Winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography
A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
New York Times: 100 Notable Books of 2015
New York Times: Dwight Garner’s Best Books of 2015
Washington Post: 10 Best Books of 2015
Los Angeles Times: 31 Best Nonfiction Books of 2015
Marie Claire: Best Books of 2015
Vanity Fair: Best Book Gifts of 2015
TIME Best Books of 2015
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.
(With 8 pages of black-and-white photographs.)
Jefferson (On Michael Jackson), a former book and theater critic for the New York Times and Newsweek, writes about growing up in mid-20th-century Chicago as well as in "a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty" in this eloquent and enlightening memoir. Jefferson describes how her peers thought of themselves as "the Third Race, poised between the masses of Negroes and all classes of Caucasians." Jefferson's father was a pediatrician at Provident, the nation's oldest black hospital, and her mother was a social worker turned socialite. With her family's privilege came many perks: attendance at the private, progressive, mostly white University of Chicago Laboratory School; summer camps; drama performances; an impeccable wardrobe; and membership in national black civic organizations such as Jack and Jill of America and the Co-Ettes Club. Yet much was expected; for Jefferson's generation, she says, the motto was "Achievement. Invulnerability. Comportment." In the late 1970s, though established in a successful journalism career, Jefferson contemplated suicide to escape the continued weight of these expectations. Black women, she writes, had been "denied the privilege of freely yielding to depression, of flaunting neurosis as a mark of social and psychic complexity." Perceptive, specific, and powerful, Jefferson's work balances themes of race, class, entitlement, and privilege with her own social and cultural awakening.
Customer ReviewsSee All
What a wonderful adventure that was.
I grew up on the periphery of the times, place and class of Ms. Jefferson, but we shared similar social mores. It was kind of peculiar to see them in print, as there are very few black experiences I am aware of that were so revealing about that aspect of our community. It is even more rare for me to see a black woman writer give such beautiful word to both the rose and the thorns of life, hers or anyone elses.
It is with the rarely blinking eye of a critic, that she looks at her life and community. I feel at once proud and a bit ashamed because there is so much here that explains my family and community, that I so easily identify with someone we’d refer to not as bourgeois, but the less palpable ‘sididitty’, a term used to unseat those who we considered to look down on us, when in truth we were looking up to them.
Over the years, well meaning friends of all races have pushed books and stories in my face to show that they understand my particular plight of being black and from Chicago’s South Side, finally I have something to push back at them, that better explains my ‘plight' to them. That ‘third race’ is one that is finally coming to the fore in America. Ms. Jefferson gives us a good history of the ‘not-poor’ black person, who didn’t come by their class as matter of crime or athletic endeavor.
Whether you’re just curious or looking to serioulsy round out your idea of who black people are, I would reccommend that you read this book. Or if your just looking for a good read, this book fills the bill. Her use of language is top notch, filled with the love of great writing. Great writing. And a wonderful adventure.