52 Quotes of Margo Jefferson

” The world itself is so full of changes – of negotiations, changes of position, seeing things one way, then another, gauging responses, status changes that can happen in an instant. “
” My mind is stuffed with quotes. Lines, couplets, paragraphs, stanzas; Bessie Smith, Stevie Smith, Tin Pan Alley, rock and roll. They tease or lead or hurl me into a dream space of jostling languages that I need to bask in each day in order to write. “
” At the very least, noir offers an alternate reality – moments of real passion, a bleak code of honor, and a need for freedom amid corruption. At its best, noir offers a map of subversion. “
” Clever of me to become a critic. We critics scrutinize and show off to a higher end. For a greater good. Our manners, our tastes, our declarations are welcomed. Superior for life. Except when we’re not. Except when we’re dismissed or denounced as envious or petty, as derivatives and dependents by nature. Second class for life. “
” The piece I most love wearing is Mother’s gold brocade cocktail dress with matching jacket… It’s ‘flip and flirty,’ as my mother prescribed. It’s crisp yet splendid. It makes me feel I’ve put on made-to-order armor. My mother’s armor. Armor that helped shield me from exclusion. Armor that helped shield me from inferiority. “
” My mother was not happy with the Afros that my friends and I emerged with – there’s that crack in the book of ‘Why, if a fly landed in there, he’d break his little wings trying to get out.’ I was not pure dashiki, though – I was a combination of African dresses, miniskirts, tank tops, shawls, ethnic-looking earrings, sandals. “
” Michael Jackson loved epic symbols. In his shows and his videos, he always destroyed or salvaged worlds; he was the hero of parables about street violence, sexual combat, war and natural disaster. It was always apocalypse or apotheosis now. “
” In many ways, everything about my upbringing decreed that I wouldn’t write a memoir because in the world where I grew up, in Chicago in the Fifties and Sixties, one key way of protesting ourselves – ‘we’ meaning black people – against racism, against its stereotypes and its insults, was to curate and narrate very carefully the story of the people. “
” Even criticism is more interesting when the writer’s authority does not only come through this omniscient narrator, but through questions, ambivalence, vulnerability. A mind questioning and on the move, not just settling down and declaring – that’s one of the most interesting possibilities. “
” ‘Melancholy’ is prettier than ‘depression’; it connotes a kind of nocturnal grace. Makes one feel more innocently beleaguered. “
” I first wrote about Michael Jackson in the 1980s. His skin was growing paler, his features thinner, and his aura more feminine. Some called him a traitor to his race. Some fussed about his gender fluidity. I saw him as a post-modern shape-shifter. But the shifts grew more extreme and mysterious. “
” I think it’s too easy to recount your unhappy memories when you write about yourself. You bask in your own innocence. You revere your grief. You arrange your angers at their most becoming angles. “
” I was born into the Chicago branch of Negroland. My father was a doctor, a pediatrician, and for some years head of pediatrics at Provident, the nation’s oldest black hospital. My mother was a social worker who left her job when she married, and throughout my childhood, she was a full-time wife, mother, and socialite. “
” I would certainly say that my life, and perhaps human life in general, follows an intricate pattern of defining, declaring, struggling for, fighting for what we think of and treasure as the self. The inviolate self. This begins with our families: your parents are part of your cultural landscape, and they are also shaped by larger forces than them. “
” Every mind is a clutter of memories, images, inventions and age-old repetitions. It can be a ghetto, too, if a ghetto is a sealed-off, confined place. Or a sanctuary, where one is free to dream and think whatever one wants. For most of us it’s both – and a lot more complicated. “
” In general, fashion is decorative, it’s protective, it acknowledges that the world does involve conflict, and you might be attacked by assumptions, presumptions, and attitudes. “
” I’m a chronicler of Negroland, a participant-observer, an elegist, dissenter, and admirer; sometime expatriate, ongoing interlocutor. “
” The burden of being a constant symbol, of having to live up to a symbol of advancement, of progress, of being perfect in some way and always representing the destiny of an entire people – that is supposed to be invincibility. That’s enormous. “
” I need to acknowledge the toll certain parts of my life are taking on me. I have to do that, even if it temporarily paralyzes me to suppress it. Otherwise, paradoxically, I can’t go on. When I can reside in that, and recoup, then I can continue. In a strange way it’s a survival method. “
” Fashion for my mother was about asserting and demonstrating you had aesthetics, tastes, sensibility, manners, beauty – qualities that black people were always trying to prove they possessed, because it was often assumed that we didn’t. “
” As a little girl in the ’50s, I couldn’t wear a purple-and-white flowered skirt with a red blouse – those colors were too loud. My parents were not into that ‘We are Negros that wear all beige,’ but there was a line you could walk over that could signal vulgar, crass, rather than clever use of color. And that outfit crossed over the line. “
” You were not supposed to show off in Negroland because you are supposed to be perfectly decorous and well behaved. You were also not supposed to tell any stories that reflected badly on the group because that reflected badly on the race. I use past tense, but it still feels like present tense. “
” I think, for a while, there was a kind of debate about whether you could bring back Negro and reclaim it, and then it was black versus African American; now I have noticed in conversation that black people will use all three terms depending on context. I don’t advocate one term. “
” There are still Negro elites. Many of them are obviously much richer, and perhaps a little more integrated into what remains a white power structure. But those old rituals from the social clubs, to the broadly segregated white and black schools, to an obsessive interest in ancestry, all of that does still exist. Look: we are a class-bound society. “
” We have a myth of the classless society. You won’t hear an American politician apart from Bernie Sanders talk about the working class. We are all middle class, apparently. “
” Black Power was really a major challenge to the social privileges and structures of the kind of privilege that I had grown up with. 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. “
” Self-examination – when the whole world around you is pressuring that and challenging you – is very, very hard. Looking at a whole structure – in my case, let us say of snobbery, basking in certain privileges, marks of what appear to be superiority – that’s ugly to look at. “
” I was born in 1947, and my generation, like its predecessors, was taught that since our achievements received little notice or credit from white America, we were not to discuss our faults, lapses, or uncertainties in public. “
” Privilege is provisional. It can be denied, withheld, offered grudgingly, and summarily withdrawn. “
” When people start reconfiguring marriage, there’s no going back. “
” Negroland is my name for a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty. Children in Negroland were warned that few Negroes enjoyed privilege or plenty and that most whites would be glad to see them returned to indigence, deference and subservience. “
” If you were a successful upper-middle-class Negro girl in the 1950s and ’60s, you were, in practice and imagination, a white Protestant upper middle-class girl. Young, good-looking white women were the most desirable creatures in the world. It was hard not to want to imitate them; it was highly toxic, too, as we would learn. “
” I found literary idols in Adrienne Kennedy, Nella Larsen, and Ntozake Shange, writers who’d dared to locate a sanctioned, forbidden space between white vulnerability and black invincibility. “
” A Negro girl could never be purely innocent. The vengeful Race Fairy always lurked nearby; your parents’ best hope was that the fairy would show up at someone else’s feast and punish their child. Parents had to protect themselves, too, and protect you from knowing how much danger you all were in. “
” I was taught you don’t tell your secrets to strangers – certainly not secrets that expose error, weakness, failure. My generation, like its predecessors, was taught that since our achievements received little notice or credit from white America, we were not to discuss our faults, lapses, or uncertainties in public. “
” My individual way of taking on the burdens of history has changed. I don’t think of them only as burdens; I think they are honorable. “
” Yes, for blacks, racism functions without the actual presence of whites, just as for whites it functions without the actual presence of blacks! Beliefs, conventions, history do the work. “
” I think the most harmful belief passed on to me – not always directly – was the belief that whatever I did as a Negro, however much we Negroes achieved, despite the presence of some enlightened whites, white society as a whole enjoyed being racists in the secret core of their being and would never, ever give that up. “
” So much of what blacks and women contend with is centered in how we view, and how the world views, our bodies. Gestures, voices, affect. “
” Depression is so treacherous – it can be so alluring as well as punishing. After all, it’s yours and yours alone – no one else can interfere with it. “
” Criticism does demand a certain kind of authority, but what about the authority of not really being sure what you think? What about the authority, the authenticity that comes from bringing all your intellectual, emotional and spiritual equipment to a piece of art or entertainment whilst still being uncertain and confused? “
” There isn’t only one way that black art or entertainment is represented, and that’s the most important thing. We’re permeating every style. We’re claiming and, when necessary, appropriating all kinds of forms. Nothing is forbidden, because it’s not what black people do: because it’s not what we think of as black art. “
” Since pre-Emancipation, black ‘females’ have had to fight for the whites-only privilege of being deemed ‘ladies’: cultured, educated, sexually desirable in a socially respected way. Michelle Obama has managed to get all this without yielding her right to be smart and strong-willed. “
” My parents always told my sister and me that if we wanted to, we could be doctors and lawyers, like my father and his brothers, like some of their women friends. Denise and I had art in our sights, though. “
” Several elementary school teachers had described me as a ‘future authoress or poetess.’ Mother took me to meet Chicago’s leading black librarian, who published a poem of mine in the magazine she edited for Negro children. “
” I was nearing the end of childhood when I started to pay real attention to jazz singers. Women excelled as jazz singers; they surpassed most of the men. Black women excelled as jazz singers; they surpassed most of the whites. “
” Like dancers with choreography or actors with scripts, jazz singers could take material that was known, even loved, then risk interpreting and revising it. They could conceal even as they revealed themselves. Inflection, timing and tonality were their language, at least as much as words. “
” Michael Jackson was one of popular culture’s greatest artists. Nobody danced better. Few sang more compellingly. No one understood more about stage spectacles or music videos. He was an innovator. His reach was global. “
” We Americans are childish about our celebrities and icons. We worship, then we denounce; we identify passionately with them and then, if they do something – anything – we dislike, we cast them off. “
” I think, probably, socially, in some ways New York may be the least American city. It represents too many things that Americans really don’t entirely want in their lives. “
” New York, for decades, offered a perpetual series of ‘golden ages’ to artists. You constantly had to measure yourself against the best, and you had to watch them, which meant that your imagination and also your sense of what the market could stand got very, very sharp. “
” New Yorkers know how to borrow wildly. You know, Louis Armstrong was not a New York musician. He went from New Orleans to Chicago to New York, and when he arrived here, he taught those New Yorkers. New York needs that infusion. “