Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Black Like Me
I just finished reading Black Like Me, a nonfictional piece written in 1961 by John Howard Griffin. As a project, Griffin, a white man from Texas, disguises himself as a black man using sunlight, pills, and creams to see what the experience was like in the deep south of being a different race in the 1950s. His experience is mind-blowing.
I can't believe that anyone could be so brave and selfless to do this. I find it extremely honorable. When hatred was so deep, maybe the deepest it ever was, Griffin jumps right into the center of the hottest part and faces cruelties and prejudices. His encounters really shed light on the state of racism in the start before the Civil Rights Movement, and it was very enlightening.
I found myself angered at the way blacks were treated. It's one thing to have been taught something or watch it in a documentary or film, but to read about true accounts word for word is horrifying. This is not fictional. These are real people who harvested some deep inner hatred. I know that we aren't fully accepting yet of one another, but I think we're making drastic steps to get there. We've at least come a LONG way since this book was published, which is a miracle.
It was interesting that he would go to some of the same places he would go to when he was white and the same individuals would treat him with such disrespect. He had major issues mostly with ignorance and hatred, being denied services he took for granted like using a restroom, buying a meal, having a drink or water, or even cashing a check. Even churchgoers would give him nasty cringes as they left the church. What an ironic situation.
Even though he learned a lot, I'm surprised he did this, because once he published his journals and findings, he was greeted with an uproar and backlash. He received death threats and was treated much differently by those in his community and others. He received much harsh criticism, as many people disagreed with his beliefs and did not want "one of them" (Caucasians) to try to persuade others to believe as he does. People don't like change, and change is exactly what he was suggesting.
Even his family was in jeopardy. I think his cause was admirable though. He really did spread a large message across the country, especially during a time where people needed to hear that message.
Griffin died of diabetes-related issues in 1980 at the age of 60, not from skin darkening complications as others have debated.
I honor his project and his book.
So, what do you think of Black Like Me?