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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-crus 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.


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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-crus 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.

30 review for Negroland

  1. 5 out of 5

    Petra X living life blissfully,not through books!

    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 fore 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 well. My 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. Interesting... ______ I listened to the abridged BBC audio book (1.25 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 quite 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. 4 out of 5

    Brina

    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 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 equal 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 equal 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. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Cecile

    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 more like non-fiction/essay.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Monica

    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 head. I'm reminded of the story of Oprah when she went shopping abroad and a store clerk 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 head. I'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 more than what most people will make in 10 years. Rich 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. Nope. Rich 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 issues. Her discussion about her relative who passed as white until he retired, then moved back to his roots and reconnected/acknowledge 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 mute/disfigure who they are (character not appearance). I 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 expectations. To 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 more than it probably should and oftentimes trumps substance and/or 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 life. This was an interesting memoir and there is a lot to like and ponder here. My one critique 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. 3.75 Stars

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jenna

    It's not you, it's me.... right?? For the first time in as long as I can remember, I have very little desire to read. Everything I pick up seems blah and is unable to hold my attention for long. I blame this on the pandemic and on trump's shenanigans that are stressing out many of us.... not to mention wasting taxpayer dollars that could be better spent, I don't know, maybe doing more to help people during this time? Expand Medicaid so more people have insurance if they get sick. Maybe pay people It's not you, it's me.... right?? For the first time in as long as I can remember, I have very little desire to read. Everything I pick up seems blah and is unable to hold my attention for long. I blame this on the pandemic and on trump's shenanigans that are stressing out many of us.... not to mention wasting taxpayer dollars that could be better spent, I don't know, maybe doing more to help people during this time? Expand Medicaid so more people have insurance if they get sick. Maybe pay people's full salary so they can stay home from work if they test positive for Covid-19 rather than infecting all of their co-workers. Too radical?  Yeh, it is pretty damn radical to help people. If you help people, the next thing you know, they'll take away everyone's freedom. Helping people is so anti-democracy. Helping people is the first step on the road to the decline of civilization and the end of every freedom humans have ever known.... Anyway.... the book..... All this to say that it might be current events that kept me from enjoying this book as much as I'd hoped to. Negroland is a memoir but there's a whole lot of other thrown in, which made it even harder for me to concentrate. Just when I would get into it, it'd hop to something else. And then something else again. And every single time I had to struggle to orient myself and get interested again. Also, I found it disconcerting that the author frequently wrote past events in the present tense and not only that, she would also fluctuate between present and past, sometimes in the same sentence! Was this supposed to serve some literary purpose that I failed to see? Maybe.  The author writes about her life beginning in childhood and growing up middle-class but because she is Black, not having the same privileges as her white middle class friends. She also talked a lot about the struggles of other Black people in the past, moving back and forth between her life and theirs. There were a few insights that I really loved and made the book worth reading even though it was more work than pleasure.  I loved Ms. Jefferson's insights into white privilege. For instance, she wrote, "White people wanted to be white just as much as we did. They worked just as hard at it. They failed just as often. They failed more often. But they could pass, so no one objected." It was also interesting to read about the mixed feelings she and many others understandably had towards white people. The people whom they admired and strove to be like on one hand, and on the other feared and sometimes resented.  I also appreciated the author's thoughts on feminism, how white feminists often neglect to acknowledge how race and sex intertwine to give women of color even more challenges and hardships than those faced by white women.  I'm not sure if I would have enjoyed this more if I'd read it at another time, or if all the skipping around and jumping from present to past tense would have still annoyed me. My enjoyment level was 2 but I'll bump it up to 3 stars in case it is a case of "It's not you, it's me".

  6. 4 out of 5

    Rana

    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 more. 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 quoting from old journals or magazines, talking to me/the reader, or telling a story of her childhood. The writing style made the whole story very insubstantial and without a lot of 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 more. 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 quoting from old journals or magazines, talking to me/the 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.

  7. 5 out of 5

    J.L. Sutton

    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 more complex than any racial or cultural identification. It is about belonging as well as finding a way to differentiate themselves from other African Amer 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 more 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.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    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- 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 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.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    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 me. I was wrong. As 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 fig 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 me. I was wrong. As 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.

  10. 5 out of 5

    R

    It has taken me a while to actually write a review. I'll try to be brief. I 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 quite differently. Granted...we are southern/Texan women, so that brings a different slant to things, certainly. Segregatio It has taken me a while to actually write a review. I'll try to be brief. I 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 quite differently. Granted...we are southern/Texan 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 60s/early 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 did...never even realizing there may have been a choice in the matter. People 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 others. My 2-stars are less about her feelings, because only the author owns those, but more to the writing. I wanted less of her angst and more 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 appear...even today. But, I got more out of her NPR interview than I did out of the book, so I went in with very high expectations. I was left with more questions about her, her world today (friends, viewpoints...is she still a member of any of those organizations???) and how all of that fits in with her upbringing.

  11. 4 out of 5

    lark benobi

    I enjoyed reading Negroland very much. It left me wanting more 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 econom I enjoyed reading Negroland very much. It left me wanting more 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-equal 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 frequent 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 more.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Book Riot Community

    So much of the myth of the American Dream is about the idea that if you work hard, play by the rules, and excel, you’ll achieve anything you want. Negroland is here to point out all the failings and trappings of that concept. In a way, the black elite that Jefferson describes exemplifies the ideal of overcoming obstacles. Yet, what Jefferson so aptly does, is shed a light on how race relations in this country derails this simplistic narrative. — Ines Bellina from The Best Books We Read In January So much of the myth of the American Dream is about the idea that if you work hard, play by the rules, and excel, you’ll achieve anything you want. Negroland is here to point out all the failings and trappings of that concept. In a way, the black elite that Jefferson describes exemplifies the ideal of overcoming obstacles. Yet, what Jefferson so aptly does, is shed a light on how race relations in this country derails this simplistic narrative. — Ines Bellina from The Best Books We Read In January 2017: http://bookriot.com/2017/02/01/riot-r...

  13. 4 out of 5

    Shakeia

    DNF. I ended up skimming it to "finish." The writing style was so disjointed I couldn't get into it and I certainly wouldn't call this book a memoir. Would not recommend. Hard pass. DNF. I ended up skimming it to "finish." The writing style was so disjointed I couldn't get into it and I certainly wouldn't call this book a memoir. Would not recommend. Hard pass.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Latiffany

    Dramatic. If I had to select one word to describe this memoir dramatic would be it and I am not using that word in a good way. This memoir had so much promise. I honestly thought it was going to be an excellent read. There is nothing wrong with a dramatic memoir. When a person chooses a theme of his/her life and expounds on it, one tends to get a little dramatic. The issue with this work is that there is no substance and the writer took a subject that had great potential and packaged it in fluff Dramatic. If I had to select one word to describe this memoir dramatic would be it and I am not using that word in a good way. This memoir had so much promise. I honestly thought it was going to be an excellent read. There is nothing wrong with a dramatic memoir. When a person chooses a theme of his/her life and expounds on it, one tends to get a little dramatic. The issue with this work is that there is no substance and the writer took a subject that had great potential and packaged it in fluff and presented it as a memoir. This is the story of a woman raised by two upper middle class African American parents, who along with other members of their community offered their children the absolute best. They sent them to prestigious schools, exposed them to the arts and culture, took them on extravagant vacations, provided them with the best wardrobe, etc. The parents were also portrayed as very loving toward their children and expected the best out of them. The story delves into the issue of race-mainly how white people reacted to affluent African Americans living alongside them. It also touches on how the high society African Americans did not want to live among low income African Americans. The opening of the story starts post slavery and shows how Negroland was formed. Early on, there were well to do African Americans who wanted to to achieve success through education, hard work and cultivated relationships with other African Americans with similar goals. Then, the author transitions into her own life, which again sounds very rich and layered, but turned out to offer very little. As stated, she grows up fairly wealthy. She struggles with race as do most youth. There is a period in her college years where she has dabbles in the the Black Panther party. Her racial struggles cause her to contemplate suicide. I am rereading this review after 4 years and have decided to sum this portion up by saying that I am uncomfortable with this portion of the memoir. Overall, I was disappointed in this story. It had a great opportunity to be a fantastic read, but the author did not do a good job in developing the memoir.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sam Schulman

    The greatest Lab School/U-High memoirist since Ned Rorem. Margo Jefferson's book was, she says, hard to write. and perhaps for that reason she makes the entrance to the book difficult - even rebarbative - for the reader. I urge you to persevere, perhaps reserving the first 38 pages to read last. What follows them is a magnificent work which achieves what very few writers of autobiographies can do: locate the subject in public history as well as in the story of herself and her family. "Negroland" The greatest Lab School/U-High memoirist since Ned Rorem. Margo Jefferson's book was, she says, hard to write. and perhaps for that reason she makes the entrance to the book difficult - even rebarbative - for the reader. I urge you to persevere, perhaps reserving the first 38 pages to read last. What follows them is a magnificent work which achieves what very few writers of autobiographies can do: locate the subject in public history as well as in the story of herself and her family. "Negroland" is her term for the world in the 1950s and 60s of the ancestral elite of black Americans - descendents of people classified as Mulatto in the old south, or of free blacks in the antebellum North (like W.E.B. DuBois), and of freedmen whose talents were immediately marketable to post-Civil War white America, and it is the world in which Margo was born in 1947 in Chicago. She went to my school and high school, and had many of the same teachers - from Miss Thurston in kindergarten to Miss Borth in high school, and the high school drama teacher whom she chooses not to name - because she nails him, for his imposing his frustrations on us students, and for casting her in "Pygmalion" as Henry Higgins' housekeeper - which was shocking to us all at the time, which Margo may not know. (Margo was very kind to me as a freshman in HS when I was trying to prepare myself, Stanislavski-style, for the role of The Newsboy in "Our Town," in which she, a senior, was one of the stars). The world she describes was all around me, and I was almost completely unaware of it. But there is something in the situation of the black elite at the time that reminds me of that of the "American" Jews, descendents of pre-civil war German Jews who arrived before the Civil War, who were caught between their own white America on the one hand, and the hordes of Eastern European Jews who overwhelmed them in numbers and impact by the turn of the 20th century. There is far too much in this book to select, but I will always remember her parents' attitude to an uncle who is so light-skinned that he spends his entire working life as a white man, earning his living as a traveling salesman, but then when he retires, tries to rejoin the black community. Margo understands that his parents despise him twice - once for his desertion, and then for his mediocrity as a white man - why be a low-prestige white when the rest of the adults in her family were high-prestige in any terms? The heart of the memoir ends with a brief account of her college years, and an even briefer account of her distinguished adult career. Margo thinks she is a difficult person to love. She gets that wrong, but what she gets right is everything else, and adds to the history of black and white America a profound and intimate view of life in the 1950s and 60s free of caricature and retroactive adjustment to what is currently chic. I'm going to be thinking about her book for a long time.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Latanya (Crafty Scribbles)

    In Negroland, Margo Jefferson explores her life during the 50s' and 60s' as a child of Chicago's black bourgeoisie, where secrets and rituals (e.g. hair pressing) determine one's stay in the daily climate of possibly returning to the pain and deference whites performed them to live. Various topics are explored: feminism, attending schools often as the only or one of a few black students, clothing and social mores, skin tone, hair, nose shapes, and other matters of keeping up with The Jeffersons. A In Negroland, Margo Jefferson explores her life during the 50s' and 60s' as a child of Chicago's black bourgeoisie, where secrets and rituals (e.g. hair pressing) determine one's stay in the daily climate of possibly returning to the pain and deference whites performed them to live. Various topics are explored: feminism, attending schools often as the only or one of a few black students, clothing and social mores, skin tone, hair, nose shapes, and other matters of keeping up with The Jeffersons. A certain melancholy roams the story as it progresses. Sadness which families fret to stay away from any slippage back into a world they denied for survival. It's not hard to understand how easily I could have lived within this strict society. Verdict 4/5 Cat-Eye Glasses; Recommended

  17. 5 out of 5

    Pink

    I didn't enjoy reading this book, as I didn't get along with the writing style or construction, but it is an important and different look at growing up rich and black in America. I didn't enjoy reading this book, as I didn't get along with the writing style or construction, but it is an important and different look at growing up rich and black in America.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ed

    The author in this descriptive, stylish book discusses her growing up as an upper-class Negro in the 1950s and 1960s. The premise is interesting and helped me to further understand the Black experience in the U.S. The structure is a bit puzzling and is tricky to follow at times. I enjoyed her family stories about her parents and sister better than the other parts. She has a great eye for detail and has a vivid memory of her past.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    BOTW http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07ffb21 Description: Margo Jefferson was born in 1947 to a successful black, middle-class couple in Chicago. Her memoir looks back on her childhood and the black bourgeois upbringing that 'made and maimed me'. She explains the title of her book, "Negroland is my name for a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty." But the material comforts provided by a father who was a paediatrician and a mother BOTW http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07ffb21 Description: Margo Jefferson was born in 1947 to a successful black, middle-class couple in Chicago. Her memoir looks back on her childhood and the black bourgeois upbringing that 'made and maimed me'. She explains the title of her book, "Negroland is my name for a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty." But the material comforts provided by a father who was a paediatrician and a mother who was formerly a social worker were circumscribed by all the painful and baffling assumptions of racial prejudice. To be a child in Negroland you had to learn the rules. But who was making those rules? And what exactly were they? Margo Jefferson went on to become an arts and theatre critic on the New York Times and Newsweek. She won a Pulitzer for her journalism and now teaches at Columbia University.

  20. 4 out of 5

    ColumbusReads

    Negroland “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 arise to challenge its primacy" Negroland is a sort of companion piece or complement to Negroland “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 arise to challenge its primacy" Negroland is a sort of companion piece or complement to some other books about the Black elite such as Our Kind of People: Inside America's Black Upper Class by Lawrence Otis Graham and Black Bourgeoisie by E. Franklin Frazier. I never read Our Kind of People but I have read Black Bourgeoisie and personally I enjoyed that book much more than this memoir. I didn't totally dislike this book, however. I enjoyed reading about some of the various Chicago neighborhoods in the 50's, 60's and 70's like Hyde Park and Bronzeville and her growing up in these areas and the black elite her family were friends with. What I was less impressed with was the overuse of colorism or passing the paper bag test. I am aware that this went on but it just seemed like she was too obsessed with it. It just seem pretty superficial to me. Again, not a bad read but with all of the strong reviews and on many year-end best list, I just expected more. Overall: 3.25 stars

  21. 4 out of 5

    Beverly

    This was a 4.5 read for me. My thoughts: We have been told to be aware of the “one story”, and Ms. Jefferson’s unflinchingly frank memoir of the black elite is a well-needed puzzle piece to add to the complexities of the race discussion. Ms. Jefferson, whose work as a cultural critic has garnered her recognition and prizes, turns the lens towards herself as she looks over the privileges, the constraints, the changes of her life with affection, openness, and analysis. To set the tone of the book, t This was a 4.5 read for me. My thoughts: We have been told to be aware of the “one story”, and Ms. Jefferson’s unflinchingly frank memoir of the black elite is a well-needed puzzle piece to add to the complexities of the race discussion. Ms. Jefferson, whose work as a cultural critic has garnered her recognition and prizes, turns the lens towards herself as she looks over the privileges, the constraints, the changes of her life with affection, openness, and analysis. To set the tone of the book, the author defines “Negroland” to the reader and provides a history of the black elite. The format of the book worked well for me, it is told in the first-person and third-person perspective which allows the reader to be informed of the events that influenced not only the author but anyone who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, and also to be intimate with the specifics of the author’s life within her world. But identity is a complicated group characteristic often defined by others yet is a wholly individual as each of us defines who am I. The author honestly looks at this as she is coming of age where the Civil Rights Movement and Feminist Movement uprooted the rules of race, class and gender and how our own individual ambitions were at times outside of what others expected of us. I ran a gamut of emotions when reading this thought-provoking book and for me there was much I could I identify with. Beautifully written and in a voice that is precise, courageous and dazzling as it looks at the challenges, tensions, and strategies of a particular time, I recommend this emotive memoir to all interested in understanding from where we come.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Grady

    This book has a lot to say about growing up in an upper-class African-American household in the 1950s and '60s, and it says it with a keen, poised, and unsentimental style. The style both adds to the pleasure of reading this memoir, and also reflects the stresses the upbringing put on the author and her older sister: pressure to be always graceful, not just right but elegantly right, unsparing of self, and always quietly aware of the precariousness of one's social position. It's just that now, l This book has a lot to say about growing up in an upper-class African-American household in the 1950s and '60s, and it says it with a keen, poised, and unsentimental style. The style both adds to the pleasure of reading this memoir, and also reflects the stresses the upbringing put on the author and her older sister: pressure to be always graceful, not just right but elegantly right, unsparing of self, and always quietly aware of the precariousness of one's social position. It's just that now, looking back as a mature adult, with her own character and values largely settled, the author also judges her child self - her snobbishness towards lower class black families, her shallow concerns about social status. There's a lot in this memoir that was necessarily beyond my own experience - particularly the pervasive stress of racial prejudice - but there's much here that rang deeply true, and it opened up her experience in an accessible, moving way. The last couple of chapters - Jefferson's life post-college, and transition to adulthood - I found less persuasive. It may be that I lacked some emotional prerequisite to understand this part, but I suspect it's more that Jefferson herself became less certain, less willing publicly to dissect her failings and triumphs, as she reached a time in her life that remains more fully a part of her current self. It's also likely the case that whatever those triumphs and failures are, they reflect her own moral choices more and her inherited social identity less, and in that sense are less relevant to the focus of the book. All in all, though, as a social and personal history of her childhood, the book is a revelation.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Woodbury

    It took me a long time to read this book. Not because it isn't interesting, or because it's dense, but because I wanted to take it in slowly. If you have ever thought about writing a memoir, this is necessary reading. Jefferson takes apart the memoir and reconstructs it chapter by chapter, tearing down the fourth wall whenever she feels like it, flouting convention here, following it closely there, treating every section as its own entity to be written in its own way. It's truly astounding. Race, It took me a long time to read this book. Not because it isn't interesting, or because it's dense, but because I wanted to take it in slowly. If you have ever thought about writing a memoir, this is necessary reading. Jefferson takes apart the memoir and reconstructs it chapter by chapter, tearing down the fourth wall whenever she feels like it, flouting convention here, following it closely there, treating every section as its own entity to be written in its own way. It's truly astounding. Race, gender, and class are the central subjects here (outside of Jefferson herself). This book is very specifically about being a well-off black woman of a particular society in a particular time and place.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jamise

    This book was a disappointment. Poorly written, loads of rambling and disjointed at times. As much as I wanted to love this story there were times when I wanted to give up on the book. I labored through to the end and felt devoid of any attachment to the author or story. The author gives the reader a glimpse into her privileged upbringing as a member of the black elite; a group of African Americans in Chicago during the 1950's. This book was a disappointment. Poorly written, loads of rambling and disjointed at times. As much as I wanted to love this story there were times when I wanted to give up on the book. I labored through to the end and felt devoid of any attachment to the author or story. The author gives the reader a glimpse into her privileged upbringing as a member of the black elite; a group of African Americans in Chicago during the 1950's.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sara Salem

    Fascinating memoir that looks out the intersection of being rich and Black in America. Good critique to orthodox Marxists who say class is all that matters; rich and Black will never be the same as rich and White in America.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Laurie Notaro

    Exceptional. Should be the common reader for all university students. Thoughtful, decisive, illuminating. A must-read.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lois

    This is an interesting and well researched but dry read. I alternately listened to this on audiobook and read the digital book. The reader of the audiobook was excellent but because it's dry I preferred reading this over listening to it. This book really breaks down into 2 parts one I loved and I did not. First the part I loved: the history! Especially on the creation of the Black Upper Class. It was detailed, fascinating and felt well researched. What a wonderful behind the scenes peek at this u This is an interesting and well researched but dry read. I alternately listened to this on audiobook and read the digital book. The reader of the audiobook was excellent but because it's dry I preferred reading this over listening to it. This book really breaks down into 2 parts one I loved and I did not. First the part I loved: the history! Especially on the creation of the Black Upper Class. It was detailed, fascinating and felt well researched. What a wonderful behind the scenes peek at this under represented, in media and pop culture anyway, class. The part that doesn't work for me is the lupper class snobbery. After acknowledging that most of the Black Upper Class is created through a dynamic combination of wealth, education, opportunities and periphery to whiteness, the author acts in her personal anecdotes like what separates her family from their black servants is access to education. It makes me grit my teeth. The Black Upper Class weilds Respectability Politics like whites weild White Supremacy and they are just as attached to it. I appreciate the authors awakening during the 60's to more class consciousness and even eventually a kind of feminism. Still her 'Good Negro Girl' (upper class black women) and 'Ghetto Negro Boy' (working class black men) trope is offensive and tone deaf, not to mention statistically invalid. The author seems to suggest that domestic violence is somehow less ok for upper class 'girls' than it is working class women. 'Ghetto' blacks don't deserve poverty and aren't more appropriate for it because they are raised 'average'. Did she read this before she hit send? The author will denigrate working blacks and in the next paragraph point out how racism impacted her life. This book explains the 5% of Blacks that voted for Trump. Useful for historical and class info.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Moonkiszt

    Uncomfortable, but compelling. Narration from within a life well-lived, who has seen disparities and inequity from inside because she was floating on top of that surface and can see what other's do not. Vision that seems to be a blessing and a . . . hmm. This was one of those books I just need to read and absorb. To try my best to understand what the author is saying, and appreciate the fact that she even took the time to let us in on how things are not yet as settled as we'd like to think. Again Uncomfortable, but compelling. Narration from within a life well-lived, who has seen disparities and inequity from inside because she was floating on top of that surface and can see what other's do not. Vision that seems to be a blessing and a . . . hmm. This was one of those books I just need to read and absorb. To try my best to understand what the author is saying, and appreciate the fact that she even took the time to let us in on how things are not yet as settled as we'd like to think. Again, another book we all should read. Just shush, don't talk, don't do anything but listen. Digest. One woman's life. Highly recommended to see through another's eyes and life. 4 stars.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sue Dix

    I chose to read this book to fill a square in a reading challenge bingo card: a memoir by a person of color. If fulfills that requirement. But this book is so much more than a memoir and so much more than the story of a person of color. It is a commentary on our ongoing racism. We will never be rid of that, I am afraid. This book does not offer hope that racism has been "conquered" or that racism will ever be "cured". It demonstrates racism and it's ever shifting mien. It is one woman's story bu I chose to read this book to fill a square in a reading challenge bingo card: a memoir by a person of color. If fulfills that requirement. But this book is so much more than a memoir and so much more than the story of a person of color. It is a commentary on our ongoing racism. We will never be rid of that, I am afraid. This book does not offer hope that racism has been "conquered" or that racism will ever be "cured". It demonstrates racism and it's ever shifting mien. It is one woman's story but it describes the stories of the women who came before her and the differing paths chosen to become socially acceptable and therefore equal. But, as the book demonstrates, there was still no equality. One of the quotes from the book sums this up quite succinctly: "White people wanted to be white just as much as we did. They worked just as hard at it. They failed just as often. They failed more often. But they could pass, so no one objected." This is a mere 240 pages, but it is not a quick read. Take time to savor the pages. It is deserving of, demanding of your deep, thought-filled reading.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Guy Austin

    "The human psyche is pathetic" ... "It's what we have, Miss Jefferson. It's what we have." These lines taken, more or less, straight from the book about sums up my feelings about Negroland. I wanted to love it. It has moments. I nearly put it aside. I pushed through. It never hit a nerve. I think it an odd thing to call a memoir. She is in there. Between the lines. Little Women seems to loom large. Much of it, Negroland, is discussions on Class. Mixed with Race. A helping of Gender. Place it in "The human psyche is pathetic" ... "It's what we have, Miss Jefferson. It's what we have." These lines taken, more or less, straight from the book about sums up my feelings about Negroland. I wanted to love it. It has moments. I nearly put it aside. I pushed through. It never hit a nerve. I think it an odd thing to call a memoir. She is in there. Between the lines. Little Women seems to loom large. Much of it, Negroland, is discussions on Class. Mixed with Race. A helping of Gender. Place it in a blender and you have Margo Jefferson's Negroland. Really I would say between 2.5 and 3. I rounded up. She has a Pulitzer after all. I may be in the minority. Many people loved it. Perhaps you will think otherwise.

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