Summary: The Black Girl Next Door is about Jennifer Baszile’s elementary and high school years as an African American in a predominately white neighborhood attending predominately white schools in California. She experienced name-calling, fist fights, and hate-filled grafitti at her house. And that was all before the third grade. The experiences as she grew older were more complicated as they included her efforts to live up to the conflicting needs of her parents, for her to succeed in the world where they were raising her while still being in touch with her heritage.
Thoughts: I was appalled at some of the overtly racist experiences that Baszile had in 1st and 2nd grade. She is younger than I am and I would have sworn those things didn’t happen in my school in those years. Maybe they didn’t. Small towns do have their advantages. Or maybe I was just clueless. Overtly racist graffiti was painted just this month at Mizzou, according to this news story, the second event in a year. I’ve been learning a lot the last couple of years about institutional racism and white privilege. Those are hard problems to solve. It frustrates me that we can’t even get the easy parts right, the aspects of battling racism that rely on little more than the Golden Rule that any first grader can quote by heart.
Those overtly racist experiences scarred young Jennifer, but the book is mostly about growing up and wanting what any girl wants: “I just wanted to be normal. I wanted to disappear. I knew I could do neither.” Her parents wanted the integrated life for themselves and their children. Baszile’s story illustrates the stresses that placed on her and her family.
This book prompted wide-ranging discussions in our book club meeting (Community for Understanding and Hope Book Group) last night, from the dynamics of all kinds of families, to the merits of having an extended family nearby (our consensus was that, perhaps, Baszile would have found comfort in aunts and cousins and others had they been available), to what is the state of racism in our community today. Jennifer Baszile is younger than all of the participants in our book group, so we were able to relate her life events to our own and it opened up discussions that really helped us get to know each other better as individuals.
Appeal: The Black Girl Next Door is a page-turning memoir with compelling action, intriguing characters, and thought-provoking analysis. There are many ways to connect with Baszile and her writing. She was in first grade in 1975, so anyone that age or older will relate to the events of those years in their own lives. Our book group was all women last night and I think we appreciated this as a memoir of what formed a strong woman.
Donnica Copeland of APOOO Book Club pointed out one of the things that we discussed in our book club meeting. While there are a lot of things that make this an African American story, there are even more things that make it a story of an American family. In fact, I think one of our white book club members understood the father-daughter relationship in some ways better than the rest of us because she grew up with a dad with a drinking problem: The Black Girl Next Door by Jennifer Baszile.
Have you read this book? What did you think?
Edited, March 1, 2012: For some reason this post draws spam comments. If you want to comment here, send me an email and I’ll open the comments for you.