The Jefferson sisters grew up in a charmed environment with ballet, piano, and violin lessons, private summer camps, family vacation enclaves, a family boat, and a host of organizations that provided a peculiar kind of buffer between their world and the white world beyond. For the daughters of Negroland, much depended upon manners, background, poise, and proper speech—things one could either be born into or taught. But much also depended on shades of skin color, hair texture, the size and shape of a nose, the tenor of a voice, and other involuntary grounds for cruel or merely capricious exclusion.
For a sensitive, bookish young girl, such a world was both carapace and chrysalis. While there was certainly no shortage of parental love, devotion, care, and sacrifice, the children of Negroland were explicitly handed the burden of being generational point persons for assaults on the institutions of the dominant culture.
First the schools, then the professions; they were expected to become pioneers, groundbreakers, ceiling smashers.
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But at what psychological cost? Once launched into the worlds of higher education and work, there was always the ambush of repeated outrages, great and small. The stories traded back and forth of being taken for an underling—for the waiter at an exclusive dinner, the secretary at the law firm, the orderly at the hospital, never mind the stethoscope around your neck.
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School was an additional crucible, to which Jefferson gives sharp and probing attention. Not that it was designed for us—but for high achieving or aspiring black families of that era and in that city, the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, nursery through high school, where at least half of the students were the children of university faculty or staff, were the prized enrollment for their children. Founded in the nineteenth century by John Dewey, the schools did not admit their first black students until the s; those of my generation were their newest guinea pigs.
And as I read, it was startling and bittersweet to come upon the names of childhood friends, some deceased, some long since out of touch, some few still, or again, in my life. For Jefferson, the Lab Schools were the sites of most of her academic, social, and wider white-world education beyond Negroland. Her path home from school was across the Midway, the huge, blocks-long grassy expanse originally constructed as part of the Columbian Exposition, an extension of the White City at its heart. Negroland is a book of raw elements with no chapter headings.
But what of the sons? Turning away from the approving mirror of family and social circle, they walked into the institutions of a larger society that did not wish them well. And yet, it was the one in which they were conditioned, indeed condemned and trained, to compete—to both emulate and best the enemy. So many young men coming of age in Negroland in those days had to cobble together inner resources of the spirit.
But this was not the world of their fathers, and many died trying. Humor is one among the necessary things that carries us through. All of us, of whatever origin. Margo Jefferson is candid, wry—mocking and self-mocking. In , Nike came out with an Air Jordan Retro 6 basketball shoe that was soon known as the Oreo for its white-on-black design. Oreo Mint was Ben and Jerry's first flavored ice cream; co-founder Ben Cohen later used a stack of Oreos in an online cartoon to illustrate the towering scale of US military spending.
Among African Americans, in the Black Power era, calling someone an Oreo -- black on the outside, white on the inside -- was a painful put-down, as Gerald Thompson recalled in "Reflections of an Oreo Cookie," a memoir. On the other hand, many Jewish Americans still fondly remember the day in when Oreos became kosher after lard was dropped as an ingredient.
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For Rabbi Joshua Hammerman, writing in the New York Times , that milestone in the annals of the great American cookie was nothing less than "a telltale sign that Jews have finally made it. Originally published as Oreos mark years of 'twist, lick, dunk'. Korea Herald.
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