Review of Black like me
In 1959 a white journalist from Texas named John Howard Griffin disguised himself as a black man through the help of dye and medication and began his journey throughout the South. As a man of religious conviction, Griffin was deeply troubled by the existing racial situation in his homeland. As such, he wondered how it would be like to become a Negro in the land where there is no place for them. Griffin’s odyssey through the South lasted for six weeks and his narrative account was finally culminated in the book entitled “Black like me,” which has been regarded as a groundbreaking and controversial novel that has contributed in the awareness of racial discrimination and prejudice.
Griffin’s personal quest as a Negro allowed him to illumine the prevalence of prejudice and discrimination that persisted during the Jim Crow era; overt and covert alike. Griffin wrote in many instances about riding public vehicles, specifically the buses. As the access to public transportation is an imperative aspect in the lives of African Americans in order to go to work and reach their families, Griffin also showed that such public vehicles are the ones where discrimination can be highly observed. One good example was during a bus ride into Mississippi. The bus pulled over outside Hattiesburg for a rest stop. While all the white passengers ambled off from the vehicle to go to the restroom; Griffin together with a boy named Bill led the other Negroes toward the bus door to do the same. As the bus driver saw where they are heading, the man blocked their way and asked them where they are going. After the driver found out that they also headed out to go to the restroom, the driver said “Does your ticket say for you to get off here?” “No sir, but others…” answered Griffin. Then the driver replied “Then you just sit you ass down” (Griffin, 1961, p.63). While it is easy to assume that Griffin might have expected such form of hostility towards the white people, and he might have been able to brush off such discrimination as it is a mere ignorance from the side of the whites, what is more surprising for him is the driver’s denial for the black passengers the most basic human needs, which is to urinate and to defecate. As such, by forcing the black passengers to do such things inside the public bus, the driver has already crossed the line by humiliating the black passengers.
Another notable example where Griffin was able to present the prevalence of prejudice and discrimination can be seen in his commentary regarding the newspapers, that mostly fostered black people as threatening and dangerous savages. At one point Griffin remarked: “Southern newspapers print every rape, attempted rape, suspected rape, and ‘maybe rape,’ but outstanding accomplishment is not considered newsworthy” (Griffin, 1961, p. 94). Alongside with this, Griffin was also able to touch the subject about the lynching of Mac Charles Parker, a black man who was accused of raping a white citizen. Despite the witnesses who were interviewed regarding the case, the prosecutor of the county refused to present evidences resulting for Pearl River County Grand Jury refusal of the case’s indictment (Griffin, 1961). From the given perspective, Griffin was able to show that even the justice system that was prevailing at that point has chose to turn a blind-eye on Parker’s case because he is a black man.
“Black like me” is lacking in terms of organization and style, as one could easily recognize that the book is sort of a rush job. Even the author himself apologizes in the preface for his work’s “crudity and rawness,” a remark which is directed towards the form of his literature (Rank, 1968, p. 813). However, despite such weak point a defense can be made for the book because despite its structure, Griffin was able to incorporate the terrifying honesty behind racial discrimination and prejudice of his time through his usage of rhetorical devices, which illumined the ignorance of the white Americans towards the truth about Black Americans. His personal account of the situation, which makes the book more awakening and transforming, leaves a dominant impression towards the readers as his portrayals are real and does truly existed. Though as a whole the book never fully answered the questions as to how Griffin, with his dominant Anglo features and strong Texan accent, managed to convince the white and black Americans alike, such minor flaw posits something better about the book: the author’s credibility as well as his book’s credibility remained totally true about the context of racial discrimination during that time, which is as long as you are different in color, you will be judged by no other quality.
Overall, Griffin’s “Black like me” conveyed spectrum of emotions that makes his approach towards racial discrimination truly venerating. Controversial in its days, “Black like me” remains an influential book, as its use is still in existence to date.
Griffin, J.H. (1961). Black like me. New York: Signet
Rank, H. (September 1968). The rhetorical effectiveness of “Black like me.” The English Journal, 57 (6), 813-817.