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.

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