Negroland: A Memoir

Negroland: A Memoir

Language: English

Pages: 272

ISBN: 0307473430

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award

A New York Times Notable Book
 
One of the Best Books of the Year: The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Time, Vanity Fair, Marie Claire, Time Out New York, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Kansas City Star, Men’s Journal, Oprah.com 

Pulitzer Prize–winning cultural critic Margo Jefferson was born in 1947 into upper-crust black Chicago. Her father was head of pediatrics at Provident Hospital, while her mother was a socialite. In these pages, Jefferson takes us into this insular and discerning society: “I call it Negroland,” she writes, “because I still find ‘Negro’ a word of wonders, glorious and terrible.”

Negroland’s pedigree dates back generations, having originated with antebellum free blacks who made their fortunes among the plantations of the South. It evolved into a world of exclusive sororities, fraternities, networks, and clubs—a world in which skin color and hair texture were relentlessly evaluated alongside scholarly and professional achievements, where the Talented Tenth positioned themselves as a third race between whites and “the masses of Negros,” and where the motto was “Achievement. Invulnerability. Comportment.” At once incendiary and icy, mischievous and provocative, celebratory and elegiac, Negroland is a landmark work on privilege, discrimination, and the fallacy of post-racial America.

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are, reader, please understand that neither my parents, my sister, nor I ever left a dirty bathtub for Mrs. Blake to clean. (My sister and I called her Mrs. Blake. Mother called her Blake.) She was broad, not fat. She had very short, very straightened hair that she patted flat and put behind her ears. When it got humid in the basement, where the washer and dryer were, or in the room where she ironed clothes, short pieces of hair would defy hot comb and oil to stick up and out. We never made

entertainments—juggling, magic, belly dancing, ragtime—and by the techno-carnival wonder of the Ferris wheel spinning in the sky above. — So we, Lab’s Negroes, would leave the White City of Lab, cross the Midway, and take one or, usually, two buses to our faux-exotic homes in the ethnographic settlements of Bronzeville, Park Manor, and Chatham. Now I belong to Hyde Park with its tasteful polygot past: the upper-class and upper-middle-class residents who built or moved into fine large houses

saunters onto. She has charisma and that’s what you’ve always craved. A functional definition of charisma for ambitious girls of the 1950s: winning the attention, touched with wonder, of significant adults (teachers, relatives, family friends); winning the friendship of gifted, temperamentally interesting, or socially accomplished girls; winning admiration from boys or, under circumstances that don’t turn them against you, winning contests with boys. Being “gifted” in a way that can’t go

sleeveless, with wide straps, a nipped waist, and a wraparound-style skirt. Not a wide skirt, but wide enough for a feminist to walk in without mincing her steps. The waist-length jacket is trimmed in gold braid; so is the skirt’s front panel. It’s “flip and flirty,” as my mother prescribed. It’s crisp yet splendid. It makes me feel I’ve put on made-to-order armor. My mother’s armor. Armor that helped shield me from exclusion. Armor that helped shield me from inferiority. I believe it’s too

constitutional rights with a flurry of laws called the Black Codes and a series of terrorist attacks by the KKK. — Despite all this, Negroes are acquiring political resources and limited amounts of political and social power. In the decades after the war, free Negroes who had privilege before the war and Negroes who were in the top tier of slavery acquire power as politicians and community leaders. They work to balance their continued and expanding social privilege with their equally expanded

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