management for discrimination and volunteer slavery because she is required to work and not get her paycheck of $1043.00 per week that she hates. She recalls a story of another black female writer named Janet Cooke that made up a story and won a Pulitzer Prize and blames ‘the white folks’ for making her do it. Uh-anyone else see anything wrong with that? The reporter lied, won an award and it was supposed to be okay because ‘the white folks made her do it.’ Not only that, but the reporter lied about her education and background on top of it. Yup; it was discrimination when The Post called her on it. Clear-cut bias.
She went into a job working for people she didn’t like and hated it the entire time she was there. She never tried to like it. All she did was whine how bad how job was. Even her mother told her to stop it and just enjoy the paycheck she was collecting. If it was so bad, why did she stick it out for four long, ‘harrowing’ years?’ Answer: because the money was good and the job was close enough to heaven than any job she ever had. Oh-yes. She was a free-lance writer. She had no ‘real job’. She made her own schedule and worked for no one, least of all ‘the white folks.’ Sister, you had an opportunity with no experience. How many other sisters and brothers actually qualified for that job that you didn’t, yet you got it because someone happened to recommend you when they needed a token ‘sister’? Take a chill pill, girlfriend, because you had it good and you complained. Hell, I would have loved to make $50,000 a year back in 1986 in any job that would have me, especially for one that I didn’t qualify for. In the end, no one actually came out and racially discriminated against her. It was all her perception of how things went down for her.
Overall, an amusing read. Despite what the back blurb promised, I didn’t read of her “harrowing four years at The Post, her experience with poverty, flame-out love affairs, and a nervous breakdown. She went through depression, but no breakdown. It was in no way the “scalding expose of the racial, sexual and corporate politics of The Post.” The adage of never judge a book by its cover is no more appropriate than it is here with this book. I applaud her courage for writing a book and getting it published. I just don’t get why it was a bestseller or a Book Award Winner when it didn’t follow through on what it promised. The blurb was an embellishment in what the book was supposed to be about. There was no racial bias aimed toward her in this book. Sexual discrimination by two brothers, but not by “white folks”. Personally, I think she was just looking for a way to make a buck. She doesn’t particularly think very highly of herself, her mother or her older sister either. Everyone seems to get on her nerves and it’s all “their fault: the white folks”. I’m surprised she didn’t blame the “white folks” for her experience with all kinds of drugs, her sister’s experience with them and her brother Stanley’s drug addiction. That is the gist of this book. None of it is her fault. In the end, she quit The Washington Post. They didn’t fire her. Funny thing is, all that time there, she never parlayed any of it into another job from there. I guess this book was it. She may have been the only black female writer on staff, but she certainly wasn’t the only black. Interestingly enough, she is elected as Union President and leads a discrimination suit against management for women, black staff and older workers, and a variety of ethnic groups, but not just for herself. This alone shows the readers that there was no racism. Otherwise, where was her EEO complaint? Overall, a disappointing book in what it tried to do.
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on September 1, 2012
I am surprised that anyone believes that access to the materialistic things this society values can somehow negate the discomfort of corporate America for a person of color or render its truth irrelevant.

It is a little like saying that a beatdown by a group of racist police officers hurts less if you are wearing a $2000 suit. Jill's book shares what many of us, male & female, live every day, weather we are conscious of it or not, out designer suits, shoes & briefcases not withstanding.
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on March 26, 2000
As an African-American journalist, I found Jill Nelson's book to be very real. Those who criticize the book because Nelson strikes them as naive are missing the point, on at least two levels.
In the first place, though she naturally gets into certain generalities, the book is primarily about HER experience. It's not intended to be a handbook for reporters who are climbing the corporate ladder. Given her past, and her particular personality, this is the story of how she happened to react to a specific set of circumstances. How one judges her actions should be different from the way someone judges the book itself.
And secondly, to the extent that the book does have a larger intent, it calls for the dismantling of an outrageously unfair system. Should we all just accept the status quo, and find clever ways to navigate our way past pettiness and stupidity, or strive for a sane alternative?
The fact is that Nelson has done just fine since she left the Post. Viewed in that context, the book is a testament to her courage, and her insistence on personal dignity.
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on June 26, 1997
Volunteer Slavery is how a freelance writer named Jill Nelson - who had never worked a full-time magazine or newspaper job in her life - was hired by The Washington Post, one of the more ruthless corporations around. Unfamiliar with office culture due to lack of professional experience, Nelson is unable to handle the hostile office politics of the newspaper and eventually quits. All the while, she blames everyone else for her problems, trashes seasoned pros, and details her sex life and substance abuse. Nelson's book is dishonest because she lacks the courage and inner-strength to examine what her "authentic negro experience" was really all about: she was hired by The Washington Post because they wanted to hire an inexperienced minority staffer that would fail. One of the most sinister practices in journalism is when white employers deliberately ignore and do not hire the legions of seasoned, award-winning, and tough minority journalists in this country - whom they know will survive and triumph over office politics - and instead hire green rookies that are easily crushed. Afterwards, white employers can quickly replace them with a white employee and claim, "well, we tried hiring a minority, but.." and still claim adherance to diversity in the workplace. Volunteer Slavery reveals more between the lines than anything that appears in actual print
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on February 20, 1999
My introduction to Jill Nelson was through a program on C-SPAN, Washington Journal. She sounded like a straight-shooting, intelligent, thoughtful person. When I finished Volunteer Slavery, after a marathon, can't put it down, day of reading, I knew her to be funny, down-to-earth, experienced and a wonderfully courageous, excellent author. Her ability to tell the story of her Washington Post experience in the context of family life, parenthood, love and loving, and professional activities demonstrates well-honed writing skills and her grasp of what's really going on under the thin veneer of our complex, multi-dimensional lives. She uses words magnificently, provocatively and with a sense of humor and style that had me laughing out loud.
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on February 4, 2003
It is ironic yet predictable that most of the people who don't "get" this book, tend to be individuals who are either not female, African American or both. Jill Nelson wrote an honest critique of the experience that many African American women go through when trying to attain the proverbial golden rings in corporate America. I am sorry some folks could not relate or understand Ms. Nelson's book because the points she brings up are true and still reflective of the socialogical culture most African Americans live in today--approximately twenty years later. The patriarchal blindness that many in this culture experience that prevents them from understanding or relating to another individual or cultures experiences is sad yet expected The best that Ms. Nelson and other writers like her can do is just tell the story and let those who get "it" get it.
Were some of her experiences hard to hear? Most definitely. Were the experiences unique to her? Absolutely not. Ms. Nelson says on in chapter 2, that she has been doing the standard Negro balancing act which is "blurring the edges of [her] being so that they [white people] don't feel intimidated." There are few African Americans, I would venture to guess, who haven't experienced this feeling at one time or another, yet it is virtually impossible to communicate this experience in a way that is understandable to someone who hasn't had to always be "aware" of how they are perceived and how those perceptions can affect other African Americans as well. Ms. Nelson does an excellent job explaining these details and if some people are still clueless, well, it's through no fault of her skill as a writer.
Keep on shedding a spotlight on these issues Ms. Nelson. There are a few out there who are truly looking for the light.
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