Magazine article World Literature Today

Negroland

Magazine article World Literature Today

Negroland

Article excerpt

Margo Jefferson. Negroland. New York. Pantheon Books. 2015. 256 pages.

Margo Jefferson, acclaimed journalist and critic, has written a tour de force on the black privileged class. Hers is an artful and complicated memoir that achieves what countless other accounts of the black privileged class (fiction and nonfiction) have not been able to do with success. (Dorothy West's account in The Living Is Easy is somewhat sentimental in the sheer awe the narrator has of the mother figure, and Lawrence Otis Graham's account in Our Kind of People is a bit gratuitous.) Jefferson manages an honest yet balanced account of a class of people who have been pitted (in perception and sometimes in actuality) against the masses since the African's abduction and forced enslavement in North America and the Caribbean.

The work begins with a definition of Negroland: "a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty" Hence, Negroland is as much a place as it is a state of mind. Laced with descriptions of complicated housing and exclusionary practices and comportment and social commentaries, Jefferson's narrative offers a thorough examination of the topic. In short, she is able to inspire sympathy and a sincere desire to understand the region's ethos.

The brilliance of Jefferson's approach in the work is manyfold. First, she manages an often-dispassionate chronicle of the historic rise and proliferation of the privileged class and its service to African American causes (racial uplift). Second, she alters her point of view (from first to third person) during times in which she might have otherwise lapsed into vitriolic attacks or sentimentality. Third, she is a master of verbal dexterity and the turning of a phrase. Consider Jefferson's revision (appropriation of a well-known passage) of Frederick Douglass's famed words when he overcomes the mental shackles of slavery; she writes, "Let us see how slaves, male and female, become social arbiters and leaders"- of which Douglass himself became one. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.