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The Black Girl Next Door: A Memoir

3.49 of 5 stars 3.49  ·  rating details  ·  321 ratings  ·  76 reviews

A powerful, beautifully written memoir about coming of age as a black girl in an exclusive white suburb in "integrated," post-Civil Rights California in the 1970s and 1980s.

At six years of age, after winning a foot race against a white classmate, Jennifer Baszile was humiliated to hear her classmate explain that black people "have something in their feet to make them
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ebook, 352 pages
Published January 13th 2009 by Touchstone (first published 2009)
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Nicholas Armstrong
The biggest problem with this is that it is a memoir. As such, Baszile is restricted by the fences of realism and history. The characters, as are most with nonfiction, aren't very well defined because they rely on memory to flesh them out and create them. While I am sure that the author remembers her family vividly, they fade to a kind of dull shadow to me. This is something true of most memoirs, though. The only discernible difference between this and other memoirs that I have read is that Basz ...more
RYCJ
Up and down this was one hellva rollercoaster ride! Your pinch on the cheek shouldn't hurt as much as my slap in the face was the first emotion I dealt with following Jennifer's journey caught between bigotry and prestige. Possibly a deep observation, and perhaps too, an innocent hindsight of Jennifer's, but I couldn't help but raise an eyebrow as she explained how a white child being the brunt of pranks and teasing because he was `different', was not as bad as the racial bigotry she faced. I do ...more
Sarah
I loved this book. It was tough to read through all of the trauma that Jennifer and her family had been through in upper middle class suburbia. Her reminiscences of childhood and adolescent years during the 70s and 80s in post integration Socal proves that racial issues did exist in the west unlike what many believe. Her stories are go through the history of her family, in America, and about the state at which she was coming of age. From her school life, social life, and family life, Jennifer ha ...more
Stephanie Hill Alexander
I just finished this book for my book club. I'm really tired of reading books about the black experience. First of all tell me something that is enlightening about what this black woman has experienced compared to many of us. The characters were flat but then again this was her life and her family. I thought the father was abusive and a cheat but none of that was addressed but then again this is so common with most families trying to remain "Cosby" like to the world. I thought she could explored ...more
Jumana
You'll connect with this book if you are a female who grew up in the 70s/80s and were one of the few brown people in an all-white community.

In her memoir, Jennifer Baszile reminisces about growing up as an outsider in the community where she lives, but also finding herself unable to fit in with the rest of her relatives and other black folks who grew up in all-black communities. I was able to relate to both sides of that coin! Kids of immigrants face the exact same challenges.

Braszile encounte
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Barbara
This book was well worth reading. I'm not sure if the author's voice got stronger and clearer as the book went on or if by that time I became fully tuned in, maybe that just paralelled her journey growing up. Either way this vision of the "black struggle" adds to the literature as well as just being a pleasurable memoir to read on its own merits.
Joel
I enjoyed having access to the stories that Baszile shares. They were powerful, compelling, and complicated. But the writing did not always do justice to the stories; the perspective of the narrator (child's recollections? adult reflections?) didn't seem consistent, and the stories didn't always flow either internally or from one to the next.
Faye
I thought this had more to do with growing up in a dysfunctional family than with being black in a mostly white neighborhood.
D. Eric
Living in the same general area as the main character in the book, though I did not grow up there, I looked forward to seeing what I missed in my youth. It appears I missed quite a bit, though that might be a good thing.

Jennifer Baszile writes a sometimes intriguing book about life as a black girl in a white neighborhood. It's not just her story, but that of her whole family and the community of Palos Verde, California.

On the good side Baszile presents events honestly and openly; on the bad sid
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Melissa
Wow, I don't know where to begin, this book was incredible. As an African-American woman and the same age as the author, I could so relate to this book and her experiences. This book really gave me a revelation about how integration/desegregation, work ethic, and southern parents have really affected us. While reading the book I came to realize that post 60's black kids are really not that different from first generation immigrant kids. Our parents all want the best for us yet at the same time w ...more
OOSA
Another Shade of Blackness

This is a rather unique perspective into growing up Black in an America when you have atypical economic circumstances but still suffer some of the stereotypical abuses of African Americans while trying to establish an identity that will let you survive. Poignant, compelling, and insightful is the author's perspective on the subculture of her family surrounded by non-white neighbors and friends. She struggles to identify while assimilating the values of the dominant grou
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Diane
The Black Girl Next Door: A Memoir, by Jennifer Baszelle is a touching story about a black girl growing up in the 70's and 80's.

At an early age, Jennifer, her parents and sister Natalie moved to a predominately white neighborhood in Palos Verdes, CA. Her parents had only wanted the best for their daughters, but growing up at that time with white classmates was not always easy. For example, at the age of six , after winning a foot race against a white classmate, the author was humiliated to hear
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Meadow
Jen lives with her family in a upscale all white neighborhood. Where 'fitting in' means everything to her, and 'staying black' means everything to her parents. She grows up trying to find the perfect balance and staying true to her heritage in a post-cival war era.

My favorite part is that every once in awhile they will have a picture taken of the real Jennifer. If you are reading about when she was 9 and wearing some silly costume....there would be a picture from the actual day which made is mor
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Terry
Yet another book I wanted to like much more than I did. (I do have to admit I was quite distracted by reading about places RIGHT DOWN THE STREET FROM WHERE I LIVE on every other page in some places in her book, which is about ME, not about the book.) The premise of her book really boils down to something she says at the end--that she wished her parents realized that integration, for her, was as painful as growing up under segregation had been for them. I did feel that some of the situations in t ...more
Betsy
This memoir of an African-American woman whose parents, having survived segregation in Detroit and blatant racism in Louisiana, have worked hard in order to raise their two daughters in the almost all-white enclave of Palos Verdes, an upscale suburb of Los Angeles. Jennifer describes everything from the casual ignorance/racism of a six-year-old friend, who having lost a foot race to Jennifer, announces to her that it is because "black people have something special in their feet" which she got fr ...more
DMD
On one hand, this book reminded me of growing up in predominantly white areas but on the other, it didn't really say anything new to me. It actually surprised me how similar a lot of my experiences were to those depicted in the book, especially when considering that I am part of the model minority.

The parts that really struck me was towards the end, when Baszile went more into how her parents handled their lives in the affluent Palos Verdes, California after growing up in Detroit and Louisiana
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Heather Moss
A fast read, and quite entertaining. I had a lot of questions about Jennifer's parents that went unanswered, though. I thought the memoir stopped very abruptly. But perhaps she's planning another memoir that takes us through her college and graduate school years, and that will satisfy my curiosity.

I saw the author speak at Baltimore's CityLit festival last year and I thought she was articulate and very likable. I think it's healthy to talk about issues of race. I grew up in a segregated souther
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Betsy
May 15, 2009 Betsy rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: my siblings, barbara, emma
Recommended to Betsy by: book review
What's it like to be "the black girl next door" in an overwhelmingly white aand affluent Los Angeles suburb? Now 40 and a history professor at Yale, Baszile tells it like it was - and it's often painful. Although the white folks are generally nice to her and her family(with the noteable exception of some horrendous graffiti spraypainted on their new house) Baszile often feels like a fish out of water, even with some of the other affluent black kids - from the Black preppies to the BAPS (Black Am ...more
Angela
Jun 01, 2009 Angela rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Angela by: nytimes
I enjoyed Baszile's memoir of being an upper middle class black girl in the mostly white community of Rancho Palos Verdes. The episodes, especially through the first 2/3 of the book, document her encounters of racism in this community and even confrontations with her own culturally-absorbed stereotypes.

Baszile grows up with a pair of type-A parents who have worked exhaustingly for everything they have, and she doesn't fit in either with her white beach bum peers or with working class blacks. Her
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Jennifer Penn
This story was a revealing look at life in an affluent neighborhood of California for a young black girl during the 1970's-80's. From racism to the average teen angst, Jennifer Baszile experienced it all and tells a story that give you an inside look at her life. From elementary school to middle school we see her evolve and eventually leave the nest to pursue a life away from the California "Gold Coast" neighborhood she grew up in.
Joanne
Baszile writes about growing up a member of one of two Black families in affluent White Palos Verde, California in the 1970s. They're greeted with racist graffiti on their sidewalk and she and her sister are one of the few Black kids in their school. She holds herself apart from intimate friendships and romance, having learned that they eventually butt up against race. While making her way in a White world, she and her sister also struggle with their parents, who fear that their girls are not Bl ...more
Ali
a good read. Reinforces that prejudice is alive and well in every era! Hard to read some of the lengths the family went to to fit in with expected norms. (those hair treatments were incredible...not in a good way) I found it sad that their parents felt they had to do all this too. It made me think about the cost of fitting in and the expectations people have for their children. I’m glad I read it! Food for thought
Sherese
Jun 01, 2009 Sherese rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All The Little Black Girls Next Door and anyone interested in expanding their minds
4.5 stars, definitely. Wonderful and well-written memoir by Jennifer Baszile. I felt I could really relate to Jennifer's childhood experiences despite some major differences like my growing up in a urban setting on the East Coast in a mostly Black working middle class neighborhood raise by a Single Parent in the 1980's & early 1990's and opposed to Jennifer's home in an upper middle class two parent home in all white neighborhood of Palos Verdes, California in the 1970's.

Some many poignant
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David
This is another pick for the antiRacist reading group. From the beginning the author demonstrates the challenge of her African-American family trying to achieve the American-suburbanite-Dream in the context of their white community.

Becoming a suburbanite seems to be one defining element of becoming "white" rather than "white-ethnic" this same aspiration seemed to shape the trajectory of Baszile's African-American family. However their legacy of segregation was dramatically different than white-
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Jodi
My neighbor and mentor read this book. We had both committed on the book at one time and thought it might be an interesting read. She read it and then her husband so I read it next. It was pretty good. THe main character is taken out of a black school and put into a white one with her sister. She remembers have vandalism done to her home and her parents reactions. I did find similairites to my life which I found intersting. My father was very strict like hers and his way was the only way. My her ...more
Michelle
This is a surprisingly heartbreaking book. I find myself continually looking at the black flap, as if reassuring myself that this life had a happy ending. The smiling author is a pleasant-looking, highly accompished professor at Yale.

Her story of growing up an upper-class black in a white neighborhood is simply heartbreaking. She had a "happy" family, but . . . she belonged nowhere. Her parents had broken from their more traditional black past to accomplish their aims yet expected their daughter
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Rory
Jun 29, 2009 Rory rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Rory by: jennie
Shelves: memoirs-and-bios
I've never read a memoir quite like this--from the perspective of a upper middle class African-American girl's experiences growing up in practically-gated Californian communities in the 70s. The writing is strong and evocative, the time and place are unique, and you root for Jennifer (who ends up being a professor at Yale).

Still, each chapter was a set piece and the themes (well, theme, singular) was repetitive: something shitty happened, and she learned something about being Black from it. I f
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Kirei
This is the autobiography of an African-American woman who grew up in a wealthy, mostly white city. The book revolves around the issues of being black in a white world, but in addition deals with her issues with her ambitious parents.
I did enjoy this book very much. I do have some questions. One, I couldn't figure out why Rosa Parks was a much better costume than Harriet Tubman, and why Baszile was okay with that. Second, I was curious about what happened to her parents: whether they stayed tog
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Connie D.
This was my first time reading a memoir. I appreciated the author's genuine and brave sharing of her experiences. I was able to identify with her as a human being as we all experience parental pressure, betrayal by friends, and personal insecurities. It would be interesting to read a memoir by someone who did not have the advantages that she had, but still had all of the disadvantages of being black in the same time period.
Susan Frazier-Kouassi
In reviewing a memoir it is difficult to know how much of the story is part of a person's actual memory or recollection of their past and how much is history that was told to them over and over again so that eventually it becomes a part of that person's own memory. That thought aside, this memoir is an important socio-historical piece of what it means for a Black girl and her parents who are newly arrived "buppies" in California - the choices they make, the facades they feel they must wear, and ...more
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Jennifer Baszile received her B.A. from Columbia and her Ph.D. in American history from Princeton. She was the first black female professor to join Yale University's history department and has been named one of the "Thirty Leaders of the Future" by Ebony Magazine. She lives in Connectucut."
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