Barack Obama, the first black president of the USA, is not mentioned in this memoir of growing up ‘negro’ in America; nor are the recent riots that followed the unpunished shootings of unarmed black citizens by white police; nor is the historic ‘I have a dream’ speech by Martin Luther King. This book is personal: an account, brilliant in places, of one light-skinned, well-educated, privileged, upper-middle-class African-American trying (with identity-threatening difficulty) to find her place in the world.
‘Negroland’ is Margo Jefferson’s term for her advantaged enclave. She chooses ‘negro’ as her word for people now called ‘black’ because she finds it a ‘word of wonders, glorious and terrible’, and because ‘“Negro” dominated our history for so long.’ She is determined to succeed, but at a terrible cost to herself. So battered was she by her uncertain status that as a young woman she contemplated suicide.
We think we know about black communities in the US, including an underclass, shut out from opportunity, filling the jails and poorly paid jobs, and an aspirational upper tier, comprising members of Congress, lawyers, business tycoons, generals and journalists. From a distance the divisions appear a question of class. But,