As you may remember from my post about Malcolm Little by Ilyasah Shabazz, I read a lot of children’s books these days, mostly board books. They are really the only books that I get around to reading, but I’m working on changing that. I’ve been reading The Black Girl Next Door by Jennifer Baszile off and on over the past two months and finally finished it during Little L’s nap time today.
I was reading Essence magazine’s Art & Entertainment section when I stumbled on a little blurb about this book. It piqued my interest because it’s about a black girl coming of age during the 70s and 80s in a predominately white and wealthy California suburb. You already know what I did after that. I looked the book up in the Chicago Public Library catalog and placed it on hold. As I said before, ya girl gives her library card plenty of exercise.
Overall, The Black Girl Next Door was a great read! I felt her pain as she described her interactions as the only black girl in the classroom and only one of a handful in her entire school, as well as her dismal dating life because of it. I’ve been there hence why my college friends and I drove an hour away from school for our nights out. I guess it paid off because I met my husband on one of those excursions. But, back to the book…I know that Baszile’s experiences were clearly more uncomfortable during the integration period when a black presence was openly not welcomed more often than today. I applauded her family’s determination to make a path where there was none in a world where they were constantly reminded that they were outsiders and unwelcome. They had to work twice as hard as their white counterparts to achieve the wealth and achievements that they accomplished.
The Black Girl Next Door made me think about racism and integration in general, but the effects of these things on Baszile’s family unit were the most interesting. Her parents grew up during segregation. Both of them struggled with poverty and lack of opportunity in their hometowns. This was especially true for her father who grew up in a small town in Louisiana during Jim Crow. Yikes! Naturally, Baszile’s parents wanted better lives for their two daughters so they worked extremely hard to move their family to the west coast where the tentacles of racism weren’t quite as suffocating. Although, Baszile and her sister grew up without the same obstacles that their parents did. They had an entirely different set of obstacles as they navigated childhood and adolescence away from extended family members and away from many other black people in general. Their parents couldn’t relate to growing up under those particular circumstances. In addition to all of the every day trials that the girls faced, the very pressure of having to be the perfect black family was just too much to bear and eventually caused a strain in their relationships with one another.
As a new mother, like Baszile’s parents who tried hard to give their daughters a better life, it just seems inevitable that my daughter will grow up resenting some form of her upbringing. No matter how hard we try to give her a better life than we had, we will fail in some way. It’s difficult to separate our own desires for the life we would’ve liked from the best lives for our children. Humans are imperfect and fall short. There’s no escaping it. It’s something every parent has to make peace with and just pray for the best.
The ending of this book also made me think about how challenging it is as a writer to be honest about those uncomfortable parts of our childhoods. Some of the things Baszille revealed about her family problems made me wonder how her parents and sister felt about it. Judging from the perfect persona her parents worked hard to maintain for their peers and local newspapers, I’m assuming they weren’t too pleased to have their business aired out in a memoir. It’s something I think about when I write about certain aspects of my own childhood. Yet, I know that as artists, we have to present our perspective as honestly as we can. I’ve heard that there are many perceptions then there’s the truth. Like Baszille, all I, or any writer can do is present the truth as we see it. My experience is my own and no one else has control over my thoughts or interpretations of my past but me. I plan to one day write a memoir and this book gives me courage to be true to my experience whether or not it reflects others as perfectly as they would like to be portrayed.
By all means, check this book out and let me know if you do. You can always find me in the comments or on Facebook. Remember to keep it poppin’ 😉