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Black Like Me: A Cultural Book Report

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John Howard Griffin was a journalist and a professional on race issues. After publication, he became a leading advocate in the Civil Rights Movement and did much to promote awareness of the racial situation sand 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. Because of this he felt that they had encouraged him to cross the color line and write Black Like Me.


Black Like Me is the story of a man named John Howard Griffin, who underwent a series of medical treatments to change his skin color temporarily to black; a transformation that was complete when John Howard Griffin shaved off his hair, and looking in the mirror, saw a bald, middle-aged black man. The reason he does this is for an experiment to see how racism was in the Deep South from personal experience. From November 6th to December 14th in the early 60’s, he hitchhiked, walked, and rode through Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Georgia. After three weeks in the Deep South as a black man John Howard Griffin produced a journal covering his change 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 experience. The book was published and released. The reaction on the society differed in great ammounts.


John Howard Griffin is the main character in the story. Throughout the story, this person displayed many qualities. He showed determination because he was bound and determined to become a black man so he could expose the truth about the Deep South and how racist they were. He also showed courage, for being able to pull through and do the things he did, such as become a whole new person of another race and going into dangerous territory where he knew he wasn’t really welcomed. He also displayed a sense of dignity, because after he was done with this experiment, he was threatened several times and even burned in effigy in his hometown, but he still maintained his ground as long as he could. And last, but not least, he showed us a sense of hope, because no matter what, even in the darkest times, he would still keep at least a small bit of hope in him.

Cultural Insights:

The things that I’ve learned about white people and black people is that things aren’t always what they seem to be. A white person could be the nicest person to you at first if you are white, but the next they could hate you for being black if you are a black person. But not every white person is like this.

Universal Insight:

In Montgomery, Alabama, Griffin decided it was time for him to reenter white society, but he also wanted to gain information of the area as a black man. So, he found 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.

The only thing altered was his appearance. He dyed his skin a very dark brown and shaved his head, his clothing, speech patterns, and references had not changed and every question was answered truthfully. If people did judge others by their qualities and qualifications, his time in the Deep South should have been fairly uneventful. Instead, there were daily hunts to find rest- room facilities, restaurants, stores, and various other ‘conveniences’ that he took advantage of before he crossed the color line. Even though he was the same exact person, people treated him differently.Literary


To covey his message against racism, John Howard Griffin uses theme as one literary concept. He shows us that even though he was the same exact person as he was when he was white even when he changed his skin color, people treated him in different ways just because of his skin color.

Another way the author conveys his message against racism is that he uses mood as another literary concept. He puts the reader in a mood of disgust, not against the book, but against the people in the book and the racism that takes place in the book.

Historic Reference:

November 14, the day John Howard Griffin decided to leave to conduct his experiment, was the day after the Mississippi jury refused to indict or consider the evidence in the Mack Parker kidnap-lynch murder case. Because of this case, the tension between black and white became stronger, which led to making John Howard Griffin’s travels more difficult, being a black man.

This book relates to American history because it takes the reader into the Deep South before the Civil Rights Movements took hold and shows what it was like to be black in the early 1960’s.

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