I have just read an extremely interesting book, Negroland a memoir by Margo Jefferson. Margo was brought up in Chicago and it reminded me that President Obama and his wife Michelle started their working lives together in that city. I wanted to discover more about Chicago. To my chagrin I’ve recently discovered how little I know about many things, in particular about the USA. I’ve been reading on my kindle the memoirs of people who were once slaves; Sojourner Truth, Mary Prince, Booker T Washington and W E B Du Bois. Their experiences have considerable differences depending on where they lived and whether they lived before the abolition of slavery in 1865 or afterwards.
I’m very interested in the memoirs of people who grew up at roughly the same time as I did in very different places. I must confess Margo is nine years younger than me, she was born in 1947. She is a Pulitzer prize winning critic and a Professor and she writes elegant, vivid prose. Reading her book in bed I only stopped when I fell asleep and knew it was time to close the book and put it and my glasses on the bedside table. (By the way I paid 60p. for this new book and my local library paid the rest, a pretty good deal I think) She describes very clearly her family’s life as part of the professional black middle class living in a mainly white middle class area; the constraints on behaviour and the high expectations of her parents.
I’m also reading, “Estates An Intimate History” by the English author Lynsey Hanley. She is writing about family life in the 1970s and 80s in a council estate on the edge of Birmingham. Her family she describes as working class, there is one word which looms large in her account RESPECTABLE. Although the Working Class is frequently written about as one monolithic group she points out several sub-divisions: the skilled working class, the respectable working class in regular employment and those in intermittent employment struggling on a daily basis to get by. this of course is an ever increasing sub-division in the twenty-first century, zero hours contracts and below the minimum rates of pay. I too was brought up on a council estate, fortunately at a time when opportunities were in an expansive phase in the 1950s and 60s. Estates is a combination of personal history and the wider social and economic changes taking place at that time.
The present is a period of contraction or as the government refers to it Austerity. Fewer jobs, increased debt and houses at fantastical prices.