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Volunteer Slavery: My Authentic Negro Experience.

Jill Nelson's naked (in more ways than one) memoir, Volunteer Slavery: My Authentic Negro Experience, is a good read. It is partly a behind-the-computer-screens look st how one of the nation's most prestigious newspapers - The Washington Post - more often than not falls much below the needs and expectations of the capital's predominantly African-American citizens.

But this slim volume is more than Nelson's excoriation of the quirky, frequently racially ignorant and often paternalistic ways of the Posts senior staff. It is also a guided tour through the emotional, mental and sexual corridors of her mind.

In Stephen Carter's Reflections of An Affirmative Action Baby, the author argues that many African-Americans are plagued by doubts that the positions and titles they hold are perceived to have been - or might actually have been - achieved by dint of their color and not by their intelligence or hard work. By contrast, Nelson, who does not doubt her upper-middle-class family's achievements, agonized for years over whether such success was an "authentic Negro experience" or one comparable to the reality of life many African-Americans - particularly the poor - experience. Of course, this kind of self-absorbed thinking may not be terribly relevant to the general reader.

But few readers will be turned off by Nelson's introspection. She is a smooth writer with an eye for the odd detail. It is a shame that the Washington Post magazine, which originally hired her, overlooked her insights. Otherwise, it might have avoided such faux pas as placing a crude photo of a black criminal on the cover of its premier issue.

Finally, she doesn't spare herself. Nelson admits, confronts and comes to terms with her alcoholism, and the descent and rise of a drug-addicted brother. Ultimately, she realizes an authentic Negro experience is living the life of the skin she is in.
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:McCoy, Frank
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1993
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