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Roll ‘Bama Roll Reading Room: Jemele Hill, “Uphill: A Memoir”

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Photo by: Charles Sykes/Bravo via Getty Images

Grudge: The Autobiography

Let me begin a review of this memoir with some praise. A teaspoon of sugar helps the medicine go down.

As I’ve known from her many appearances on Memphis sports radio (and certainly earlier in her career), Jemele Hill can be engaging, entertaining, insightful. She has a distinctive voice; she is fearless in many respects. She certainly is divisive. She did not get where she is out of some misplaced sense of tokenism, or whatever talking point may be floating around about her qualifications. She did overcome a decent amount of adversity growing up. When she sticks to analysis, particularly of the NBA, she is whip-sharp. But that is not a surprise: She is well-educated, bright, combative, a reasonably proficient writer…

All of that said, this tedious exercise of a memoir was better served as part of some self-reflective journaling or being fleshed out with a therapist. Because of her many positive traits (and love her or hate her, they are there), one gets the impression that Ms. Hill is not the most introspective person you’ll encounter.

“Uphill: A Memoir” is more properly called “Anger: An Autobiography” or “Revanchism After Making Life Harder on Myself.” Lost is Hill’s distinctive voice, notably absent is any sort of humor or charm. We are instead treated to a monotone slog of simmering rage and weltzschmerz on one hand, and triumphalism on the other. And often they appear within the same chapter and life event.

Every good thing in Jemele’s life is the product of her labor. Nothing can be about catching a break, a good judgment call, or even plain ole’ dumb luck: those things that make people truly successful. Meanwhile everything bad or adverse, every struggle, every setback is solely the product of external forces: some Shadowy They which conspires to keep black women down. The resentment over every grievance, real or perceived, no matter how consequential, is honed to a razor’s edge by a seething anger that leaps off the page…and the next page…and the next.

If you are generally sympathetic to Ms. Hill, then this will be preaching to the choir. If you dislike Ms. Hill, then it will confirm your worst suspicions — a self-pitying Twitter thread manifest into hardcover form.

But for my part, I was left wondering after each passage: Is this the real Jemele Hill? Or is the one I know from her days of less notoriety the real Jemele Hill? They cannot both be the same person.

Ms. Hill, allow me to use some religious imagery here: I’m not going to be a Buddhist and suggest that life is a poor and transient thing, where all is ephemeral and marked by suffering. I will, instead, look towards the Christian teachings of grace: suffering may occur, but it is part of our renewal; sometimes it has a purpose, but it is up to us to find the meaning in that fight. As a devout Christian, you should know that whether you let your life be defined by suffering or by grace is totally up to you.

As for readers, you can guess pretty well what you’re getting here in advance. Read it if you like her; don’t if you aren’t. But even if you are a Jemele Hill fan, be aware that even to her admirers it is offputting after 256 pages.

Uphill: A Memoir, Jemele Hill: ISBN 1250624371. Henry Holt and Co. (October 25, 2022) is available online and at most major retailers.

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