Black Like Me
By John Howard Griffin
John Howard Griffin was the author and main character of a well-known book, Black Like Me. Griffin was born June 16, 1920 in Dallas Texas were he lived until he moved to France, in his teenage years. Coming from Texas, France opened his eyes to the racial division his country was apart of. While still in France Griffin studied medicine which would later play a role in his induction into being black. He joined the American army from 1942-1945 where he had a concussion, which caused him to later loose his eyesight. After returning home to Texas he married and moved to a ranch in Mansfield. Randomly one day in 1957 Griffins eyesight came back and this opened his eyes to a great idea. He would undertake the commitment to changing races. He wanted to understand what life was truly like for blacks and in order to do so he would use medical treatment to alter the color of his skin so that he would appear to be a black person. Griffin experimented off and on with being black for two months while he traveled in the South. He would often visit a town twice once as a black man and then again as his self, there were noticeable differences in the visits. This experiment of his would become the foundation for his book, Black Like Me. After publication of his book the controversial topic caused negative reactions amongst some people. Griffin and his family felt the heat from white racist and fled to Mexico for a few years. After returning home Griffin would later die of diabetes. The book is basically a diary of his accounts as a black man. His curiosity and desire to help the African Americans led him to undergo such a radical experiment. Emerging himself into their community allowed him to come away with a greater understanding of the races.
The book starts off with Griffin undergoing a physical change in order to further understand the African American race and its hardships. He finds out that life as a black is very difficult and downright depressing. The whites treat the blacks as inferiors and don’t hold back in doing so. During his experiment he found out how hard simple every day task were to do just because he was now black. Going to the bathroom was no longer as simple as finding the closest restroom but you had to find one that only blacks were permitted to use. Eating a restaurant was nearly impossible, most times people refused to wait on you or you had to get your food to go. Very few hotels were excepting to blacks, living spaces were limited and thus forced many blacks into the ghettos. Griffin realized that even choosing where he wanted to sit had become a chore, he couldn’t just sit down where ever he wanted on a bus, he couldn’t sit on park benches and if a white wanted a seat he occupied he had to give it up to them. Griffin found him self very depressed and it was dangerous to be black because the white had no problems striking fear into the blacks eyes. The self hatred was a huge problem amongst blacks but with little positive going on around you there were few places to turn to for anything positive. Not only does this book help people learn about being an African American but it also gives a look into Griffin’s own personal change throughout his experiment. When the experiment first starts off he finds himself looking into a mirror not recognizing what he sees. Over time as he becomes more familiar with the face and more excepting to the fact that he has a new identity he also develops the realization that this new appearance come with a lot of baggage. He looks run down and out of hope, like life has beaten him.
Why is this book “dangerous?”:
The book could have been banned because it was crossing the color line in a era where doing so resulted in punishment from the white race. Even if you were white you were not immune to the punishments of blacks if you choose to side with them at all. There was zero tolerance for support of African Americans and a book like this showed how bad it really was to be black. The book threatened the power whites held over black because it shown a light on the trials and tribulation blacks were facing at the hand of the whites. White people were in power and if they didn’t like the book then the book would not be allowed.