Compare and Constrast Essay on Black Like Me

This essay has a total of 1757 words and 6 pages.

Black Like Me

Black Like Me


John Howard Griffin was a journalist and a specialist on race issues. After publication,
he became a leading advocate in the Civil Rights Movement and did much to promote
awareness of the racial situations and pass legislature. He was middle aged and living in
Mansfield, Texas at the time of publication in 1960. His desire to know if Southern whites
were racist against the Negro population of the Deep South, or if they really judged
people based on the individual's personality as they said they prompted him to cross the
color line and write Black Like Me. Since communication between the white and African
American races did not exist, neither race really knew what it was like for the other. Due
to this, Griffin felt the only way to know the truth was to become a black man and travel
through the South. The internationally distributed Negro magazine Sepia in exchange for
the right to print excerpts from the finished product financed his trip. After three weeks
in the Deep South as a black man John Howard Griffin produced a 188-page journal covering
his transition into the black race, his travels and experiences in the South, the shift
back into white society, and the reaction of those he knew prior his knowing the book was
published and released. John Howard Griffin began this novel as a white man on October 28,
1959 and became a black man (with the help of a noted dermatologist) on November 7. He
entered black society in New Orleans through his contact Sterling, a shoeshine boy that he
had met in the days prior to the medication taking full effect. Griffin stayed with
Sterling at the shine stand for a few days to become assimilated into the society and to
learn more about the attitude and mindset of the common black man. After one week of
trying to find work other than menial labor, he left to travel throughout the Southern
states of Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas. November 14, the day he decided to leave, was
the day after the Mississippi jury refused to indict or consider the evidence in the Mack
Parker kidnap-lynch murder case. He decided to go into the heart of Mississippi, the
Southern state most feared by blacks of that time, just to see if it really did have the
"wonderful relationship" with their Negroes that they said they did. What he found in
Hattiesburg was tension in the state so apparent and thick that it scared him to death.
One of the reasons for this could be attributed to the Parker case decision because the
trial took place not far from Hattiesburg. He knew it was a threat to his life if he
remained because he was not a true Negro and did not know the proper way to conduct
himself in the present situation. Griffin requested that one of his friends help him leave
the state as soon as possible. P.D. East, Griffin's friend, was more than willing to help
his friend out of the dangerous situation that he had gotten himself into and back to New
Orleans. From New Orleans, traveled to Biloxi, Mississippi and began hitch hiking toward
Mobile, Alabama. Griffin found that men would not pick him up in the day nearly as often
as they would at night. One of the reasons being that the darkness of night is a
protection of sorts and the white men would let their defenses down. Also, they would not
have to be afraid of someone they knew seeing them with a Negro in their car. But the main
reason was of the stereotypes many of these men had of Negroes, that they were more
sexually active, knew more about sex, had larger genitalia, and fewer morals and therefore
would discuss these things with them. Many of the whites that offered Griffin rides would
become angry and let him out when he would not discuss his sex life with them. One man was
amazed to find a Negro who spoke intelligently and tried to explain the fallacies behind
the stereotypes and what the problem with Negro society was. Many Negroes he encountered
on his journey through the Deep South were very kind and opened their hearts and homes to
him. One example of this is when Griffin asked an elderly Negro where he might find
lodging, the man offered to share his own bed with him. Another instance was when Griffin
was stranded somewhere between Mobile and Montgomery and a black man offered him lodging
at his home. The man's home was a two-room shack that housed six members of his family,
but he accepted John into his home and refused any money for the trouble saying, "he'd
brought more than he'd taken." In Montgomery, Alabama, Griffin decided it was time for him
to reenter white society, but he also wanted to gain knowledge of the area as a black man.
So, he devised the technique of covering an area as a black and then returning the
following day as a white. What he found was, as a black he would receive the "hate stare"
from whites and be treated with every courtesy by the black community. As a white, it
would be the exact opposite, he would get the "hate stare" from blacks and be treated
wonderfully by the same people who despised him the previous day. After a few days of
zigzagging across the color line, Griffin decided that he had enough material from his
journal to create a book and enough experience as a black man so he reverted permanently
into white society. Crossing over into the white world was unsettling to Griffin, if only
because of the way the same people who despised him previously due to his pigmentation
treated him. The sudden ability to walk into any establishment and not be refused service
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