Book Review ‘Negroland’, a memoir, Margo Jefferson

“The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.”
Alice Walker 

2 words about this book – marvellous and complex. It doesn’t matter what colour of your skin is – this book belongs to the group #MustRead. It is very educational and I’d say ‘global’ on so many levels. It also was shortlisted for the Baillie Gilford Prize for Non-Fiction 2016.

I seldom read memoirs. I usually find them boring. But when I do – I pick the best ones. (Gosh, I have to make a selfie-pic with these words lol or better video?! haha)

Yes, I don’t know how does it feels – being black. Neither I know about the differences between them (nappy hair or glossy hair; ivory or moccasin skin). Or about their culture, history, heroes, failures. At least not that deep as Margo Jefferson have described in her book, for dummies like me.

The black history is drifting right in front of your eyes through the prism of the memories of the little Girl-Margo and Grown Up Woman-Margo. She shares her views on the insult, predjurtice, culture, literature, nervous collapses, suicide, being unnoticed and never enough-ness. There’s no bitterness in the book, she doesn’t want to step on that ‘too-easy-to-slip’ path. She want to keep it personal, but in the same time ‘universal’. 

What is Negroland? – a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain privilege and plenty. No, it never made them ‘whiter’, or ‘smarter’ or ‘equal ’ in the eyes of the white people. But the world changes. Slowly. Does she (the hero of our book) changes with the world? 

  • What does it means to be ‘privileged free Negro‘? 
  • How slaves became free men (then social leaders and arbiters)? 
  • What is your birthright if you born black? 
  • What the kind of lessons black kids learned from their mothers?
  • Why the black look down on the other black who aren’t black for them anymore? And why they aren’t black anymore? 
  • Is it easy to become ‘white’?
  • Do they really want to become ‘white’ and why?
  • The beauty standards of the Negroland: what is that?

I can go on and on and on… 

I do think the book itself is a rare observation of the black society. It is historical, it is funny, it is academic. There’re so many genres united in this memoir. And they are interacting with each other in a some serene – magnificent – intelligent way. 

My last word: it is a magical tale that transforms into something bigger, something that you can’t grasp in one sitting. You have to get back to this book again and again…

It is subjective – yes, of course
It is bold – without a doubt
It is mesmerising – indeed
It is an awesome book to read.

Thats my rate for you, folks. Here some excerpts from the book:

1. We were taught that we were better than the whites who looked down on us – that we were better than the most whites. Period.

2. ‘Do we have Indian blood?‘ – I ask. 
‘Yesss, we do have some Indian blood. But I get so tired of Negroes always talking about their Indian blood. And so tired of white people always asking about it.’ 
Here’s an unexpected similarity between Negroes and whites: the slightly pathetic need to believe we have Indian blood, or at least, through camp rituals, cultural kinship rights. 

3. Our father has not smiled since the four of us walked into the lobby and stood at the desk as the clerk turned us into Mr. and Mrs. Negro-Nobody with their Negro-children from somewhere in Niggerland.

4. Too many of us just aren’t trying. No ambition. No interest in education. You don’t have to turn your neighbourhood into a slum just because you are poor. 

5. Are you black Enough?

6. I studied suicide notes. It is a primitive genre – they all follow the same basic pattern ‘I can’t go on.’I kept a folder of my drafts. I knew I should have an alternative method, and I chose the oven… When I actually tried putting my head in it, I realised that the oven opens about a foot from the floor, so you have to twist your body around and put your head on the door at a weird, forced angle. I practiced. I did not want to be found in an ugly sprawl or a fetal position. 
Practice, practice, practice. Like playing scales, taking a barre. Do your Daily Suicide Warm-Up. 

You are you and you are going to be you forever.
You have a story to tell. Do not fear – tell your story. 

Next post on Thursday, Origami-Heart. Part 3: The Horrible. 

Book Reviews

Victoria Ray NB View All →

Living in Sweden. Awesome. Happy. Writing. Ayurvedic food. Healthy lifestyle. Dogs. Literature. Drawing. Meditation/Yoga.

22 Comments Leave a comment

  1. “Suicide warm-up” People as a whole will participate in this. I believe if ‘gratefulness replaced selfishness’ this would not be such a large problem!

  2. Okay, now tHaT I understood. 🙂
    I couldn’t find anything about tight pants there, though. Maybe I should read it again.
    Love the idea of doing a Daily Suicide Warm Up – that never occurred to me. 😀

%d bloggers like this: