Book Review – Negroland: A Memoir

Negroland – A Memoir by Margo Jefferson (Granta) ISBN 9781783783021

‘I was taught to avoid showing off. I was taught to distinguish myself through presentation, not declaration, to excel through deeds and manners, not showing off. But isn’t all memoir a form of showing off?’

This denotes the theme of the memoir. Negroes or black people need to prove themselves beyond their white counterparts in all ways possible. They need to extend themselves to prove they are worthy. In America (as a minority) this comes at a price. There is a constant awareness of race, of self-criticism, particularly appearance. The author judges her looks as inferior, unattractive, especially when she wears her thick glasses. Her hair is too frizzy. Her body shape not good enough. She attends a private school where the majority of students are white. She comes from a privileged family. She is a good student who participates in school activities, striving to be accepted.

Margo Jefferson is the daughter of a successful paediatrician. Her mother is a socialite. They are part of Chicago’s black elite. The author calls it Negroland. This small group would be the example to other black people and raise their standards. Then into the mix comes feminism. Her we have two discriminations – being female and black. There is also the human rights movement bringing attention to the fallacy of non-racialism in America.

Margo Jefferson’s writing is brutally honest, exposing her innermost thoughts, feelings and contradictions. She reveals the complexity of her life as a black woman: Where does she belong? All she asks is to be accepted for who she is.

How many people are experiencing racial discrimination and its effects on their being? This memoir bites to the very core of racism and it is an essential book for greater understanding of discrimination which has persisted for many centuries.

Dawn Blankfield

Posted on: 15th August 2016