Itabari Njeri, a graduate of Boston University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has been the recipient of several major fellowships and reporting awards and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her cultural criticism. She won the American Book Award for her memoir, Every Good-Bye Ain’t Gone, and was a contributing editor of the Lost Angeles Times Sunday Magazine. She lives in Korea.
The Last Plantation: Color, Conflict, and Identity: Reflections of a New World BlackHoughton Mifflin Company (1997)
Weaving the personal and the political with passion and grace, Njeri recounts incidents in the news – the Rodney King beating, the Black boycott of Korean grocers in Los Angeles, and the shooting of a Black teenager by a Korean immigrant – and their profound effect on her as a Black woman and journalist. In doing so, she lays out with precision and power how the imposition of limited definitions of identity based on race contributes to a psychological slavery that makes the mind the last plantation. In accepting a larger, multiracial identity – which would substantially define most Americans – we can challenge marginalizing concepts and the way in which the racial debate is now framed.
Only by examining conflicts within the African American community, conflicts between Blacks and Asians, and similar cultural problems can Americans reconcile their opposing definitions of racial groups. Then we can begin to reach out to communities beyond our own. Of course the actions of minorities must be viewed against the backdrop of White domination, Njeri claims, and she calls for nothing less than a reclamation of American identity liberated from the ethos of the plantation: “If, as a nation, we are connected by history, culture, and blood, then the dominant group, White Americans – especially those who so vocally denounce the balkanization of the United States they claim pluralism breeds – need to step up… and make rhetorical perfume out of the phrase the miscegenated American experience.”
Every Good-Bye Ain’t GoneVintage Books (1991)
With the passionate lyricism of a Maya Angelou and the sharply edged wit of a young Lillian Hellman, award-winning journalist Itabari Njeri creates a kaleidoscopic portrait of the extraordinary family in which she grew up. Njeri’s memoir is improbable, complex, grandly dramatic; from her grandmother Ruby, a West Indian matriarch with a devastating tongue and a reverence for Marcus Garvey and Queen Elizabeth, to her father, a brilliant Marxist historian, to her own travels to Georgia to track down the man who killed her grandfather, Every Good-Bye Ain’t Gone is a passionate account of a woman finding herself in a world filled with obstacles, from racism to a surfeit of unreliable men.