The Black Girl Next Door - A Book Review
August 20, 2011 10:26 PM - InsertSnappyNameHere
In this book, Jennifer Baszile tells the story of her life growing up in a Southern California suburb. As is evident from the title, Baszile’s family is one of very few black families in the area. Her parents moved there so that she and her older sister could have access to a better education and better opportunities.

From the very beginning, I truly felt the tension as Baszile describes the hatred aimed at her family by anonymous people in the neighborhood – spray painting racial epithets on their driveway and painting a cherub’s face black. Baszile and her father spend hours scrubbing away at the cherub, and throughout the book I sensed that Baszile was trying to scrub away the pain she feels for not being like the other kids at school. From her disappointment in realizing that makeup is made for white faces to longing to get a lye relaxer so that her hair will blow in the breeze, Baszile related a tale of hurt, but also one of strength. She doesn’t desire to be white. Instead, she has a strong sense of pride in her heritage. She is persistent in asking her parents about their life experience growing up and that of extended family. She longs for stories of strong black women and relishes learning about Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks. But still, being an ‘only’ is tiring for Baszile. When slavery is taught in school, all the kids turn to look at her. They want to know if her parents were slaves. What is it like? How did they get free? It’s times like these that Baszile gets angry.

As if the pressure of being the token black girl in school weren’t enough, Baszile feels pressure from her parents as well. On a cruise one summer, Baszile and her sister are taken to task by their parents. Their parents noticed that the girls had not made friends with the black kids on board. Outraged, Baszile’s parents lock she and her sister out of their cabin for the day and tell them they cannot come back until they have learned the names of all the black kids on the ship and something notable about them. It turns out that Baszile’s parents feared that growing up in a white neighborhood had somehow made them ‘lose their blackness.’

This book made me quite introspective. Each time I lay the book down, I found myself flipping through the mental pages of my own youth, comparing and contrasting experiences. I’d call my mother, asking her things like if she had fears about ‘maintaining blackness’’ in a white neighborhood once we moved from Chicago. I always appreciate a book that can make me think, and this one is no exception.

Baszile’s writing flows beautifully, keeping you glued to the pages, not wanting to put the book down. However, near the end, the writing feels rushed and tired. It’s almost as if Baszile had toiled for years writing this book and once she neared the end, she was too tired to put any real effort into an ending. Things about her father are suddenly sprung on the reader without having any clue or background as to how such things came about. I felt like I was jolted out of the flow of a good story and suddenly thrust into the mind of someone in a near manic state. Overall, it is still a good read.

Rating: 4/5 stars

August 21, 2011 7:58 AM - rf
Wow, Snappy, that sounds like a good book. It reminds me: when I (white) adopted my daughter from China, I was living in Clinton Hill, then virtually all black. Because the school we were zoned for was not good, I looked elsewhere and got her into a school in Chinatown. A white friend said to me, but when will she learn about being white? Of course the answer was that she *isn't* white. But hey, girl, are you nuts? Turn on the TV!
Edited at August 21, 2011 7:58 AM
August 21, 2011 8:38 PM - Arkady
Sounds interesting, Snaps, but also pretty wrenching for reader & writer. How old is the writer now? I had the opposite experience, the only white in a black neighborhood, but not at all the same of course, since school was white majority as was the overall culture - t.v., downtown, etc. I felt odder about having only one parent - a mother who worked & couldn't come to parent's day at school & so on - than about race.
August 22, 2011 9:28 AM - Not_Logged_In
Anonymous: quote:
I’d call my mother, asking her things like if she had fears about ‘maintaining blackness’’ in a white neighborhood

i can totally relate to this. i've strugged with this same issue having moved from harlem to park slope. i think as long as one is comfortable with who they are, where they live is sorta irrelevant.



August 22, 2011 7:48 PM - denton
Hey snappy, thanks for the review. I have this book and it's been creeping up the reading list... I spose I'll have bump it now.