BLACK SOCIAL HISTORY Uncharted Territory
This coming-of-age story contains the classic elements: reminiscences of jousting in the schoolyard, and always being alert to the pecking order; friendships won and lost; awkward adolescent socializing; and furtive first kisses. These remembrances are gently amplified and infused with personal observations about race — from a child’s view, though with some adult comprehension. A captivating storyteller, Baszile builds layers upon layers of significant events as perceived through the eyes of a girl — seeing but not fully knowing.
Young Jennifer capably fights for herself when she’s called “nigger” and challenged to fisticuffs by three white boys. She emerges victorious and manages a smile that day for her class picture, with spoiled braids and wayward ribbons as her badge of courage. And there’s the story about Jennifer winning an innocent footrace: the next day her dad must make a trip to school, outfitted in his suit coat, to refute a classmate’s assertion that she won because “black people have something in their feet to make them run faster.” Even her teacher will not deny the racist claim, until her father shows up; only then is the classmate set straight. It’s her father again who fights for an apology when his jealous brother levels a flippant insult at Jennifer. A father protecting his daughter is cause for celebration, of course, but he is also revealed as a man of foibles and fears in this new racial landscape.
The theme of self-definition runs throughout this memoir. Baszile’s sister is able to assimilate into the world of the black middle class, which mirrors the white middle-class model in its rigidity and formality and social snobbery. The identity of “the black girl next door” is thrust on Jennifer by circumstance. She struggles and ultimately achieves her own identity, perhaps not following the path envisioned for her but definitively finding her place in the world — a world that lies beyond the neighborhood her parents fought so hard for her to live in.