Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Lois Long Finally Annoys Me

I've said in the past that I enjoy Lois Long's contributions to the 1920's-era New Yorker, particularly her somewhat acerbic "Tables for Two" column (which she wrote under the name "Lipstick"). I've also said that though some scholars have accused her of being a racist, I felt that Long's racial comments were simply par for an authoress writing about Harlem nightclubs, and that I got no impression that Long was -- as charged -- more dismissive of black people than anybody else in the magazine.

Then I ran across her December 22, 1928 review of "Club Harlem."
Above 125th Street, the latest place visited was one called, quite simply, the Club Harlem. Your first impression is of very pleasing decoration--acid yellow walls with huge, foggy, dark-blue silhouettes of barbaric negroes and palm trees. The second impression is of a grand blues orchestra, principally brasses; and the third is of probably the most inferior collection of white people you can see anywhere. Possibly they are hired by the management to give the colored race magnificent dignity by contrast, but I dunno.
I'd have to do some real twisting to make this comment sound innocuous, and taken with the tone of some of her earlier writings I'll finally admit that "they" -- those few scholars who have ever mentioned Lois Long in their research -- are probably right: Long viewed the black people in Harlem as inferior to whites...but cute scenery, and LORD they could dance!

She goes on to mention a "high-yaller chorus," the first time I've heard this term in the magazine.


Anonymous said...


Interesting bit. Never heard of "high-yaller" before. Consulted with your Wikipedia link & a knowledgable co-worker.

Reminded me of an NYT article about Anatole Broyard's daughter's book "One Drop" - about her discovery that her dad was a "passing" Creole.

Here's a link or two to the article.

Bliss Broyard (“One Drop”): NYT Article:


Separately, I thought that Ms. Long, in writing "On and Off The Avenue," resisted pressure from the New Yorker's advertising section to deal with stores that she felt were beneath her "radar," so to speak. So at least she seemed to practice economic class distinction, if not color discrimination.

Adam Thornton said...

I was amazed, reading that article, that there was a rigidly codified range of colours which defined the social strata of Harlem, and that "high yellow" was at the top.

I'd only previously heard the phrase in the context of entertainment ("high-yaller dancers").

Certainly, Long's "On and Off the Avenue" section tended to favour certain stores...but I never looked too closely because I eventually stopped reading them. That section didn't have the colour or variety to appeal to a regular modern reader, IMHO.