The Black Girl Next Door: A Memoir

Yale's first black female history professor, Jennifer Baszile, came of age in the not-quite-integrated suburbs of Southern California. Her account of that era in this riveting, fast-paced memoir is noteworthy for her clear-eyed perspective and honesty; in Baszile, the reader finds an all-cards-on-the-table narrator to root for as she navigates the ins and outs of growing up in an affluent, white enclave in the late 1970s and early 80s.

Her mother and father, from Detroit and rural Louisiana, respectively, relocated to Palos Verdes as a means to give their two daughters–the only blacks at their school–a first-rate education. And while Baszile does well enough academically, she has a harder time fitting in, either at school dances or in the social setting of the Black Heritage Association, a group her parents co-founded to give their daughters a richer sense of black culture and black pride. In one of her slyly funny asides, Baszile writes that she also suspected they feared she wouldn't date black kids unless they intervened: [t]hey should have called it the Black Hormone Association. Her accounts of several overt, aggressive instances of racism are painful but objective. At the heart of Baszile's debut lies her volatile relationship with her father, who, she concludes, maybe finally understood that integration had been as hard on me as segregation had been on him. The family consistently projected an image of perfection, but Baszile's rendering of her upbringing reveals the hidden tension, as well as how she grew to be comfortable and happy in her own skin.

 
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