Black Like Me

Griffins’s Experiment in Black Like Me

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

The novel Black Like Me follows a man named John Howard Griffin beginning in the city of New Orleans. Griffin had an unusual concept he wanted to pursue, he wanted to turn his Caucasian skin into that of an African American man. The reasoning behind his plan was to see what it was like living life through the southern regions of the United States as a “Negro” man. He wanted to be present in his experiment and wanted to experience it first hand up close. Griffin experienced much diversity and racism as hit time transitioned, “— that the Negro is treated not even as a second-class citizen, but as a tenth-class one.” (Pg. 15). The novel has won the Anisdield-Wolf Award which recognizes books with an important message about racism and the appreciation of different cultures. Black Like Me is a non-fiction genre written by John Howard Griffin first published in 1961.

Griffin is a Caucasian man with a plan of transforming himself into an African American man in the 1900’s and what it was like living in that time period. His six-week period traveling across the racially segregated states of Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, and Alabama. His purpose for writing the novel was to bring light as to what being an African American was like and what situations they went through in their daily lives. Griffin kept all his journals therefore he would not leave anything out for his book. The situations in his book were real life experiences he dealt with to highlight the racism throughout those southern states.

Griffins argument in Black Like Me that he is trying to convey to the reader is that when you are an African American in that time period you will in fact be treated lesser and not as important. “This system of discrimination, an inculcated double standard, may vary in content from culture to culture, but it is always unjust. There are thousands of kinds of injustice but there is only one kind of justice — equal justice for all.” (Pg. 136). Griffin is explaining that everyone no matter what culture or race should be treated equally with no double standards. Griffin during this experience is trying to get justice for equality and prove to everyone no matter what race you might be, we are all the same.

The positive features shown in this novel is that you can be the same man on the inside even if you are different on the outside. He is showing to everyone that even as an African American man he is still the same man as he was when he was white. “I’m annoyed by those who love mankind but are discourteous to people.” He is referring to those who treat the African Americans as lower people. His work was very thorough and clear as to when he is explaining his transition into becoming a black man and clearly explaining his experiences as to which he had to go through. His work shows to us, the readers the truth as to what it was like walking around, living in the southern region as an African American and the things they were put through just to get by. He proved our beliefs that they were treated unfairly and below the average white persons.

The type of reader that would enjoy this read, is one that is curious as to how African American were treated throughout that time. Griffin teaches the reader a lot about how discriminant and racist people could be just because the color of their skin. Griffin had strong evidence towards this racism with his own experiences with these people, he had an inside look into the real world of racism.

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Black Like Me: A Book about the Life of African Americans during Segregation

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

“For so long as we condone injustice by a small but powerful group, we condone the destruction of all social stability, all real peace, all trust in man’s good intentions toward his fellow man.” John Howard Griffin, Black Like Me. People have always expressed their hardships in conversation with the Phrase: “If you were only in my shoes, you’d understand”, and the sad truth is some people could never be in the situation of others because of their racial backgrounds and upbringings. That is except for the outside of the box thinking of John Howard Griffin. Griffin went to great lengths to experience everyday life as a black man in some of the most predominantly racist parts of America during the height of segregation. His purpose was to inform average white Americans what it is like to be black. Griffin documented his experiences and collectively put them into a newspaper and book titled Black Like Me.

“For many years the idea haunted me, and it returned more insistently than ever. If a white man became a negro in the deep south what adjustments would he have to make’ John Howard Griffin, Black Like Me. John Howard Griffin was a white male who grew up and lived in Mansfield, Texas a southern state that upheld the Jim Crowe laws. Considering being surrounded by segregation his whole life Griffin still despised racial tension and sought to achieve racial justice for all people. His inability to experience life as a black man left him with many unanswered questions. Which is why he decided to take an extreme step and undergo a skin treatment that would turn his skin dark. Once Griffin’s operation was complete, he began the second phase of understanding the day to day struggles of a black man in the deep south. Considering that America was at the turn of The Civil Rights Movement, many southerners at the time were still treating African American’s with racism and hate, that many powerful people of the south tried to hide from the world. This inspired Griffin to expose what was happening in the African American community at the hands of white southerners. Griffin wanted to show the other parts of the world what it is like from a first-hand point of view what actual black men and women did inside their own communities. Racism between lighter skinned African Americans and those with darker skin also took place within the black community.

Griffin’s main point throughout the book Black Like Me is that the hatred of white southerners is worse than most people throughout the country and world know. He provides his experiences to the magazine Sepia so that people across the country will understand and put an eventual end to racial oppression in the deep southern American states. Griffin chose to sacrifice his social status as a white man who could freely do anything in any part of the country, to live the life for a few months as a black drifter bumming rides and taking bus rides to cities with an extreme racial edge. Black Like Me has had a lasting impact for generations.

There are many positive aspects in the book Black Like Me it gave the world a glance at the southern oppression of black Americans living in the late 50s and early 60s. It also made an impact on the Civil Rights Movement, which at that time was just starting. It convinced many whites in un-segregated states to support the Civil Rights Movement after hearing of the wrong doings of racist southern whites. It gave many African Americans a voice telling events they may have experienced even with a white man writing them. Another extremely positive aspect is that Griffin could back to restaurants, shops, and other public places at night without taking darkening skin medication in order to see how the employees and other customers treated him after visiting the stores earlier as a black man. Seeing both sides of the racial line helps Griffin understand that even being the same person people were treated differently based on skin color. The aspect of Griffins ability to change back to a white man could also be viewed as a negative seeing that he could take breaks from ridicule and hatred even if for a few hours, whereas a black man had to endure this type of punishment throughout his entire life. Another negative aspect is the fact that Griffin reacted to some situations in different ways where a black man would react completely different. Throughout the book Griffin is very thorough and clear as he vividly describes his trip to ever minor detail. He described the multiple cities surrounding him throughout his journey such as this excerpt from his time in New Orleans at an all-black university “A green spacious campus with white buildings, and great trees streaming with Spanish moss”. This quote is just one of many extremely descriptive aspects in Black Like Me. Black Like Me is extremely relevant even today to express the true story of African American treatment in the deep south in the late 1950s. It reminds many of us how far America has come in its short 200 years. From Africans first coming over to the country as slaves, then as freed men that were still treated as less than white people, then finally becoming equals to all races in all aspects of life in all parts of the country. Today’s generations have not had to deal with the same level of oppression that had been put unto those who lived in the time of Jim Crowe laws, which in turn makes us take little things such as racial equality for granted.

Griffin used his own first-hand accounts in order to express the effect of segregation on himself, and the emotions he experienced while being treated as a black man and whenever he did not take his medicine, as a white man. He used both his points of view to see contrary to what many southern politicians of the time were saying, segregation was more evil than anyone in other parts of the country could ever know.

I would recommend the classic book Black Like Me to anyone who is interested about the treatment of African Americans during the era of segregation, it would benefit anyone studying the history of the civil rights movement as well. John Howard Griffins outside the box thinking and curiosity on the harsh treatment of southern blacks had a lasting impact on the culture of America and the world.

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Revealing the Truth about Racism in America in Black Like Me 

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

Most people in the world recognize the troubles and prosecution that African Americans receive from people with different color skin, but there is only one man who would purposely position himself to deal with the hate given by people with white skin. While hiding his identity as a white and becoming black John Griffin felt what other African Americans did. As Griffin was exiting a bus an old man makes a gesture that effected Griffin, he said, ‘‘It was a little thing, but it piled on all the other little things it broke something inside me’’ (132). Black Like Me received the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and Griffin also wrote The Devil Rides Outside and Scattered Shadows. Griffin said he is, ‘‘Annoyed by those who love mankind but are discourteous to people” (161), and he sadly discovered quickly, many people are discourteous to people and love mankind. Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin is an autobiography that tells a story about Griffin entering the African American life starting in 1959 in New Orleans. Receiving some support on the way from fellow negroes in various cities Griffin documents this part of his life to share with the reader.

Griffin viewpoint is that people need to treat others fairly, regardless of skin color if you say you love mankind. Griffin wrote this book to exploit what African Americans go through because of the white man. Griffin at the age of fifteen left to study medicine in France. In France Africans were not treated poorly like they were in America. This discovery opened Griffin’s eyes to racism in America. Griffin worked alongside Africans in France while in the French Resistance army. In France Africans were treated like normal people not receiving hate like they do in America. While fighting for the French Resistance army Griffin helped Jewish families trying to escape the Holocaust into Britain, this made him question the reason for racism even more. This left Griffin questioning why is the treatment of African Americans different in the United States of America?

In Black Like Me, Griffin is trying to tell about what African Americans go through in their daily life’s. Griffin wants expose what white people do that make the African American’s life as hard as possible. Also, how the whites did not believe African Americans have morals and think of them as a lesser being. Griffin is arguing that just because African Americans have a different skin tone, they shouldn’t be treated as an animal or second-class citizen. While on a bus Griffin would, ‘‘[Sound] the buzzer, but the driver continued through the next two stops’’ (44). The driver eventually would stop eight blocks past Griffin’s stop and let him out just to make the walk for Griffin longer. Griffin would leave his home to go eat at seven thirty without causing any trouble and would be followed by a young white male who was harassing him. The man would call Griffin names like, ‘‘Mr. No-Hair’’ (34) and, ‘‘Shithead’’ (35). While trying to lose the man Griffin tried to ask for help and he was ignored and looked at like he, ‘‘were drunk’’ (34). Just because Griffin was black at the time he was harassed and made fearful, and for the same reason he was harassed, no one wanted to help him. While trying to move to a new city during his time as an African American, Griffin would be picked up by white drivers all they would want to talk about is the African’s sex life. One man asked questions, ‘‘Entirely sexual, and proposed that in the ghetto the Negro’s life is one of marathon sex with many different partners’’ (88). All these events show that the white man did not think of the African American as a person but an animal who has meaningless sex. Griffin is trying to convey that African Americans are thought of as less than people and are treated with disrespect and hate for no reason. Griffin’s main purpose in his study was to find out how the African Americans were treated and he was shocked, he knew that they withstood discrimination, but he did not expect so much hate from men and women who would go home and love their family without thinking of what they said or did to an African earlier that day.

Black Like Me gave excellent examples of what African Americans go through in their daily life’s and how they live. During his time as an African American, Griffin was able to tell how African Americans had to find their own place to use the restroom, get water, or even eat. Griffin would be told, ‘‘Hey, nigger, you can’t go in there. Hey, nigger, you can’t drink here. We don’t serve niggers’’ (36). These quotes gave a good incite to what inconvenience made it hard for African Americans to live a daily life. Griffin does not however explain what the African American can do to help the situation. Griffin hopes, ‘‘The Negro will not miss his chance to rise to greatness, to build from the strength gained through his past suffering and, above all, to rise beyond vengeance’’ (164). Griffin is praying that the African American will become better people than the whites but does not seem to know how, despite living as one for a significant period. Griffin seems only to hope but does not give tips or information that the African American can use to rise above the cruel racism. Griffin’s work is thorough throughout his documentation of living as an African American. Griffin told stories of old men who hated his own people and claim he is, ‘‘Not pure Negro’’ (56). but his, ‘‘Mother was French’’ (56). Short little stories like this made it easy to follow and gave good information about some of the characters that Griffin met. Griffins work is also very clear, Griffins stories were clear and were easy to read. While staying with a family that lived in a swamp Griffin understood why African Americans had to treat each other with so much love. ‘‘When the swamp and darkness surrounded them evoked and immense loneliness’’ (113). This part of the book made the reader focus on the book forcing him or her to understand more. The work is also convincing and significant. Griffin gave several examples of how African Americans were treated based on skin color, this made the reader realize that all people are the same and should be treated fairly. Everyone should have the same respect that others have, just because of a man has different color skin he should not be treated like dirt. This is an ongoing problem in society today so the message in the book is extremely significant. This work adds to my general understanding of the subject by expressing how Griffin felt at times. Griffin would cry just because of how he was treated based on skin color and not the person he was.

Griffin does not have any bias in his book considering it is his story. Griffin uses his evidence of being treated with cruelty by telling what the racist man or woman would say or do. For example, all the men he rode with asking what his sex life was like, and most of them assuming it was meaningless. Many people of the south treat African Americans poorly because laws make it legal to do so. People of the south keep the racist laws and, ‘‘Haven’t taken them off the dockets’’ (75). This book’s argument is very convincing, Griffin uses pathos to his advantage in his book. Griffin would try to do simple task like use the restroom while at a bus stop but would be told by a white man to, ‘‘Get [his] ass back in [his] seat’’ (60). By telling about the stories Griffin experienced the reader becomes very emotional making him or her feel bad for Griffin.

I believe that a man or woman who think that racism is a small issue or non-existent one would benefit from this book. Being able to read about the daily life of an African American could open the mind of a person who does not believe that racism is real. Also, a racist could benefit from this book, reading about what pain racism can cause might bring sympathy to a racist. Griffin wrote Black Like Me to expose how African Americans are treated by racist for nonreason other than the color of their skin. Griffin gave stories and events that explained how racist tried to make the African American’s life as hard as possible.

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Role Of Hope in Black Like Me Novel

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

In John Howard Griffin’s novel, Black Like Me, hope is present in select places Griffin goes in the south where people fight racism and the black people haven’t yet “given up hope.” For example, Griffin finds that in Montgomery, Alabama, the black people fight racism no matter what the consequences are. He could not identify the white viewpoint, besides that they were a little upset-they didn’t want the black people assimilating into society, and that they were angry about their rebellion. But the black people who were fighting back sparked hope in Griffin because the lack of utter hopelessness he found in other cities he had travelled to. Griffin was picked up by a kind young black man on November 24th who provided him with hope. Even though the man was struggling to support his family, they were rich in the sense that they had unconditional love for each other. The family also had love for all humankind; they welcomed a complete stranger to eat meals with them and stay in their home for a night.

In A Place at the Table, teenagers from all different backgrounds were explaining the oppression their ancestors endured and how they were proud of them. Once they had each explained their stories, the teenagers realized they actually weren’t too different from each other, even though they are of different races. They became conscious of the fact that they are not alone and there are plenty of people they have for support and who they can depend on and empathize with. For example, the girl who had ancestors from Ireland said that they came over to America and they faced oppression just like the ancestors of the guy who were black slaves. All of their ancestors had to face oppression, when they expected America to be the “land of the free.” The main idea of hope from this movie was that everyone, no matter what background or race, has “a place at the table,” the table meaning America. Race should not matter. In Dr. King’s speech, I Have a Dream, King is talking about his hopes for the country. He explains how he wants everyone to realize they are equal no matter what skin color they have-just like the hope shown in Black Like Me and A Place at the Table. His speech demonstrates the hope of one individual, but a hope shared by many that are oppressed just like King.

Black Like Me changed my thinking of oppression significantly. I used to think oppression meant that you cannot fight back, and no matter what you do you are always oppressed. But now I realize that oppression does not necessarily have to come without the victim being unable to fight back. In fact, oppression can be greatly influenced if the victim stands up for themselves. It is even more effective to defend your position when you have people supporting you, and that is why I liked the hope found in all three sources I discussed. Most ideas anticipated by the oppressed are best carried out when there are other oppressed people fighting with them. Black Like Me didn’t change my opinions of stereotypes. I still think they are utterly unjust, unreasonable, and untrue. I was also shocked at some of the stereotypes introduced to me by Black Like Me, for example, when many of the white men Griffin caught rides with assumed that “the Negro man” has a more exciting, different sex life than the whites. They were obsessed with that stereotype and they failed to see that skin color doesn’t determine sex life anymore than hair color would.

From prior knowledge and past experiences with oppression, I know I have been inspired by others to have hope. For example, when people who are besieged by the same troubles “stick together” and help each other to overcome not only oppression but the day to day issues they encounter. This is present in the situations I described from Black Like Me. Some black people Griffin met were fighting for the greater good and were not acting defeated like other people he met-the difference was that they had hope.

All of these works connect by way of everyone rallying together and uniting against oppression. If we all, as a society or a people, keep our dreams alive, anything is possible. That is what having hope means. If you can believe something will happen, you have hope. Although one person can certainly change the way things are, mainly it is when people that believe the same thing unify that there can be change; and this is the main idea of Black Like Me, A Place at the Table, and the I Have a Dream speech. Taken from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, “This is our hope…with this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”

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Main Conflict in Black Like Me Novel

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

Gray

White to black then back in the end, only John Howard Griffin would change his skin color and throw away his comfortable life just for the experience to be documented in a magazine. John Griffin, in his own nonfiction novel, chronicled his journey and events throughout the South during the 1950’s’ and 1960’s as a black man. The novel took place in the South as he traveled through Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Georgia. Despite facing violence, threats, and struggles after publishing his novel Black Like Me, Griffin did the unthinkable and helped make more than a dent in ending segregation in America.

Racism was a prominent issue in the South during the 1900’s and still today around the world in different forms. I was surprised mostly at how Griffin was willing to change his skin color, giving up his “white privileges” because he was dedicated to the cause of racial equality. It was very courageous of him to face the daily struggles blacks went through and helped suppress the growing tension. Ever since Griffin became black, he was bombarded at night on the streets or in public places by white men asking him where to find black girls to sleep with. Apparently, whites only approached blacks for favors courtesy because “when they want to sin, they’re very democratic” (26). They only talked to blacks with equal respect if they needed or wanted something but still believed that “at the same time delude themselves into thinking they are inherently superior” (83). I know that legal segregation does not exist to this day in America, but racism does in our society. The term and every so popular cult hashtag, “#teamlightskin” or its counterpart “#teamdarkskin”, brought attention to social media with its implied racism of skin colors and culture.

After changing, Griffin immediately became ostracized from white society and not readily accepted into black society.He realized how differently he was treated just by changing the color of his skin and shaving his head. Nobody recognized him at all, only after telling them directly. At first, he didn’t understand or knew about the secret underlying rules of living in society as an another race but quickly caught on. John Griffin had no boundaries, being very open and courteous hidden as a black man while whites treated him poorly. Despite other blacks being exposed to this behavior daily as well, they managed to accept and ignore it as a whole. They refuse to give up, avenge, or hate back because “when they stop loving them, that’s when the whites win” (98). Neither side would give up. When changing identity or appearance, the transition of changing is an interesting social process such as changing styles. I had an encounter similar to Griffin’s as well when I simply changed my hair color and developed a “creative” style. People are accepted individually depending on who they were or are. But in present times now, everybody is judged by others to this day because it in our human nature to think differently of those perceived “not normal”. It’s pitiful to see that some things will never change in society since the beginning of civilization.

This book with it’s many entries and conflicts that Griffin encountered manages to throw me back into that time period and experience it as he did. Segregation and the vehement concept of racism in the 1900’s is a thing of the past now but it will still be remembered as a dark era of violence and hatred. It’s important to bear in mind that this existed in our culture decades ago. Now by law, racism and segregation is illegal but still exists in small amounts. I hope that Black like Me will continue to be a timeless historical record of America’s past.

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Comparison Of “The Call Of The Wild” By Jack London And “Black Like Me” By John Howard Griffin

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

The two books I will be comparing are: “The Call of the Wild” and “Black Like Me”. The author for “The Call of the Wild” is Jack London, and the author for “Black Like Me” is John Howard Griffin. They have very different point of views from each other. Jack’s book is a short adventure fiction novel that’s about the Klondike Gold Rush. An adventure fiction is an event or multiple events stringed together that happen outside the course of the protagonist’s normal life (usually accompanied by danger). John’s book is nonfiction that is about a social experiment for racism. A nonfiction novel is a piece of writing that’s based on facts, real events, and real people. Examples for nonfiction novels include biographies or history pieces.

“Black Like Me” is written and played out by John Howard Griffin. He sought to discover on his own how bad racism really was, because there was no way to know by being a white male. He changed the complexion of his skin by “a medication taken orally, followed by exposure to ultraviolet rays”. By the end of his transformation when he looked in the mirror, he saw the polar opposite of his old self. John said, “I was imprisoned in the flesh of an utter stranger, an unsympathetic one with whom I felt no kinship”. He felt no connection to who he was a week earlier. He went to the areas where racism was the highest to understand the worst of it all. Everywhere he went, he took notes for this book and for this article he promised the man who funded his start. When he converted back to his old look, he reflected on his experiences and wrote this book.

“The Call of the Wild” occurred during the Klondike Gold Rush in Yukon, Canada. It began in August of 1896 and then ended in 1899. In 1897 Jack London (author of the book) left college to search for gold. He didn’t make any type of fortune but what he did gain from this was experience. Even though the book is a fiction, he used his knowledge to write this book and enhance the visualization of the readers. The main character is Buck, a dog who is half St. Bernard and half sheepdog. The gold rush in Yukon created a need for dogs to pull the loot they mined which is where Buck came in. Buck begins to learn the tasks associated with being a sled dog and his ancestry helps him with the instincts and his genes so that his body is ready for what he must face. His owners didn’t know what they were doing and treated the dogs terrible. Halfway through their journey, they lost 9 dogs due to starvation and mistreatment. They kept going until they got to Thornton’s camp where they had an altercation and Buck got loose. Eventually Thornton becomes Buck’s owner and they grow a strong bond towards each other. They protected each other but Buck felt his calling was in the wild. Thornton died and Buck turned into a wild animal.

If London used a different perspective on this book, it wouldn’t change the outlook of the book much. The point of view it is in now is third person limited omniscient. That means that the story isn’t being told through one of the characters eyes, and that the audience knows more than the characters themselves. If you changed it to first person, the only differences you would see would be that you would be seeing everything through the narrator as he sees it. If Griffin were to change his perspective on his book, it would change drastically. It is currently in the first person point of view, which means that the story is told through the narrator who happens to be the author because it’s an autobiography. If you switched it to third person, it would no longer be an autobiography. It would have to be in the eyes of someone else, therefore some details would be left out.

Personally I prefer to view a piece of writing in the first person point of view. My reasoning behind that is because first person makes it sound like you’re being told a story directly from the narrator. From third person point of view is like a story from someone else’s experience. 1st person feels more personalized because you’re reading it like you’re saying it yourself. 3rd person feels like outside knowledge.

I believed the first point of view a lot more for a few reasons. A big reason was because it was an autobiography which made it about the experiences they lived out. In general terms, first person lets you know the narrators thoughts, feelings, and anything else going on with the character. Third person doesn’t give you the luxury of owning all of that knowledge. Like I said before, third person comes from another person’s eyes so that they might leave out details because they don’t know them.

London didn’t use any rhetoric in his book. It was an informational book and wasn’t used in any way to persuade. Griffin used rhetoric a lot in his book. Caucasian people didn’t understand what slavery was like which was why he wrote about his experience. He was trying to get his readers to understand his experience with racism by his social experiment.

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Beyond the Appearance: the Deeper Meaning of Griffins Change in ‘black Like Me’

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

John Howard Griffin’s memoir Black Like Me attempts to examine the exclusively physical transformation of a man from white to black. Griffin seeks to more wholly understand racial issues in the 1950s by altering his skin color and “nothing else”. His original white identity enjoys a strong sense of self, demonstrated by consistent personal pronouns, and a distinct separation of races, demonstrated by simplifying articles. The moment Griffin looks in the mirror and sees a black man, he changes not just physically, but his own identity experiences shocking confusion. His pronoun usage becomes often depersonalized in the third person as his identity becomes similarly depersonalized as he loses his comfortable white identity. However, he eventually becomes at peace with his new black identity and his pronouns begin to once again become personal, as they relate to both his black and white self. As Griffin sets out to solely change his outward experience, he inevitably changes his identity, revealed by an increasing fluidity of pronoun usage, and ultimately invalidating his argument as he changes much more than his physical appearance.

Griffin’s original, unchanged self, employs intentional vagueness and separation from both the black race and his own race through clear pronoun usage, epitomizes his original and unchanged white identity. Griffin fails to further specify “the idea” that incited the entire project (1). By simplifying and condensing the racial problem, he turns the racial issue into something that can be easily referred to. This is because he is ignorant and detached from the “real problem” due to his thoroughly white identity (2). Still, Griffin clearly and succinctly identifies “the Negro issue”; an issue that clearly sets its own bounds as exclusively “Negro”, and therefore separate from the white Griffin. The use of articles before these large, abstract ideas demonstrates Griffins white misconceptions. By imagining “a” single problem that faces the black community, he remains ignorant to the innumerable social injustices any black person faces. Continuing this trend of discernible and clarity and ignorance, Griffin asserts his role as “a white [man] assuming a nonwhite identity” (3). The succinct and singular article of “a”, condenses Griffin’s stunning transformation into something palatable and depersonalized from his identity. The article allows him to discuss his own self without making any reference to himself. He succeeds in completely disconnecting this future self as a black man from his current, white self. A constant and almost exclusive pronominal use of “I” reveals Griffin’s strong sense of his white self and identity (5). He successfully asserts himself as separate from both the white and black race. By depersonalizing his discussion of race issues and his future experiment, Griffin successfully asserts his own identity as a white man.

After Griffin assumes his black appearance, his strong sense of white self begins to fade with ambiguous pronoun usage as his black physical appearance begins to affect his identity. Immediately after assuming his black appearance, Griffin refers to himself as “a Negro” (10). Removing all personal connection to his reflection, he mindfully separates his sense of self from his physical appearance in the mirror. He remains unable to connect himself with his reflection and refers to himself with the third person “he” (10). This distance from a personal pronoun epitomizes the disconnect in his identity that reveals itself in Griffin’s change in pronoun usage. Griffin refers to the distance between himself and “the whites” as the distance between “them and me” (37). Not only does this categorize white people into a group completely separate from Griffin, but he also uses the personal pronoun “me”. This marks the beginning of the shift in Griffin’s identity and therefore the moment when he begins to invalidate his own argument. He begins to feel at home, both in his black body and in his black identity as he develops a sense of black self while separating himself from his former race. As he becomes more unified in his physical appearance and identity through more personal pronouns regarding his black self, Griffin feels comfortable answering his own rhetorical question of ”What did we fear?” with a personal response, from the view of a black man (72). Not only does Griffin feel content enough in his black body, he feels at peace with his identity as a black man who possesses the right to include himself in that “we”, even if it remains unspecified. Griffin’s use of personal pronouns reveals his growing sense of self as a black man as he creates a new identity for himself – inevitably different from his former self.

As Griffin shifts between his physical appearance as white or black, his identity continues to change as his pronouns and language become increasingly ambiguous. He begins to identify as both “Negro and white” (130). This contrasts with his earlier diction as he no longer places an article before either race. Each race is now more personal and can no longer be simplified with the use of “a” or “the”. However, this racial ambivalence distorts Griffin’s sweeping calls to action with the anaphoric “we must” (130). The incertitude regarding the subject of “we” simultaneously broadens his message by making it appear nearly universal, while also weakening his argument as it is unclear who “we” applies to. The eventual clarity with which Griffin accepts his black skin as “my Negro identity” ultimately illustrates his extreme transformation of identity (145). Finally, he possessively claims his blackness with a personal pronoun, the final acceptance of an identity much changed from his primary white sense of self. Griffin smoothly executes a frequent switch between his “white identity” and his “Negro identity”, however his comfort regarding both sides of his identity manifests itself in his use of the possessive pronoun “my” to describe both of these identities. By claiming both identities and creating a sense of self wholly independent of his white identity, Griffin flaunts his new identity – a new man.

Griffin must change his physical appearance in order to relate to the plight of black Americans. His individual white self fails to realize what DuVernay in her movie The 13th sets out to prove: there is no difference between “their cause” and “our cause”. The fluidity of these pronouns allows for the universality of the cause of black rights. And while the use of these pronouns ultimately invalidate Griffin’s argument as he changes more than just his physical appearance, this change also allows him to relate to his black identity and his fellow black Americans. While Griffin fails to do what he set out to do as he changes in identity, he more importantly changes to realize the most important message of all: any cause should be his cause too.

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Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing: the Unintended Racism of Griffin’s Empathy

June 18, 2019 by Essay Writer

In John Howard Griffin’s controversial 1962 memoir Black Like Me, white-man Griffin takes an anthropological and personal journey, posing as a black man in the deep south in an attempt to understand the black experience. Equal parts personal revelation and argumentation, Griffin tries to provide proof of pervasive racial discrimination and show that, through empathy, white people can change and begin to understand the experience of black people. The problem, however, is that Griffin himself does not change. The bad encounters he experiences at times provoke fleeting shifts in his identity and argument, but ultimately just contribute to the same misguided notion: the belief that by painting his skin black, Griffin can understand – and, therefore, speak to – a black person’s experience. He begins to use the “we” pronoun to refer to the black community almost immediately after transitioning. As a result, he simultaneously dismisses and usurps the black identity, hurting his own identity of empathy and undermining his credibility to argue for racial equality. Griffin’s purpose is well-intentioned and radical for its time. Nevertheless, his desperation to speak for black people ultimately just undercuts his argument of equal humanity and contributes to a counterproductive theme of imperialist sympathy in which the white man claims authority on the experiences of a marginalized people.

Immediately after changing his skin color, Griffin begins to use the collective “we” in reference to black people, implying that the simple dyeing of his skin allows him to speak for the black community as a whole. Within one day of becoming black-skinned, in what he himself sees as his “first intimate glimpse” into black life, Griffin declares, “We were Negroes and our concern was the white man and how to get along with him” (Griffin, 35). Not only does he use his limited experience as a black man to define the “concern” of all negroes, but alienates himself from the “white man” he was just a few days ago. Furthermore, Griffin remains surprisingly-open about his “former” whiteness, not because he wants to emphasize a disparity between his internal identity and outward appearance, but because to him the fact that he “was once white” is inconsequential (35). For Griffin, the physical blackness of his skin gives him licence to call himself “wholly a Negro, regardless of what he once may have been” and an immediate claim to the sense of “shame,” “fear,” and futility of the black experience (23).

Griffins self-declared blackness gives him false license to act as a misguided voice for the black equality movement. Griffin’s quest to empathize with the black community and argue that the white-man does not “have any God-given rights that [the black man] does not also have,” (though presumptuous), is well-intentioned (36). And, within its historical context, even brave. However, his argument does not survive the test of time, many new critics highlighting the ethical fallacies and problematic consequences that come when white men equate empathy with a fundamental understanding of a marginalized groups’ experience. As the 2016 documentary 13th says, when white people “take the lead of a conversation [about black movements]…they inevitably create more repression” (Ana DuVernay). To John Howard Griffin, though, his experience “is what it is like to be a Negro in a land where we keep the Negro down…not the white man’s experience as a Negro in the South” (11). Ultimately, though griffin is well-meaning in his goals, his inability to recognize the black experience as anything beyond black skin simply contributes to a subliminal racism that hinders the fight for equality into the future. The insights into the black experience that Griffin does gain through his journey ultimately hold little weight because they come from a white man who refuses to acknowledge that his self-inflicted experience cannot fully represent that of a true black man.

Griffin’s epilogue is characterized by a tone of hopelessness and diminishing agency, as he begins to lose a sense of empowerment. Rather than claiming that he undertook his “experiment,” his quest to understand the black experience, he says it “was undertaken,” using passive voice to describe the change he once wished to actively create. (175). This new sense of futility seems like genuine insight into the black man’s struggle, insight into the inescapability of blackness and the negative connotations it carries. However, even as Griffin finds this understanding, he continues to use the pronoun “we,” never acknowledging that, unlike those born black, his blackness is not futile: he can, and did, become white again. Failing to recognize this disparity, Griffin undermines his persona of empathy and, therefore, the credibility of his argument.

History – black history especially – is no stranger to the trope of the well-meaning white man, the man who uses a contrived sense of understanding for the black man’s struggle to advocate for his rights. And while white men with good intentions like Griffin certainly help to fight large battles against segregation and discrimination, they also remove black people from the dialogue. In doing this, they give false credibility to white politicians who verbalize their opposition to racism while also instituting subliminally-racist programs like the American prison system. Though Griffin attempts to cultivate an identity of empathy and then use this empathized-understanding to argue against discrimination and general racism, he ultimately just lends himself to a troubling historical trend in which marginalized peoples are cut out of their own conversation.

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More Than Appearances: The Depth of Griffin’s Change

March 5, 2019 by Essay Writer

John Howard Griffin’s memoir Black Like Me attempts to examine the exclusively physical transformation of a man from white to black. Griffin seeks to more wholly understand racial issues in the 1950s by altering his skin color and “nothing else”. His original white identity enjoys a strong sense of self, demonstrated by consistent personal pronouns, and a distinct separation of races, demonstrated by simplifying articles. The moment Griffin looks in the mirror and sees a black man, he changes not just physically, but his own identity experiences shocking confusion. His pronoun usage becomes often depersonalized in the third person as his identity becomes similarly depersonalized as he loses his comfortable white identity. However, he eventually becomes at peace with his new black identity and his pronouns begin to once again become personal, as they relate to both his black and white self. As Griffin sets out to solely change his outward experience, he inevitably changes his identity, revealed by an increasing fluidity of pronoun usage, and ultimately invalidating his argument as he changes much more than his physical appearance.

Griffin’s original, unchanged self, employs intentional vagueness and separation from both the black race and his own race through clear pronoun usage, epitomizes his original and unchanged white identity. Griffin fails to further specify “the idea” that incited the entire project (1). By simplifying and condensing the racial problem, he turns the racial issue into something that can be easily referred to. This is because he is ignorant and detached from the “real problem” due to his thoroughly white identity (2). Still, Griffin clearly and succinctly identifies “the Negro issue”; an issue that clearly sets its own bounds as exclusively “Negro”, and therefore separate from the white Griffin. The use of articles before these large, abstract ideas demonstrates Griffins white misconceptions. By imagining “a” single problem that faces the black community, he remains ignorant to the innumerable social injustices any black person faces. Continuing this trend of discernible and clarity and ignorance, Griffin asserts his role as “a white [man] assuming a nonwhite identity” (3). The succinct and singular article of “a”, condenses Griffin’s stunning transformation into something palatable and depersonalized from his identity. The article allows him to discuss his own self without making any reference to himself. He succeeds in completely disconnecting this future self as a black man from his current, white self. A constant and almost exclusive pronominal use of “I” reveals Griffin’s strong sense of his white self and identity (5). He successfully asserts himself as separate from both the white and black race. By depersonalizing his discussion of race issues and his future experiment, Griffin successfully asserts his own identity as a white man.

After Griffin assumes his black appearance, his strong sense of white self begins to fade with ambiguous pronoun usage as his black physical appearance begins to affect his identity. Immediately after assuming his black appearance, Griffin refers to himself as “a Negro” (10). Removing all personal connection to his reflection, he mindfully separates his sense of self from his physical appearance in the mirror. He remains unable to connect himself with his reflection and refers to himself with the third person “he” (10). This distance from a personal pronoun epitomizes the disconnect in his identity that reveals itself in Griffin’s change in pronoun usage. Griffin refers to the distance between himself and “the whites” as the distance between “them and me” (37). Not only does this categorize white people into a group completely separate from Griffin, but he also uses the personal pronoun “me”. This marks the beginning of the shift in Griffin’s identity and therefore the moment when he begins to invalidate his own argument. He begins to feel at home, both in his black body and in his black identity as he develops a sense of black self while separating himself from his former race. As he becomes more unified in his physical appearance and identity through more personal pronouns regarding his black self, Griffin feels comfortable answering his own rhetorical question of ”What did we fear?” with a personal response, from the view of a black man (72). Not only does Griffin feel content enough in his black body, he feels at peace with his identity as a black man who possesses the right to include himself in that “we”, even if it remains unspecified. Griffin’s use of personal pronouns reveals his growing sense of self as a black man as he creates a new identity for himself – inevitably different from his former self.

As Griffin shifts between his physical appearance as white or black, his identity continues to change as his pronouns and language become increasingly ambiguous. He begins to identify as both “Negro and white” (130). This contrasts with his earlier diction as he no longer places an article before either race. Each race is now more personal and can no longer be simplified with the use of “a” or “the”. However, this racial ambivalence distorts Griffin’s sweeping calls to action with the anaphoric “we must” (130). The incertitude regarding the subject of “we” simultaneously broadens his message by making it appear nearly universal, while also weakening his argument as it is unclear who “we” applies to. The eventual clarity with which Griffin accepts his black skin as “my Negro identity” ultimately illustrates his extreme transformation of identity (145). Finally, he possessively claims his blackness with a personal pronoun, the final acceptance of an identity much changed from his primary white sense of self. Griffin smoothly executes a frequent switch between his “white identity” and his “Negro identity”, however his comfort regarding both sides of his identity manifests itself in his use of the possessive pronoun “my” to describe both of these identities. By claiming both identities and creating a sense of self wholly independent of his white identity, Griffin flaunts his new identity – a new man.

Griffin must change his physical appearance in order to relate to the plight of black Americans. His individual white self fails to realize what DuVernay in her movie The 13th sets out to prove: there is no difference between “their cause” and “our cause”. The fluidity of these pronouns allows for the universality of the cause of black rights. And while the use of these pronouns ultimately invalidate Griffin’s argument as he changes more than just his physical appearance, this change also allows him to relate to his black identity and his fellow black Americans. While Griffin fails to do what he set out to do as he changes in identity, he more importantly changes to realize the most important message of all: any cause should be his cause too.

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