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The Black Girl Next Door: A Memoir Hardcover – January 13, 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 57 customer reviews

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From Publishers Weekly

Baszile grew up in an affluent Southern California suburb (she was a first-grader in 1975), a postsegregation child in a not quite integrated world and "the only black girl in my class, my grade, and my school besides my sister." In this craftily structured memoir, Baszile carries the reader at a leisurely, but in no way slack, pace through her girlhood and adolescence, maintaining both her young vulnerability and her sophisticated adult perspective. In trips to her parents' childhood homes--big city Detroit for her mother, deep country Louisiana for her father--she sees their (and her own) African-American pasts. A cruise, on which her parents challenge the two girls "to introduce yourselves to every black kid on this boat" before dinner, offers fresh dimensions of her African-American present. Taken together, they contribute to the path that led her to Yale's history department (its first black female professor). In elegant prose, Baszile shares enlightening observations throughout: "Dad never complained about being a black man... but he couldn't disguise its particular perils." Proud and comfortable in her skin, as well as clearheaded about its hazards, Baszile has written a classic portrait of that girl next door. (Nov.)
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From Booklist

The Baszile family’s move to an exclusive white suburb in Palos Verde, California, was the culmination of the parents’ striving for a racially integrated, middle-class life. For their daughters, it meant isolation and coping with the occasional racial slurs that went along with the advantages of suburban life. Their parents veered between an aggressive integration strategy and an equally aggressive strategy to keep their daughters socially connected to other black teens. There would be no interracial dating, they declared. Visits to her father’s childhood home in rural Louisiana and her mother’s in Detroit showed the stark contrast between their parents’ upbringing and their own, the trade-off between financial comfort and racial isolation versus economic struggle and racial camaraderie. Through adolescence, Baszile strove to reconcile her job at Kentucky Fried Chicken and her coming out in the debutante ball, her family’s increasing estrangement as her father’s behavior became more erratic, and her own efforts to find an identity for herself. This is an absorbing look behind the facade of one black family’s striving for integration and the American dream. --Vanessa Bush

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (January 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416543279
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416543275
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,016,908 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on January 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover
In the mid 1970s in affluent California, elementary school student, Jennifer Baszile and her sister were the only black kids in the building. In the first grade she obtained a deep lesson on de facto racism and ignorance after winning a running race. The loser, naturally white, as everyone else except her sister was, "intelligently" commented that blacks had something special in their feet. Her teacher confirmed that as a truism. Her dad took exception but was careful not to have the school think he was a ghetto thug as he understood they were the local Jackie Robinson and had to behave with more decorum than their neighbors. As integration was pushed as social and legal policy, Jennifer would see de jure racism when she visited her paternal relatives in Louisiana and de facto segregation in Detroit seeing her maternal blood. Still her parents pushed her and her sibling to live the American dream as black pioneers, which the author succeeded because she became the first black female professor at Yale's History Department.

THE BLACK GIRL NEXT DOOR is a superb memoir that looks deep into one black family making it in an all white wealthy neighborhood during a time when the Civil Rights movement was pushing integration against racial laws and society barriers. Professor Baszile provides powerful anecdotal incidents of so-called supporters of integration resenting the first black family on their block and how it felt to be the only exceptions to the all white rule in so many scenarios; not just school. Readers will appreciate this superb well written window to how society has come a long way due to brave settlers like the parents of the author who wanted more than the dream for their offspring; they courageously went after the opportunity fully aware they would be the token black family next door.

Harriet Klausner
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Format: Hardcover
Jennifer Baszile's mother and father didn't grow up having everything, but, like most parents do, they worked to make sure their children would. As soon as they could, they moved their family to the California suburb of Palos Verdes, even if it meant they had to make longer commutes to work. Jennifer and her sister Natalie attended the best schools in the area, and their parents expected them to work hard and eventually go to college.

That's nothing out of the ordinary, except that to the Basziles' mainly white neighbors, the family was strange, an aberration, and they did not belong in the neighborhood. Soon after moving, someone scrawled a racist note on their sidewalk. Another night, a vandal snuck into the family's courtyard and painted their fountain black. Mr. and Mrs. Baszile, no strangers to racism, refused to get emotional; they simply cleaned the sidewalk and made a stance not to leave the neighborhood.

The decades after the civil rights movement weren't easy. Baszile recalls a day in elementary school when she beat her white friend in a race before class. The friend was a good sport about it, though --- she simply told everyone that "black people have something in their feet to make them run faster." When the children asked their teacher if that was true, she said it was.

Baszile's memoir continues to tell both the story of an everygirl growing up in 1980s California and the story of an incredible struggle that still exists today to define oneself as an individual both like and unlike the dominant society. She vividly describes her first hair relaxer treatment, so that even as a reader, you can feel her pain and her pride.
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Format: Hardcover
I nearly didn't finish this book because it was too painful to read. You see, I had a very similar upbringing -- living as a black girl in the 70s and 80s in an affluent white suburb and feeling like a total failure every where I turned. I too wondered if I would ever have a date or ever feel desired or pretty. "Was a stuffed bear or a rose on Valentine's Day too much to ask? Was a dreamy slow dance an absurdity?" Yes, Jennifer, I wondered that too. I hadn't even thought about that high school time in years -- probably trying to repress bad memories. Thank you for having the courage to write this.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I appreciated this book. Jennifer Baszile writes of her elementary through high school days, mostly in an upperclass white neighborhood.

I have sensed a wall between me and my black friends and acquaintances that I could never bridge and wasn't sure how to tactfully break down. This book helped me understand the body of experiences that led to that wall and gave me greater comprehension of what battles people of some American subcultures may still be fighting for complete integration into the whole.

The one point in the book that gave me cause to wonder was when the author, as a child with her neighborhood friends, all ran away from another boy in the neighborhood, leaving him to play hide and seek with no one. Incredibly there seemed to be a dismissal of this cruelty because it wasn't racially motivated. Cruelty and rejection don't have to be race-related to be cruel. I wasn't sure if the author, herself got this or not.

Nevertheless, I am grateful to Ms. Baszile for opening her world to me and giving me the opportunity to glimpse the environment that shaped her life, including her extended family and history. This book has four-star writing, but the insights it gives bring it up to the five-star level for me.
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