Margo Jefferson’s world is a world of pictures, sounds, and smells. So, I don’t get a true sense of what actually happened in her life. Her memoir often reads as several essays instead of chapters, many of which you cannot tell where her voice is. Many plays, books, movies, and major works of art are shared which allows her to reflect herself in them. She is not able to do it on her own. And, I find it puzzling that neither her father’s nor her own childhood pictures match their skin colors as adults.
She speaks of hair perms, hair dying, and skin bleaching, but does not tell us if she has used any of those things. There are only clues. Hard to tell, but her Negroland, past and present, is a place where no Negroes are actually allowed unless they embrace Eurocentric values. These values are shown in good and bad ways while truly curly hair (referred to as nappy/kinky), wide noses, full lips, large backsides, and all ways of being Black, down to ways of laughing, etc. are only referred to in a negative light. Jefferson does not seem to be trying to fix anything and present the right values or embrace Blackness. Jefferson wrote this book to exonerate herself.
This book is the beginning of some kind of recovery from all she experiences growing up. You get glimpses of her childhood, glimpses of herself as an older adult, and all that lie in between is referred to very quickly as suicidal. Her tangents leave me without a story I can easily share although I now have plenty of references to other books and poems she so often quotes to reflect her mental state. I can see a soul there, but it’s hiding behind so many images that she was pretty much forced to use in order to define herself growing up.
She says she at times (or maybe all the time, this is unclear) has problems having “plural relations” with all Negroes—an ‘us’ or a ‘we’—I think because she must believe in the stereotypes and thinks she and her upbringing is a rarity. She seems to be saying that few Blacks in America, let alone any cultures from any African countries, could possibly have the great characteristics she touts, which are mostly aligned, in this book, to White people as a whole. Black people as a whole? Hmmm, she’s clearly not so fond of that. There are just way too many voices coming from Jefferson in this book and by the end I really have no idea which one she wants to be hers. She is conflicted. The description of her family is given only here and there, in contradictory pictures, in a few moments of dialogue, and in the last 20 pages of her book. I enjoyed some parts, but as a whole, realize that she was very afraid to write this book.