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The Black Girl Next Door: A Memoir

by Jennifer Baszile

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Reviews

The New York Times

Perfect Neighbors, Perfect Strangers

Jennifer Baszile grew up in Palos Verdes Estates, an elite and nearly all-white suburb of Los Angeles in the 1970s and '80s, and she and her family were sometimes called, without a hint of irony, "the real live Huxtables from 'The Cosby Show.' "

They seemed to have it all figured out. Ms. Baszile's father ran a successful metals business and drove a Mercedes; her mother was known for her volunteer work. They had a large house a block from the ocean; they were attractive and well dressed; they took expensive vacations. Ms. Baszile's older sister was her high school's first black homecoming queen; the author was the first black student-body president. (Today Ms. Baszile is Yale's first black female professor of history.)...Read the full review

—By DWIGHT GARNER
The New York Times

The LA Times

'The Black Girl Next Door' by Jennifer Baszile

Memoir reveals an upper-middle-class family's struggle when assimilation is only on the surface.

In a book world cluttered with memoirs driven more by look-at-me indulgence than a need to say something significant, Jennifer Baszile's "The Black Girl Next Door" stands out. Baszile is a Yale history professor who grew up black and upper middle class in the South Bay enclave of Palos Verdes; her book tells the story of that life.

Palos Verdes may not be as well known as Beverly Hills or Malibu, but it's every bit as exclusive -- meaning, every bit as white. In the late 1970s, Baszile's family was one of the few black families in the neighborhood, a scenario that's become familiar in American social history... Read the full review

— Erin Aubry Kaplan
The LA Times

Dame Magazine

January's Best Books

Being part of the sole black family in an upper class white neighborhood meant that Jennifer Baszile always had to prove herself by being smarter and more successful than her Caucasian peers. But being pressured to live her parent's dream of equality had a price tag, marring her efforts to choose her own path and figure out her own identity. Amidst the racism that affected her Deep South and Detroit relatives and her own growing need to be special, Baszile crafts a life all her own, becoming the first black female professor in Yale's history department. Powerful and provocative.

— Caroline Leavitt
Dame Magazine

Essence Magazine

THAT GIRL

I admit when I first heard the premise for The Black Girl Next Door (Touchstone, $25), a true story about growing up the Only One in a leafy California suburb, my response was: Again? But after I cracked open Jennifer Baszile's story, I quickly changed my tune. Her account of living in exclusive Palos Verdes Estates in Southern California will move you, enrage you, and ultimately empower you. Baszile, 39, the first Black female history professor at Yale, documents her journey back and forth between two worlds when she was a young girl: the safety of her parents' comfortable home and school, where many of her classmates were uncomfortable just because she was a little chocolate girl.

— Patrik Henry Bass
Senior Editor of Essence Magazine

Booklist

The Baszile family's move to an exclusive white suburb in Palos Verde, Calif., 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

YA/M: Illuminating, poignant accounts of growing up in a racially charged world for teens of all backgrounds. GE.

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.

"Compelling. Thoroughly engaging. An important addition to the African-American story. In The Black Girl Next Door Jennifer Baszile, with youthful innocence and matured reflections, invites us to the neighborhoods once forbidden. Through her personal observations, up-close and honest feelings, we experience the inside of the house and the emotional toll extracted as these pioneers set out to mature the American dream. Read this memoir and extend your understanding of the making of America and the maturing of one young girl as she made her way through these uncharted waters.

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 the fact of 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.

Read an excerpt
Touchstone/Simon & Schuster
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