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Black Like Me: 50th Anniversary Edition Hardcover – 30 Sep 2011
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"An important and classic work, well deserving of this new edition. . . . Essential [for] all public and academic libraries." --"Choice"
"Some actions are so absolutely simple and right that they amount to genius. "Black Like Me" was an act of genius." --Cyril Connolly, "Sunday Times of London"
"["Black Like Me's"] moral power has not diminished with time. It still has things to teach us about the past and the present." --Don Graham, "Texas Monthly"
Some actions are so absolutely simple and right that they amount to genius. Black Like Me was an act of genius. Cyril Connolly, Sunday Times of London"
[Black Like Me s] moral power has not diminished with time. It still has things to teach us about the past and the present. Don Graham, Texas Monthly
An important and classic work, well deserving of this new edition. . . . Essential [for] all public and academic libraries. Choice"
About the Author
John Howard Griffin was a musicologist who served, and was injured, in the Air Force during World War II. Blind for a decade, Griffin became an acclaimed novelist and essayist and when his sight returned, almost miraculously, he became a remarkable portrait photographer. Following his cross-racial exploration in the South, he was personally vilified, hanged in effigy in his hometown, threatened with death, and severely beaten by the Klu Klux Klan. Respected internationally as a human rights activist, he worked with major Civil Rights leaders throughout the era, taught at the University of Peace, and delivered more than a 1,200 lectures in America and abroad. He is the author of The Devil Rides Outside and posthumous works such as Prison of Culture: Beyond Black Like Me. Robert Bonazzi is a widely published writer and the author of Living the Borrowed Life, Maestro of Solitude: Poems and Poetics, and The Scribbling Cure: Poems and Prose Poems. He is the literary executor for the estate of John Howard Griffin. He lives in San Antonio, Texas. Studs Terkel was a cultural commentator, columnist, interviewer, and author of many books on American history and culture, including Touch and Go: A Memoir and The Studs Terkel Reader: My American Century.
Top customer reviews
In order to find out what it was really like to be a Black Man in the Deep South at that time John Griffin turned himself into a Negro by means of medicine and a sunray lamp. Not one person suspected that he was not what he appeared to be, although he had to shave his head since he did not have kinky hair.
In this guise, he was able to learn from the Negroes of the South what their daily life was really like. Talking to a white reporter, not one of them would have dared to give their actual views. He was constantly shocked by his contact with white men in the region and their deep-rooted contempt for their black neighbours. He refers constantly to the "hate stare" to which he was subjectd, and also underwent a number of frightening and deeply shocking incidents.
The publication of his experiences after his return had deeply reactions. His account was published both in magazine and in book form. He also gave radio and TV interviews and numerous lectures. Adverse reaction caused him, his family and his elderly parents to move from his hometown in Texas to Mexico. He was also severely beaten up by the Ku Klux Klan and an effigy of him was hung up in the main street of the town where he lived.
The book is still in print and has many relevant points to make on interracial relations. The paperback edition that I bought was published in 2016. It contains photographs of Mr Griffin as a black man.
I was uncertain about such a venture before I started reading the book, but I found it extremely interesting. My only mistake was to take it on a weekend away, as I would not recommend it for light holiday reading! Otherwise I can recommend it unreservedly.
This book, better known in the USA than here, is by a white Texan who in 1959, by a process I did not know was possible, by a combination of medical treatment and staining his skin, became dark enough to pass as a black man. For several weeks he travelled through the American Deep South as a black, to see what it was like.
To observe how people treated him when nothing was different but the colour of his skin, the author John Griffin changed as little else about himself as possible. He used his own name and did not try to change the way he spoke. If asked his occupation, whether he was married, etc. he gave the answers he would normally.
These were the days of open discrimination, some by enforced by law and some by custom backed up by the implicit threat of violence from whites. Blacks often had to walk miles to find one of the few ‘coloured’ ‘rest rooms’ (American for ‘toilet’) or somewhere they were allowed to buy something to eat or drink, or just to sit down, even when they passed many such places for whites along the way.
When ‘black’, Griffin was greeted with silence and hostile stares in stores where a few days before, as a white man, he had been welcomed with smiles and conversation. On the other hand, once he reverted to being white, he sometimes encountered suspicion and hostility in black neighbourhoods where he had recently been welcomed as a ‘black’.
He began to understand the frustrations of blacks who, like whites, had to pay taxes, but, either by law or because of hostility or violence from whites, could not use facilities like parks and libraries that their taxes helped to pay for.
Applying as a 'black' for a skilled job In Mississippi, the author was openly told by a manager that he could not be considered for it because they were removing blacks from all jobs except ones that no white would want to do, and that they hoped eventually to drive blacks out of the state altogether.
Hitch-hiking as a black man he found that white men would give him lifts, but only after dark, so they would not be seen sharing a car with a black. However, most did so in the hope that as a negro (as they were called then) he led a debauched sex life, and could tell them about sexual practices they secretly envied, but would not dream of suggesting to their wives.
One, a businessman, and a respectable, church-going family man among whites, boasted of how he required his younger black female employees to have sex with him. Many were too desperate to keep their jobs and wages to refuse.
When the author later went public about his time being ‘black’ and what he experienced, he received death threats from white racists, and an effigy of him was found at daybreak hanged in the Main Street of his home town. However, he also received many messages of support, including from many southern whites who were unhappy about the racial discrimination they saw around them but dared not say so for fear of violence by other whites or ostracism by their families and communities. The author said this showed that segregation made both whites and blacks unfree, although it was worse for blacks of course.
The book ends with a series of afterthoughts added to various editions of the work by the author, or an editor after his death, showing changes in perspective over the years. These are not overall quite as interesting as the rest of the book but are still offer some interesting insights e.g.
-Prominent ‘civil rights’ (anti-racial segregation and pro-racial equality) leaders of the 1960s, whom he came to know, including Martin Luther King, believed that it was only a matter of time before they were assassinated, but went on campaigning for their cause anyway.
-After living as a black man in the Deep South for just a few weeks, Griffin found that for years afterwards white liberals from all over the USA went to him when they wanted to know about the black experience, and he had to point out to them that it made more sense to ask real black people in their own localities.
- Perhaps in reaction to such unthinkingly patronising attitudes from some white liberals, and as the optimism of the 1960s civil rights movement, despite its achievements, faded, by the 1970s many blacks now wanted their own purely black institutions. Whites progressives who had for years taught in black colleges or been active in organisations campaigning for the rights of blacks found themselves no longer wanted there. Griffin saw some of them become so embittered that they reverted to crude racial prejudice. Yet he himself remained consistently opposed to segregation and in favour of equality and reconciliation between races.
- Griffin’s time being ‘black’ was only one of several remarkable things he did in his life. As a schoolboy he took up a scholarship to study in France despite not speaking French, and was there when the Germans invaded in 1940. As a then ‘neutral’ (the USA was not yet in the War) he took considerable risks helping Jews escape the Nazi occupiers, and had to flee himself when he fell under suspicion by the Gestapo. Later while serving in the American Army in World War II in the Pacific, he suffered injuries that left him completely blind, apparently permanently. He nevertheless married and had children. After years of being blind, Griffin unexpectedly recovered his sight and could see what his wife and children looked like for the first time. An attempt by the authorities to ban his first book led to a court case that helped to define what is an obscene publication and still influences the law today.
A more recent and, to me, good counterpart to Griffin’s book, although written in a very different style, is Norah Vincent’s ‘Self-Made Man’, about a woman's experience living disguised as a man, to see what differences it made to how people treated her, and what men were like when they thought they were in all male company.
The book came on schedule in perfect condition along with a free Audible trial and bookmark :)
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