Welcome to the first official square of my Diverse December Bingo: diverse non-fiction. This was one of the squares that most interested me, because I’ve been making the effort to read different genres this year, including poetry and non-fiction. The book I chose is Negroland by Margo Jefferson, a book I’ve had on my TBR for quite a while.
Negroland is the term that Jefferson uses to describe her social class: “upper-class Negroes and upper-middle-class Americans”. The first half of the book plays with this idea as Jefferson describes her childhood. She often talks about the differences between whites and blacks, particularly through the idea that black people have to earn the respect and privilege that white people are born with. Jefferson also often discusses pivotal periods of history in the civil rights movement, as well as experiences she has as a young black woman.
Near the middle of the book, however, Jefferson really takes off. There is a truly fantastic couple of chapters about the metaphorical suicide of the figure of the young black woman. Rather than strictly keeping to her own experiences, as she does for the rest of the book, these chapters allow Jefferson to explore black upper-class society as a whole – and to great success.
I had hoped that the rest of the book would continue in this vein, but it didn’t really. That’s not to say that it wasn’t interesting, but after this truly stellar middle section, it was mildly disappointing. Here it is also important to note that Jefferson is, undoubtedly, writing a history of her own privilege as an upper-class woman. She does slightly note this, but I think an awareness of her relatively unique experience could have been made more apparent. She also discusses the idea of internalised racism – she talks about her relief in not having stereotypically black features, such as big lips. Again, I wish that she had explored this a little bit more.
All in all, this was an interesting memoir that explored a particular section of black society and experiences. I’d love to read more like this, especially if more analysis is given to the privileges of the upper class.