Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Land of Privilege: Margo Jefferson's Negroland

This month we're reading Negroland, Margo Jefferson's memoir of growing up light skinned, middle class and privileged in 1950s Chicago. She explains how despite the benefits of a comfortable lifestyle, she and members of her generation were under constant pressure to "uplift the race" not "show their color" or contaminate themselves by associating with lower class, often darker skinned African Americans.

In an interview with NPR's Fresh Air, Jefferson reveals that, ultimately, it was the Black Power movement that led her to question some of the tenets that she had grown up with: "Black Power was really a major challenge to the social privileges and structures of the kind of privilege that I had grown up with," she says. "That whole belief ... that you will only be able to advance if you are perfectly behaved, if you present yourself as what white people would consider an ideal of whiteness ... all of that just began to burst open."

Is the concept of "Negroland" a relic of the past, or do upper class African Americans still experience the  pressures Jefferson faced? And how strong is the class/color dividing line in 21st century Black America? We'll wrestle with these questions at our discussion on April 19th, 7:00 pm.

**Jefferson will be speaking as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival on April 30th . Her talk, accompanied by Darryl Pinckney, author of  Black Deutschland , is on "Style and the Black Bourgeoisie". Not to be missed!

Some books exploring similar terrain:

Black bourgeoisie by Franklin Frazier
The new Black middle class by Bart Landry
Two classic studies on black upward mobility and social culture.

Disintegration : the splintering of Black America by Eugene Robinson
Examines conflicts between 4 different subgroups within African American life: the "Abandoned" urban underclass; the "Mainstream" educated middle class; the super-rich, super elite "Transcendent"; and the "Emergent" population of mixed race and African/Caribbean immigrants.

 Looks at  the subtle forms of prejudice that black professionals endure: a black woman may be hired in public relations, but then whites will see the position as weak and nonintellectual; a black male lawyer hired to fill a quota may file brilliant briefs, but he'll be held back from a partnership. Written in 1993, but still pertinent.

Well, no one thinks Bill Cosby is right about anything these days, but this remains a provocative look at the "Afristocracy" and their disdain for low income urban Black Americans.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Oyeyemi's Racially Reimagined Fairy Tale

Greeting! Can't believe it's been nearly 3 months since I last posted! Thanks to everyone who attended the combined KeepintiReal/AAL discussion of My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me, the gripping memoir by Jennifer Teege, an African/German woman who accidentally discovered that her  father was the Nazi commandant from Schindler's List.

For March, we are back to fiction with Boy Snow Bird, Helen Oyeyemi 's  "gloriously unsettling" re-working of the Snow White. In a small town in the mid-50s, the birth of a dark skinned baby girl unravels a marriage, a family and a town; and a young mother finds herself becoming the "evil stepmother" she never imagined she could be. Join us for the discussion next Tuesday March 15th at 7:00pm! We have copies available at the 2nd floor desk: call 847-448-8620 to reserve yours.

Some new books of interest...

Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, by Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith
Sports historians Roberts and Smith  delve deeply into the little-known intricacies and tragic consequences of the close bond between the mentoring Nation of Islam minister Malcolm X and the young boxer Cassius Clay. As the authors tell the gripping personal stories of these two passionate revolutionaries and seekers, they cover Clay's genius for audacious self-promotion and strategic self-concealment, and Malcolm X's dream of resolving his increasingly dire conflict with the Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad by bringing Clay and his burgeoning international fame fully into the fold. Vividly set within the coalescing civil rights movement, this incisive anatomy of a fatal friendship turns on the bitter irony that Clay, soon to become Muhammad Ali, and Malcolm X became brothers in spirit by virtue of their shared insistence on equality and freedom in a racist society, only to be drawn to the Nation of Islam, which betrayed and terrorized them both, forcing them apart and ultimately murdering Malcolm X. Roberts and Smith portray both of these courageous and controversial, inspired and inspiring men with fresh, stinging clarity, and extend our perception of the interconnectivity of race, religion, sports, and media during this violent and transformative era, which is so very germane today.

The Defender: How The Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America, by Ethan Michaeli.
The 2nd Baptist Men's group will be reading this in June, but now is your chance to get a head start! As you may remember from reading The Warmth of Other Suns, The Chicago Daily Defender played a key role in spreading hope to African American residents of the Deep South during the Great Migration; letting them know about job opportunities, and keeping them in touch with friends and relatives how had moved north.For decades, it has chronicled Chicago, and indeed national black society offering an alternative perspective on the issues of the day. Micaheli's book is the first comprehensive history of this iconic newspaper.

Brown is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution has Created a New American Majority , by Steve Phillips
A manifesto to those seeking to change the way politics plays out in America today. 51 percent of eligible voters in America today are progressive people of color and progressive whites. Phillips has a background in both politics and law, and here he lays out reasons why white politicians (mainly calling out the whole of the Democratic party) have stalled in producing effective social change stemming from the progressive movement's failure to utilize this new and diverse eligible voting majority. The book pulls no punches (there's a chapter titled, "Fewer Smart-Ass White Boys") but is ultimately hopeful.  This slim yet jam-packed call to action will be in demand, both because Phillips is a popular pundit and because the time is ripe for an upheaval in politics-as-usual.

  It has been only a few months since Ta-Nehisi Coates struck the American nerve, in Between the World and Me, by pointing out that our racial history is more deeply ingrained in racism than Gunnar Myrdal suggested. Here Princeton scholar Glaude adds to that debate by equating our racist history to a basic gap in values, the notion that black lives matter less in this country and always have. He proves his point cogently, perhaps with less passion than Coates but with more than enough documentation to move the argument along this new and painful track. This is every bit as important a book as Coates' more personal account.

The Other Blacklist: The African American Literacy and Cultural Left of the 1950s, by Mary Helen Washington

Considering that any effort to achieve racial equality was viewed as subversive in the Cold War era, is it any wonder that so many black artists and writers were viewed as Communists? Yet very little has been written about the black artists and writers who were surveilled, investigated, and blacklisted because of their beliefs and their work. Literary scholar Washington remedies that neglect with this engrossing look at six artists: novelist and essayist Lloyd L. Brown, visual artist Charles White, playwright and novelist Alice Childress, poet and novelist Gwendolyn Brooks, novelist Frank London Brown, and novelist and activist Julian Mayfield.. Though some were Communist Party members and others not, they were all drawn to the Left's appreciation of black folk culture and support for the ideal of self-determination, themes that figured prominently in their work.