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Negroland: A Memoir

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  5,440 ratings  ·  862 reviews
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
Kindle Edition, 258 pages
Published September 8th 2015 by Pantheon
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Alice I also need a set of discussion questions. Did you ever find one or did you write one, Eleanor?

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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 ...more
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
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.
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
J.L.   Sutton
Apr 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Sep 30, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Sep 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
It feels like a bit of a disservice to call Negroland a memoir. Though Margo Jefferson’s memories of life as an upper class black child in Chicago fill the pages of the book, the overall effect is much more than what we tend to associate with the format. It is the work of someone who knows and loves poetic voices and has searched for meaning in them her whole life. It picks up history, flows through the past, and draws a direct line to the present.

Jefferson highlights difficult,
Sep 27, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Lark Benobi
Jun 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, 2015
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 ...more
Sep 09, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
Jan 04, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sam Schulman
Oct 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sep 02, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition

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
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.

Apr 05, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jun 10, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: BBC Radio Listeners
Recommended to Bettie by: Laura

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
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,
Feb 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: black-america
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, ...more
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.

Jamise // Spines & Vines
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.
Sara Salem
Oct 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Laurie Notaro
Apr 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Exceptional. Should be the common reader for all university students. Thoughtful, decisive, illuminating. A must-read.
Sue Dix
May 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
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
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

“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
May 16, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written in the most literary sense, but alas, I found this book to be boring and sad. An apt title would have been "The Sad, Self Righteous Rantings and Angst of the Talented Tenth". This book chronicles some of what goes horribly wrong when some Black people gain stature and status. We invariably use it as a weapon against others who don't measure up, or relentlessly beat ourselves up in a fit of survivors remorse, for "making it". This novel offers both, neither of which I enjoyed.
Sep 24, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I almost didn't finish it, but I did speed-read through, hoping it would get interesting, which it didn't. This felt less like a memoir and more like a disjointed rough draft. It just didn't draw me in at all, which is disappointing because I heard so many great things about it.

Boring read. Had to go.
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“So I won’t trap myself into quantifying which matters more, race, or gender, or class. Race, gender, and class are basic elements of one’s living. Basic as utensils and clothing; always in use; always needing repairs and updates. Basic as body and breath, justice and reason, passion and imagination. So the question isn’t “Which matters most?,” it’s “How does each matter?” Gender, race, class; class, race, gender—your three in one and one in three.” 11 likes
“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.” 10 likes
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