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Black Like Me (1960)

by John Howard Griffin

Other authors: Robert Bonazzi (Afterword), Don Rutledge (Photographer), Studs Terkel (Foreword)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,945752,613 (3.98)107
Publisher's description: Studs Terkel tells us in his Foreword to the definitive Griffin Estate Edition of Black Like Me: "This is a contemporary book, you bet." Indeed, Black Like Me remains required reading in thousands of high schools and colleges for this very reason. Regardless of how much progress has been made in eliminating outright racism from American life, Black Like Me endures as a great human and humanitarian document. In our era, when "international" terrorism is most often defined in terms of a single ethnic designation and a single religion, we need to be reminded that America has been blinded by fear and racial intolerance before. As John Lennon wrote, "Living is easy with eyes closed." Black Like Me is the story of a man who opened his eyes, and helped an entire nation to do likewise.… (more)
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    edwinbcn: Similar partcicipating observation large scale undercover operations, disclosing racism in Europe and the US, respectively. Classic studies with a huge impact.
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» See also 107 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 73 (next | show all)
“Fear dims even the sunlight.”
― John Howard Griffin, Black Like Me

Reading this book made me think: I don't know anything.

It is so strange reading about times that I did not live through. And then reading about bold strong human beings who did live through them with a bravery one can only marvel at. Black like me is a work of Non Fiction and what a book it is. The writing is so without pretense and so absorbing.

You really learn alot. And even if you think you know alot, reading word for tragic word what times were like back then. I remember after reading this book I said to a family member, "Now I get it". Of coarse I can't get it. Nobody can get everything who was not alive during that time period and did not experience what went on personally.

We read all sorts of books for different reasons. This one should be mandatory reading. A superb and heart breaking book. ( )
  Thebeautifulsea | Aug 5, 2022 |
Interesting not just for what he did but how much it parallels the LBG issues now. Why can't people just accept we are all people, regardless of color, religion, or sexual orientation.

Back to this particular book. I am so impressed with this man and the courage he had in doing this. Not only putting himself in danger while doing the experiment but also facing his own issues. Most of us are unable to do so. This is a man now going onto my most respected list of people. ( )
  KyleneJones | Apr 25, 2022 |
this is kind of an interesting one to rate. i guess between 1.5 and 2 stars, as it's brought up higher because of its historical value and the epilogue, which doesn't redeem it but does help.

the first big issue i thought i'd have with the book (the fact that this is written by a white man; that the voice i care about hearing is not a white man's) was mostly allayed right at the beginning, on the very first page. ("How else except by becoming a Negro could a white man hope to learn the truth? Though we lived side by side throughout the South, communication between the two races had simply ceased to exist. Neither really knew what went on with those of the other race. The Southern Negro will not tell the white man the truth. He long ago learned that if he speaks a truth unpleasing to the white, the white will make life miserable for him.") ok, at least he recognizes that the voices of black people are the voices we should be listening to.

ok. so the bulk of this was written in real time, in Nov and early Dec of 1959, as john howard griffin was conducting a social experiment, in the form of journal entries written most evenings as he recounted his day. griffin is a white man, who used oral medicine and topical pigment to changes his skin color to that of a black man. he lived in texas himself, but spent most of these weeks in louisiana and mississippi.

i found much of the time he spent as a black man, that he was still making assumptions and putting thoughts and ideas into the mouths and heads of black people. he had some conversations and was able to speak with some authority, but he also seemed so much like that white savior that it was really uncomfortable. he was paternalistic, he joked about racism with other like-minded white people, and he ran from dangerous situations and/or scrubbed off all the color he could when he needed a break. ("Suddenly I had had enough. Suddenly I could stomach no more of this degradation - not of myself but of all men who were black like me....I took out my cleansing cream and rubbed it on my hands and face to remove the stain.") he was trying to do the right thing, and maybe in 1959 it even was the right thing, but it doesn't sit well with me now, even with his early statement that white people would only listen to other white people about the issue. that's not to say that in his shoes, that i wouldn't have found myself doing some of the same things he did, but that doesn't make it ok.

it felt so much like he wasn't truly understanding black people as individuals, that he was making broad, sweeping statements that he thought were helpful and antiracist, but were actually just a different kind of racist. a less virulent one, one that i see in liberal circles and sometimes in myself, but still racist.

he met these people, people who were perfectly respectful and deferent to him as a white man, but who were spiteful and hateful when he was a black man. i mean, literally the only difference was the color of his skin; he was even wearing the same clothes. he experienced first hand the prejudice and racism and could still say things like, "...these [white] people were simply unaware of the situation with the Negroes who passed them on the street - that there was not even the communication of intelligent awareness between them." i don't know, maybe there's no other way to find hope in the world, but it felt to me like he was giving white people a pass. but he wa also the person who said, "...we show our prejudice in our paternalism - we downgrade their dignity." so maybe he'd also agree or understand what i mean. until the very last part of the book, written much later, the only people he talked about doing work to help people of color - the only people he actually named - were white people.

there really is, too, something that struck me deeply when he ran from the reality of what people of color experience, when he both was rescued and driven to a safe place and when he scrubbed the color off his skin. i've long understood the problem with dressing as an oppressed class, but this drove home the insult of blackface more strongly for me, as he was literally able to remove the color from his skin and avoid the treatment he was fed up with. he notes it, too, as the experiment was ending and he "resumed for the final time [his] white identity." he says that he felt "...almost as though I were fleeing my share of his pain and heartache."

but then there is the epilogue of the book, written many years later. i'm not entirely sure how many years, but at a minimum 9 years (because he mentions the murder of martin luther king, and a maximum of 18, based on the copyright. in these last pages, he has clearly learned a lot in the years since 1959. he speaks like a different man. one who (from my limited perspective) seems to have actually learned antiracism, and has become the man he thought he was when doing the experiment the rest of the book talks about. this epilogue discusses the black leaders of the movement, puts himself less in a leadership position, and seems so much more understanding of racism. this epilogue makes the book far more valuable and worthwhile. but because most of it was written earlier, and without this understanding, (while i find the information to be important and because there is still truth in the fact that many white people will still hear this information more readily from another white person,) he unfortunately didn't fully understand his role until many years later, and that is reflected in the way he describes himself and people of color and so i can't rate this higher.

such an important statement, from the epilogue:
"Again and again, in lectures to universities with good social science departments where students were fired with enthusiasm for racial justice, I found that the school libraries, which took every newspaper and magazine published here and in Europe, did not have any subscriptions to black newspapers, scholarly journals or magazines. We were already a land of two peoples (more, of course, but we are concerned with two here) possessing two entirely different sets of information, and we were out of touch with one another.

The situation was doubly dangerous because we thought we were, finally, communicating. We were not. of course, because even well-disposed white men tended to be turned off and affronted if black men told them truths that offended their prejudices. For years it was my embarrassing task to sit in on meetings of whites and blacks, to serve one ridiculous but necessary function: I knew, and every black man there knew, that I, as a man now white once again, could say the things that needed saying but would be rejected if black men said them. In city after city we had these meetings to attempt to communicate, and in each one my function was to say those things that the black men knew much better than I could hope to know, but could not communicate as yet for the simple reason that white men could not tolerate hearing them from a black man's mouth." ( )
  overlycriticalelisa | Mar 21, 2022 |
In the Deep South of the 1950’s, a color line was etched in blood across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. Journalist John Howard Griffin decided to cross that line. Using medication that darkened his skin to deep brown, he exchanged his privileged life as a Southern white man for the disenfranchised world of an unemployed black man.

What happened to John Howard Griffin—from the outside and within himself—as he made his way through the segregated Deep South is recorded in this searing work of nonfiction. His audacious, still chillingly relevant eyewitness history is a work about race and humanity every American must read.
1 vote CovenantPresMadison | Aug 26, 2021 |
Powerful insight into what it's like to be black in America. Was very helpful in starting to move me from the attitudes (prejudices) I had grown up with. ( )
1 vote HenrySt123 | Jul 19, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 73 (next | show all)
A stinging indictment of thoughtless, needless inhumanity. No one can read it without suffering.
added by ArrowStead | editThe Dallas Morning News
 
Essential reading...a social document of the first order, providing material absolutely unavailable elsewhere with such authenticity that it canot be dismissed.
added by ArrowStead | editSan Francisco Chronicle
 

» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John Howard Griffinprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bonazzi, RobertAfterwordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rutledge, DonPhotographersecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Terkel, StudsForewordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Rest at pale evening... A tall slim tree... Night coming tenderly... Black like me. --From "Dream Variation" Langston Hughes
Dedication
First words
"This may not be all of it. It may not cover all of the questions, but it is what it is like to be a Negro in a land where we keep the Negro down." - preface
"For years the idea had haunted me, and that night it returned more insistently than ever."
Quotations
"The most obscene figures are not the ignorant ranting racists, but the legal minds who front for them, who invent for them the legislative proposals and the propoganda bulletins. They deliberately choose to foster distortions, always under the guise of patriotism, upon a people who have no means of checking the facts."
"He cannot understand how the white man can show the most demeaning aspects of his nature and at the same time delude himself into thinking he is inherently superior."
"I learned within a very few hours that no one was judging me by my qualities as a human individual and everyone was judging me by my pigment."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Publisher's description: Studs Terkel tells us in his Foreword to the definitive Griffin Estate Edition of Black Like Me: "This is a contemporary book, you bet." Indeed, Black Like Me remains required reading in thousands of high schools and colleges for this very reason. Regardless of how much progress has been made in eliminating outright racism from American life, Black Like Me endures as a great human and humanitarian document. In our era, when "international" terrorism is most often defined in terms of a single ethnic designation and a single religion, we need to be reminded that America has been blinded by fear and racial intolerance before. As John Lennon wrote, "Living is easy with eyes closed." Black Like Me is the story of a man who opened his eyes, and helped an entire nation to do likewise.

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Book description
Haiku summary
Some drugs and makeup
Transform a white man to black
To learn of racism.
(yoyogod)

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