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'Black like me' by John Howard Griffin

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  1. Introduction
  2. Worst of racism
  3. Continually rejected from jobs
  4. Griffin's return to the family
  5. Conclusion

'Black Like Me' is the account of the experiences of a white man, the author, who considered himself an expert in ?race relations', but who had no real experience of how black people lived, so decided to change his skin pigmentation and travel in the South as a black man. This book is the result of all his recorded experiences written in a journal.

The experience of changing his skin tone was pretty complicated. He had to take many doses of a drug that was used to treat a disease called Vitiligo, which causes lightening of the skin, and he put himself under a tanning lamp for up to fifteen hours a day. He shaved his head and used dye to cover the uneven areas on his skin. After the change, when he finally looked in the mirror, he was shocked. He did not recognize himself; what he saw was a person ?imprisoned in the flesh of an utter stranger, an unsympathetic one with whom I felt no kinship?the reflections led back to Africa, back to the shanty and the ghetto, back to the fruitless struggles against the mark of blackness.? (Griffin, p. 10) He changed his appearance only; he did not change his name or his identity. He told people that he was a writer exploring the South.

He started in New Orleans, where he had undergone the treatment. He had befriended a shoeshine man there, who did not recognize him as a black person; he could only tell by his shoes. So he told this man what he was doing, and spent a few days with him and his buddy. They cooked and ate frugally, and he noticed the reactions of the white men; if they wanted something, like a black woman, they would act really familiar with them.

[...] Close living quarters brought on by poverty accounted for lack of privacy, and sometimes-young black women were forced to give their bodies to their white bosses to hold a job to feed their children. This was just a continuation of the dynamic between white landowners and their female slaves. Finally, the academic understood and apologized to Griffin for asking him to expose himself. In any other pretext, and if the races had been reversed, this would have been viewed as totally disrespectful, if not criminal, but since it was white-to-black behavior, Griffin (and society) was expected to excuse it. [...]

[...] He published a paper expressing his views, and, pressured by society, lost friends and began receiving threatening phone calls, saying things like - was a goddamn nigger- loving, Jew-loving, Communist son-of-a-bitch.? (Griffin, p. 76) He began carrying a gun. Then he took Griffin back to the campus of a black college in New Orleans, and then Griffin again ventured into Mississippi, Biloxi this time, where he experienced overt racism when a white man would not let him use his broken-down privy, for no other reason than that he was black, and directed him to one fourteen blocks away! [...]

[...] After a whole day and night without food, Griffin found a small store where the whites grudgingly let him buy some juice and snacks, and then he was picked up by a black man who took him home, although he had six kids and a wife. At his poor home, he realized that kids were alike no matter what race, but that these kids would have no future. He surmised the reason why the blacks had such large families they felt the loneliness and the injury of being so oppressed, and the only way they could fight it was with their mate's love. [...]

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