A must-read book for white people: Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin

“What was it like, really like, to be a black in the Deep South? Novelist John Howard Griffin darkened his skin and set out to discover by personal experience the night side of American life. This is his startling report.”          -Book cover quote

Black Like Me illustrates racism in 1959 in the deep south from a white/white privilege perspective. It shows all white people what it’s like to be black in America. It shows us what things white people take for granted. It shows us just how cruel white people are.

Imagine having to walk miles to get to the nearest restroom that you are permitted to use based on your skin color. Just using the restroom to relieve yourself, a privilege.

About the higher rates of suicidal tendencies of black people, Griffin says, “This did not mean that they killed themselves, but rather that they had reached a stage where they simply no longer cared if they lived or died.”

Sure, that was 1959. It’s 2011. We’ve progressed a bit since then.

But notice that when a black person walks into a nice store, they’re watched or followed. Notice the servers at a restaurant fight over who has to take “the black table” that walks in at 8:30p. Notice that most people in traffic court are black.

I challenge any white person to the Black Like Me test: spend six weeks in America as a black person and tell me that racism is scarce. Tell me white people aren’t lucky. Tell me you don’t empathize so deeply that your world is turned upside down.

“This is a shocking book. It is the story of a man who underwent a series of medical treatments to change his skin color temporarily to black…. For six weeks he hitchhiked, walked, and rode buses through Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia, looking for work. The experiences he encountered in the Deep South– the squalor, the violence, the antagonism, the hopelessness–will burn deeply into the conscience of every American who believes in the justice of democracy.”          -Introduction

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2 Comments

  1. Not related to racism, but I suggest you read “Nickel and Dimed – on (not getting) by in america” By Barbara Ehrenreich. It is also a bit of an “undercover” book – about a woman who gives up her comfortable life in an attempt to survive on minimum wage. IT is really interesting and a quick read, as well as a good (although a bit outdated) view into working conditions in America.

    • I will add it to my reading list. It sounds like a good investigative story about a good social issue. Thanks for the suggestion. I’m also about to read this book about education from a guy that went and did a bunch of classroom observations. Books like these are underrated. I guess they can’t all be The Jungle…


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