Main Conflict in Black Like Me Novel
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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