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Black Like Me

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In the Deep South of the 1950s, journalist John Howard Griffin decided to cross the color line. Using medication that darkened his skin to deep brown, he exchanged his privileged life as a Southern white man for the disenfranchised world of an unemployed black man. His audacious, still chillingly relevant eyewitness history is a work about race and humanity-that in this new millennium still has something important to say to every American.

208 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1961

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About the author

John Howard Griffin

34 books383 followers
John Howard Griffin was a white American journalist who is best known for his account, Black Like Me, in which he details the experience of darkening his skin and traveling as a black man through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia in 1959. (The racism that he encountered was so disturbing that he cut short the time that he had allotted for this very unique experiment, clearly demonstrating that no one would tolerate being treated as many blacks are, if he or she could possibly avoid it.)

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5 stars
26,727 (39%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,154 reviews
Profile Image for David Turner.
1 review3 followers
March 11, 2010
My father took Griffin to the bus station in Dallas when he started h is journey. when the book came out, the Griffin family
lived with us for many weeks until the threats died down. (castration,tarring and feathering, outright murder to name a few)
since my family was mentioned inthe book, we were threatened as well. since i was a very small boy, my safety became a concern
for my parents from time to time.
when i became a mouthy teen ager i would try to take this on myself.
i got into more than a few fights. and more than once was beaten by groups of my
Racism is amazingly strong, persistent, insidious, and all too easily accepted.
and if you think it magically died in the 60's you're not paying attention.
We have a ridiculous excuse for public and political discussion today. Racism is
part of the reason our public discussion is such a miserable intellectual failure.
ONe of the most insidious claims is that racism is not part of our world or that those
who challenge racism are somehow doing it for cynical political gain.
yet we have a nationally popular pundit who uses the word "uppity"
others use the code word "arrogant" and more than once, "socialist" has
been the code.
As long as we tolerate this quality of public discourse, we will give this
disease fertile ground in which to grow.
Profile Image for Allison.
60 reviews3 followers
November 29, 2008
I was ready to give this book a somewhat generous review for what may be obvious reasons, but then I read some other reviews and now I’m annoyed. It’s ridiculous to cast John Howard Griffin as some kind of hero because he was “brave enough” to “endure” the “black experience” for less than 8 weeks. Sorry, but read a book by a black American about the black American experience if that’s what you want to learn about; I suspect any would be more holistic than to cast black men and women as purely agents of suffering with such despairing lives that poor Griffin should be exalted to sainthood for attempting to “live as a Negro” for 6 weeks. And I should point out that with this reasoning, it would follow that every black man and woman born in the United States during our hundreds of years of terror against black people ought to be considered heros—yet Griffin is the one being celebrated. Griffin is a white man his whole life, and readers think his slapping on some make-up for six weeks would allow him to understand the black experience. Bullshit! It’s such a ridiculous suggestion; I am astonished this book is being described as a great piece of anthropology. I’m not criticizing the instances that his own racism shows through in his narrative, although those would be valid and useful critiques, but I’m disturbed by some of the reactions to this book.

Though it’s also clear that the book is meaningful to whites. Some of the reviews white people give say that it changed their world-view and helped them think about racism more personally, so it seems that the book is still useful for the purpose of teaching empathy to white people, and in a sort of round-about way, one might even learn something about privilege. I can see how it makes the issue of racism very personal for white people, forcing them/us to imagine what it might be like to occupy a different place in the matrix of domination.

The book is also useful for analyzing the mentality of upper-middle class whites who worked for racial justice in the South during the sixties. Griffin was brave, yes, and at a time when nearly all white people were major assholes (understatement) he was at least one of the few trying to work for justice, which is interesting and causes one to wonder what stoked that desire in him. Especially, his resilience in the face of lynch-threats on his life is to be admired. But let’s not forget that his “anthropological” experiment also advanced his career and he was paid by magazines to print his journals. What accolades did black men and women earn for enduring the terror of the Jim Crow south? I would have liked to see more self-criticism in Griffin’s account. He evades what could have been the most powerful function of his text: an analysis of the racism rooted in the very conception of the project.
Profile Image for Rowena.
500 reviews2,471 followers
December 11, 2012
I can't say enough good things about this book. I thank men like John Howard Griffin who took a stand against racism despite the fact that their own people were vehemently against it. This entire book was a fantastic sociological and journalistic investigation of colour relations in the South in the 50s and 60s. It answered some questions I've always wanted to know, for example how did racist Christians justify their racism? Doesn't God teach us that we are all equal? The answer the author came up with was often racism hides under the guise of patriotism.

The book also educates the reader on many key members of the civil rights movement (including Martin Luther King, jr) which I found to be very helpful.

Another central point the author makes is that race has no scientifically-proven bearing on intelligence or morality; it's the societal structure we are forced to live in, what we are given, what we are deprived of and how we are treated by others that makes us the person we are.

I know that racism was a big problem in the South but I was still shocked to read how pervasive it was and what extreme forms it took. The fact that the White author could barely survive 6 weeks as a Black man shows how demoralizing it must have been to live as a Black person back then.

This book is definitely something everybody should read. Racism isn't as prevalent as it was in the 1960s but it's still here. Our attitudes about people of different races need to change, people need to be given equal opportunities despite the colour of their skin.
Profile Image for Baba.
3,563 reviews862 followers
July 23, 2022
Verging on being a modern classic, penned in the year 1959, and first serialised in a magazine that year, Griffin's monumental tale of him, being a white man, pretending to be Black (clever make-up), and living as a Black man in America in 1959. Read today, it is still of huge resonance and a must-read for anybody who really wants to begin to understand the nature of the thoughtless, needless inhumanity that is racism. Even the fact that it took a Caucasian's experience to strike resonance is indicative of the plight of racial minorities in America, in my opinion. 8 out of 12.

2013 read
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,769 followers
September 18, 2015
Let's just put this right up front: the idea that it takes a white man posing as a black man to convince white America of the realities of racism smacks of patronizing racial tourism; something only tone-deaf Hollywood could conjure up (except that not even Hollywood dreamed up Rachel Dolezal, who egregiously co-opted a black identity to further her professional agenda and to block up holes in her own emotional dam).

But that is looking at John Griffin's extraordinary experiment through a 21st century lens, with all the cultural and political knowledge that hindsight affords. In 1959, Griffin darkened his skin by taking pills and sitting under a sun lamp and rubbing "stain" into his skin, and then spent six weeks traveling through the American South. That he was a black man was never questioned. He lived in black neighborhoods in New Orleans and travelled in fear into Mississippi, where the recent trial of white men accused of lynching and murdering a black man was an epic travesty of justice, like so many trials before it (of those crimes actually brought to trial). Griffin's actions became a catalyst in the Civil Rights era of the early 60s. After the publication of his experiences, first in the magazine Sepia, then in this book, Black Like Me in 1961, Griffin and his family became targets of retribution for his betrayal and his insistence on racial justice. In 1964, he was beaten with chains by a gang of white men in Mississippi and left for dead. Eventually his family moved to Mexico to live in the safety of anonymity.

The irony of course is that the very segment of the American population Griffin tried to speak for, black America, could never pick up and move to a safer, more just life in another place. Black America could not wash its face, wait for its skin to lighten, and then capture the spotlight as a curiosity or social experiment and earn speaking fees or royalties; no, black America is still waiting for so much of white America—fifty-five years after Griffin said to himself, "The only way I could see to bridge the gap between us was to become a Negro"—to acknowledge that systemic racism is ground into our political and cultural institutions, that it can't be washed off like Griffin washed off the stain from his skin.

Black Like Me is a painful read. I had a very hard time suspending disbelief that Griffin could so easily pass for black. I struggled with extreme discomfort at Griffin speaking for people of color in the narrative. This discomfort played out in Griffin's own life, when he admitted a few years after the publication of Black Like Me the terrible irony that people came to hear him speak, as if he were a circus side-show, yet would not give the same attention to civil rights and social justice advocates of color who lived their lives in the world where he had only sojourned for six weeks.

But again, I must put my reactions and feelings in context. What Griffin accomplished was revolutionary—he provoked white America into a radical empathy and exposed the fallacy of colorblindness. In his 1977 memoir, A Time To Be Human, he states, “Surely one of the strangest experiences a person can have is suddenly to step out into the streets and find that the entire white society is convinced that individual possesses qualities and characteristics which that person knows he does not possess. I am not speaking here only of myself. This is the mind-twisting experience of every black person I know." That statement is at the heart of the why and the what of his actions in 1959. Black Like Me is a mind- and heart-twisting book. It cannot be judged out of the cultural context in which it was written, but it can continue to be read for the profound relevance it still holds today, when we still have to explain why Black Lives Matter.

Profile Image for Ella.
736 reviews128 followers
August 30, 2019
My main qualm with this book is that for some reason it's on teacher's lists and reading lists etc, but why are we listening and pushing a book written by a white man who "passed" as black for a while rather than actual black people who can and do study, write and explain their experience constantly. I get that perhaps some people won't be able to give credence to anyone but a white person, but isn't that a flaw of our culture? Why are the books written by and about black scholars/people not being disseminated so widely, taught and shared? The whole premise of this book -- written and taught, I am sure, with good intentions -- is exactly that: the road paved with good intentions. Let's start listening and giving credence to real live black people who have lived their entire lives in black skin and then I won't have so much difficulty with the prominence of this one book. (Along the same lines, I think, as the "food stamp challenge" where people of means pretend they are living the lives of people on food stamps without giving up their cars and fancy cookware, warm beds/homes, etc for the duration. It's impossible to replicate the experience of life on assistance or in another person's skin without actually living it.) Just my opinion. I'm just another white person without any real experience.
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
789 reviews1,187 followers
June 29, 2019
"The Southern Negro will not tell the white man the truth. He long ago learned that if he speaks a truth unpleasing to the white, the white will make life miserable for him."

In 1959, journalist John Howard Griffin decided to change his skin colour in order to see what life was really like for Blacks in the southern US. He took medication for vitiligo, a disease that causes loss of pigmentation in patches of the skin in order to add pigment to his skin, and also was exposed to high doses of UV radiation to further darken his skin. He then applied a dark stain all over. After he was sufficiently "dark", he made his way to New Orleans where he felt for the first time what life was like for Blacks. He later travelled on to some other states, including Mississippi where a jury had recently refused to indict a group of white men for lynching a Black man.

Mr. Griffin put his life in danger and experienced many horrible things over the course of 2 months, from being denied service in restaurants, to being harassed by white bus drivers, to not being able to find a restroom he could use. He was often bullied and not a few times feared for his life. He found that the Black experience was much different that it was for whites even though most white people at the time (as now) ascertain that there is no racism in the United States.

This book is written in journal format and I found it captivating. Mr. Griffin describes so well the things he experienced and how it made him feel to be misjudged and hated for the colour of his skin. He talks about racism and discrimination, how it affects people. He discusses how people who think themselves good Christians can treat others they perceive as different in such abominable ways.

In my opinion, I don't think Mr. Griffin even looked like a Black man. (Click here to see photos of John Howard Griffin as himself and in disguise.) I do not get how people fell for it; he looks like a white man with a very weird deep tan. I understand how and why white people fell for it -- they see dark skin and that's all they see. They did not see the person, the individual. They wouldn't have noticed his features. They saw black skin and were blinded by it. However, I'm really shocked that he was able to fool Black people too. The only thing I can figure is that they, never dreaming that a white person would try to make themselves appear black, thought he was perhaps mixed race.

I think the thing that disturbs me the most about this book is that, whilst it's no longer legal to treat Blacks or any minority in the ways they were treated in the past, there are many who cling to the prejudices that enable such treatment. There are many who would like to see a return to the 1950s. And of course, people of colour still have their lives deeply and horrifically affected by discrimination and racism, especially institutional racism.

I recommend this book because it gives insight into the Black experience. I think it's preferable to read a book about the Black experience written by a Black person but unfortunately, many whites are still not open to hearing the voices of people of colour, especially those of Black people. Whilst he dealt with horrible things during his time disguised as a Black man, Mr. Griffin did not suffer nearly as much as Blacks do because he knew that at the end of this experiment, he would return to life as a white man with all its privileges. He did not have to suffer the despair of knowing his situation would probably never change. Mr. Griffin went on to work with Dr. Martin Luther King and others in the Civil Rights movement, and urged white people to start listening to Black voices in order to bring about much needed change. Unfortunately, there are far too many similarities today; we have not come nearly far enough. We can do better than this. We should do better than this. We must do better than this.

"The atmosphere of a place is entirely different for Negro and white. The Negro sees and reacts differently not because he is Negro, but because he is suppressed. Fear dims even the sunlight.”

(April 2019 classic of the month)
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,462 reviews8,570 followers
September 16, 2022
Read this for an informal book club with my residency cohort and ummm it’s a mess? The basic premise is that this white man John Howard Griffin takes medication (??) to make his skin black, then he goes to the south and pretends to be a Black man so he can understand what it’s like to be Black in the United States.

I found the premise of this book atrocious. If this man wanted to know what it’s like to be Black why not just listen to Black people themselves instead of pretending to be Black and centering your own experience while basically using blackface?? Why not interrogate your own whiteness and white supremacy culture instead of doing something that you think is helpful, that’s actually performative and unnecessary??

Two stars may be generous for this book. I think I appreciated how at the end of the book Griffin calls out/in fellow white people for their complicity in anti-white racism. One ironic thing is that he makes a point about white people centering themselves as advocates for social justice instead of centering Black people which I was like… John you just did that with this book though? It’s messy and not in a cute way.

Anyway, some books by Black authors I’ve deeply enjoyed over the past few years include Such a Lonely, Lovely Road by Kagiso Lesego Molope, When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk, and Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi.
Profile Image for booklady.
2,237 reviews65 followers
August 19, 2009
Although John Howard Griffin was known primarily for Black Like Me and it fully deserves all five stars I’ve awarded it, I’m hard pressed to say which impressed me more—the book itself or the brief biography of the author at the end. In only sixty years (1920-1980) Griffin managed to fight in the French Resistance, lose his eyesight as a result of a nearby explosion during a Japanese air raid, become Catholic, marry and have four children and ultimately go on to become a spokesman for the Civil Rights Movement.

When his eyesight unexpectedly returned in the late 1950s, he was an established author with a strong sense of “otherness”, something he never lost even though now he could see again physically. More importantly to the man, John Griffin, he could see human beings and human life at a deeper level than many others around him could due to those years of not being able to ‘see’.

What I liked best about Black Like Me was Griffin’s plain style of writing. He didn’t embellish. And yet he describes the Negro (to use the book’s own terminology) men, women and children he met and befriended with befitting gentleness and grace. Although they lived in poverty and endured much, they were without exception unfailingly kind, generous and helpful to Griffin, a total stranger.

The hardest part of the book to endure was the blindness and cruelty of the whites he described. I cringed. I was ashamed. I was deeply saddened. But I also (re)learned some valuable lessons about “otherness” from Griffin’s journey into obscurity.

First of all, I learned to look at people, really look at them. Look them in the face. Don’t avoid looking at anyone, no matter who they are. Often I have looked away out of something in me, shyness or fear—but the other person doesn’t know that and they may see it as something in them. So have the courage to look at others in and with love.

Second, a smile is the best gift you can give almost everyone. So don’t be stingy. Smiles are free and they can mean the world to someone who is hurting; give away as many as you can. There are so many hurting people in need of kindness and love.

And finally, black and white are only coverings on the outside and we have no control over them—well most of us don’t. On the inside, that’s another matter. There we can be whatever color we make of the character God has given us.

These aren’t stunning revelations, I know. They’re just simple reminders of truths I’m sure I heard a long time ago. But reading Black Like Me revealed that it’s the simple things like this that really do make all the difference.

Fifty years young and as relevant as ever! EXCELLENT!

Profile Image for Kalem Wright.
63 reviews19 followers
March 18, 2015
“Black Like Me” follows author John Howard Griffin, a Texas-born journalist, as he explores the very face of racism and prejudice in the Deep South in 1960s...in blackface. Far from a punchline, it’s the ethnographic method Griffin uses to infiltrate black neighborhoods that would be otherwise socially locked to him and elicit bigotry without guardedness and gentility from whites.
At its best, Griffin’s journey serves as an example of the courage and effort it requires to put aside privilege and face with empathy and an open heart the experiences of others who are oppressed. Griffin ably renders the microsggressions that many blacks face(d) in the forms of assumptions, language, silence, etc. Most striking for me was an older white woman who assumed Griffin to be a porter and tipped him after his menial task was done.
However, it’s incredibly complicated to read a work like this in 2015. At it’s worst, Griffin can engage in racial tourism and oppression pornography. He freely uses certain epithets and assumes an air of ownership of his newly-pigmented skin, and elides looking like, thinking like, acting like, and being black. His conclusions are underwhelming (indeed, the author’s prescriptions for racial harmony seem to be borrowed from DuBois’s concepts that precede him by generations).
I’m positive this book was nothing short of momentous when it was published. It is a grand experiment in consciousness raising that is flawed and worse, bound to it’s time.
Profile Image for Paul Weiss.
1,224 reviews169 followers
January 27, 2023
I read this many, many years ago and, truth be told, I have no recollection of any details. All I recall is that I thought it was simultaneously informative, breathtaking, and heartbreaking - an extraordinary portrait of endemic racism in the USA in the 20th century. I recently read Richard Wright's NATIVE SON for the first time, so I reckon it's time to pull this one off the shelf for a re-read.
Profile Image for K.D. Absolutely.
1,820 reviews
April 11, 2010
John Howard Griffin, a 39-year old white journalist of Sepia Magazine, changed his skin color and stayed for seven weeks in Deep South, USA among the black population. The year was 1959 prior to the Washington March and passing of the major civil rights bill in 1964.

When published in 1961, this book caused a major controversy: Mr. Griffin was persecuted by his whites by betraying their own race. Remember that at that time, Deep South states, e.g., Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia were still in racial segregation. The discrimination worked both ways, blacks stay away from whites and vice versa. I have read a number of books on this and still remember two: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou but this one, being a non-fiction, brought a totally different impact. That scene when Mr. Griffin first looked at his face on the mirror as a black man brought a deep insight on the discrimination he did not know existed even inside himself. He did not like the person staring back at him: black and bald.

This book sold a million copies in the 60's and so far has been translated into 14 languages. President Obama now lords in the White House but the call for social justice that this book purports still resounds up to the present time. Racial discrimination still happens in all parts of the globe. I travel every now and then and I had my share: condescending side remarks of a Chinese waiter in a restaurant in Hong Kong, very late arrival of already cold food in Melbourne, petty crime done to my American officemates in Kuala Lumpur being blamed to illegal Filipino workers by Malaysia police, always being asked for a secondary inspection in LA airport, receiving a rain of F-word from a Mexican lady in Walmart, San Diego, etc. In all those cases, I just keep my cool. Despite giving my apologies twice to the Mexican lady in San Diego a Filipino-American guard told me in my way out: "Mabuti sir 'di na lang kayo sumagot, nasa America ho tayo.".

We need not go overseas. In Metro Manila, we also have marginalized parts of population. It may not be about skin color. It can be about age, religion, social status, sexual orientation, etc. Sometimes we are not aware of it just like the white Mr. Griffin the first time he looked at himself on the mirror as a black man. We may not be fully aware of the deep seated bias and prejudices that are lurking inside our minds until we are in a situation that brings those to the open.

Mr. Griffin died in 1980 at the age of 60. He left a legacy that generations will be benefiting from: the lessons from the astounding experiment culled in this truly beautiful classic book - Black Like Me.
Profile Image for Bloodorange.
679 reviews192 followers
October 9, 2020
Note on the second reading, Oct 2020: I think this might work better with Brink's A Dry White Season for the oral than Born a Crime.
A note on rating: I would probably have given if five stars if I hadn't read Invisible Man and Between the World and Me - both tremendous eye openers, like this one - earlier this year. I may yet revisit the rating if I continue to think of this book.

My first reaction was: where Between the World and Me focused on mental strain produced by being black, this book focused on everyday physical humiliations - having to plan your day around the very limited map of places when a black person could have a drink of water, use the restroom, buy something to eat.

Shocking afterword on civil rights activists' lives (and deaths) in the sixties.
Profile Image for Murray.
Author 151 books493 followers
February 2, 2023
This book by a white man was among many, mostly written by black authors, that gave me a huge awareness of a reality that was only a couple of days on a Greyhound away. I recall the first time I set foot in Jackson I froze because I was so unsure of what I would see.
Profile Image for Chris Freeman.
36 reviews3 followers
December 5, 2007
This book must have been unbelievably revolutionary in its day. I must admit that its original impact was lost on me at times because I expected many of Griffin's experiences as a white man disguised as a black man in 1959. He's treated poorly by white bus drivers, the hotels he stays in are substandard, he has to use separate facilites. There aren't many surprises as far as how he is treated (although there are a few).
What is surprising is how emotionally involved he gets. Within just a few days, he feels as though he is fully a part of the African-American world. He takes in the constant frustration and humiliation in a very short time. He even feels uncomfortable calling home to speak with his family because he feels like a different person in the make-up.
The Epilogue, which was written sometime after the book the book was initially published, makes it clear just how impossible the issue of race relations is to solve. In it he says that whites trying to help black people in the '60s inevitably tried to help by making the blacks act more white. This only ended up being racist and disrespectful to black culture. So even those trying to help usually made it worse. I'm sure we still do this today.
Profile Image for Brown Girl Reading.
349 reviews1,589 followers
September 2, 2013
The old saying is that you never know what someone else is going through or living until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes and frankly it’s impossible. However, John Howard Griffin turned his skin black and tried to live as a black man for six weeks while travelling through the Deep South in 1959. He persisted to take a medication which is normally prescribed to patients suffering from vitiligo, a disease where white spots appear on the body and the face, in conjunction with exposure to ultra-violet rays to darken his skin. For the rest of the review go to http://didibooksenglish.wordpress.com...
Profile Image for Larry Bassett.
1,415 reviews300 followers
September 11, 2016
The white author by taking a drug change to his skin complexion from white to black and traveled through the south as a black man for seven weeks in 1959. I listen to this book in the audible format. The book was originally published in 1963 and the Audible format includes additional thoughts in an appendix by the author added in 1976. The author was a bit of an academic and had apparently written other published material before this book. After this book was published he apparently rolled it into a bit of a career doing consulting throughout the United States about race relations. There is a bit of irony in that since one of the things he seem to say too many of the cities who hired him was that they should consult with local blacks about racial problems although he was a white man from another location with no local expertise.

Maybe white people in 1959 didn't understand what it was like to live as a black person. In fact the author seemed surprised to find himself as severely discriminated against as he did when he changed his skin color. He found that even as a stranger in town he was almost immediately met with a friendly acceptance by black people. I should point out that he uses the term Negro.

It is amazing that the man wrote a book and made something of a career out of a seven week experience. He found that when he assumed a black identity he was discriminated against by whites. He wrote as a person genuinely affected by the experience. He felt he became an expert in what it is like to be black. He participated on interview shows and in magazines and giving lectures as well as consulting nationally with a number of cities. It seems stunning to me.

The book is also male dominated. When the author speaks of others in the field of race relations or business development or people he interacted with as a Negro they are almost always men. After this book was published the author and his family as well as his parents had to move away from their Texas homes due to the reactions of their friends and neighbors.

The appendix of the book written 16 years after the black impersonation was probably the most interesting part of the book. He discusses the urban powder kegs that erupted into riots and the white efforts to blame problems on outsiders and communists. He also discusses the efforts of blacks to take control of their own destinies including pushing whites out of leadership roles. He must've been talking about his own experience maybe. This is a book that had a flash of notoriety but has now probably rightly faded into history.
Profile Image for Fawaz Ali.
81 reviews79 followers
October 24, 2011
We all claim that we know the feelings of one another. Just ask a group of healthy individuals and they will likely tell you that they know the feelings of the sick! Ask rich people and they will tell you that they know the feelings of the poor. The question is: do they really know or do they only think that they know?

In Black Like Me, John Griffin, a white journalist, sought to answer a complex question: How does it feel like to be black in America? By dyeing his skin black and travelling in disguise in the Southern part of America in the late fifties, Griffin was able to get a glimpse of the black experience. Throughout his journey, Griffin discovered that he himself had a residue of racism which he denied prior to the experience but was later forced to confront. Even the simple act of looking in a mirror proved to be tormenting because Griffin was looking at a black man with a white conscience.

This is a beautiful and brilliant book, with plenty of philosophical ideas. I highly recommend reading Griffin’s book because throughout the pages, one will be challenged intellectually. Being one and acting to be one are two different things but nonetheless, Griffin succeeded in examining the darker areas of the human soul.
Profile Image for martin eden.
165 reviews30 followers
February 4, 2017
That book had a great impact on me! First, it was disturbing and intriguing: especially that scene when he discovers for the first time his own image as a black person. That crucial moment is so disconcerting!
I felt deeply disgusted and ashamed that some human beings could (and can still) inflict such a treatment to other human beings.
I was profoundly moved. I learned a lot about that period and the South (especially the differences that could exist between the different States). It gave me a broadened overview and deeper awareness. I often felt sick and wanted to throw up. The epilogue gives a very important account of what happened after the release of the first articles.
Some people claim that if we want to know about African Americans' living conditions, we should actually read books written by African American writers. That's right, but only partly right! What is really important in John Howard Griffin's process?
1st: he was actually saying to his "own" people how they were behaving. And he was also encouraging some to react and speak up.
2nd: he was saying to black people that some white actually cared.
3rd: he was proving that their condition of life was unbearable (he managed to keep his "black identity" for only 7 weeks!).
It was an objective, honest study: not a white person, not a black person. He was both. He confessed that as a white he had stereotyped and bad thoughts about black people and when he was a black person, he could see that racism was present among some black men too.

Ce petit livre est très perturbant et déconcertant. J'ai ressentis des tas de sentiments différents: dégoûtée, outragée, triste, j'ai même eu honte.
J'ai également appris beaucoup notamment sur les différences qu'il pouvait y avoir entre les Etats dans le Sud. L'épilogue est un compte-rendu très important des conséquences de cette expérience et puis de tous les événements des Civil Rights Movement.
Certains disent que ce livre n'a pas lieu d'être, que si nous voulons connaître des choses sur la ségrégation et les conditions de vie des noirs américains, nous n'avons qu'à lire des auteurs plus à même de nous parler de ça: les auteurs noirs américains. C'est vrai, enfin en partie. Griffin témoignait en tant que blanc et en tant que noir à la fois. Il était les deux! D'ailleurs les blancs comme les noirs quand ils lui parlaient (pendant et après l'expérience), utilisaient le "nous". Il était inclus dans les deux communautés peu importe la couleur de sa peau.
Profile Image for Laura.
1,158 reviews34 followers
May 17, 2018
Essential reading - I don’t know how I didn’t come across this sooner in my education.

In 1959, John Howard Griffin decided to try to pass as a black man, to experience that life in America. He spent time in New Orleans under the supervision of a dermatologist, taking pills to change his melanin & laying under heat lamps. He got darker & darker, until one night he left his friend’s house, & passed into the city as a black man. He expected to experience racism & the challenges of segregation. But he was demolished by how much hate was shown to him in the White Stare. He couldn’t have understood how difficult it was even to get to a bathroom as a black man unless he had lived it; wouldn’t have known how white men would talk to black men about sex unless he had hitched rides through Alabama; would never have felt the fear of walking down the street in a place where people hate you just for the color of your skin.

Sadly, this book is still relevant today. The details have changed, but not the substance. And when you read his indictments of Christians & patriots almost 60 years ago, it will sting to realize he could walk through America as a black man today & come to the same conclusions. But that’s why it’s essential reading, especially for white people.

Griffin is a role model for people wanting to make a difference. Wherever he found himself, he worked to break down the notion of The Other. As a teenager, he was in France during WWII. He smuggled Jewish children to safety, until he himself was put on a death list & had to escape. He was later in the South Pacific, & he served as an anthropologist as much as a soldier, making connections with the locals that led to victories over Japan. He was struck blind in that period, & had to go home & re-make his life as The Other, working to show his intrinsic humanity as a person with a disability. Upon spontaneous recovery of his sight a decade later, he dedicated his life to removing the stigma of Other-ness, working to show people how alike we all are. Quite frankly, he’s an American saint & should be honored as such.

It’s short. You have no reason not to read this. Go get your hands on it. Now.
Profile Image for Theresa.
510 reviews1,558 followers
February 23, 2019
4.5 stars
I believe this book is an absolute must-read and truly well written and executed in all aspects.
In this book, Griffin describes an experiment he undertook in the 1950s in America's deep South, where he turned his skin black and lived as a black man for a few months. The experience not only changed him, but opened many white people's eyes to the true plight of black America.

What I found most moving and revelatory about his account, is how quickly he began to identify with his "fellow" black people and started to internalize the horrible way in which he was being treated. I think it just goes to show that any human who is being consistently and unquestioningly treated as less than will eventually start to view himself in the same light.

I also really liked how he wasn't trying to speak for black people, but instead worked to give them the voice they were refused at the time. White people had certain expectations of black people and black people had started to behave accordingly so as not to upset the whites, which then only served to perpetuate the stereotypes and the views of blacks as actually enjoying their status as second class citizens. This book seems to have at least served in part to break that cycle, to give white people a look behind a veneer they had erected for themselves.

I think this book should still be required reading today and gives a lot of wonderful insights to people who aren't aware of the time of racial segregation in America. I'm glad I read this book and I urge everyone else to do the same.
Profile Image for Greg.
1,576 reviews78 followers
August 24, 2008
What a brilliant anthropological/sociological study of the Black experience! Using medication and dye, John Howard Griffin, darkened his skin, and took on the role of a black man while traveling through the deep South for a month. His goal -- to learn for himself what it is like. With tremendous eloquence, Griffin conveys the despair and fear that he felt as he experienced humiliating segregation, discrimination, racism, and demeaning living conditions. He lasted little more than a month, during November and December of 1959, until he could stand the hopelessness no longer.

His experience, and the subsequent book, brought about a firestorm of criticism, argument, and discussion around the nation, and undoubtedly played no small part in our civil rights movement. While I don't believe it is possible for anyone from one culture to fully understand the experience of people in another culture, Griffin's remarkable journey (physical, emotional, and intellectual) shed light of a sort that simply is not possible in any other way.
Profile Image for Cathy DuPont.
456 reviews168 followers
December 24, 2013
Sorry, folks. I have been trying to write a review of the fascinating journal of what life really was like for blacks in the south during the 1950's before the Civil Rights Act.

I may write more later but think you get how much I loved this book by my status updates and comments to GR friends.

If interested in what it was and in some respects still is in the south as a black person, this is a must read. It was quite courageous on John Howard Griffin to do what he did and compile his experiences and thoughts on being black.

Blinded in WWII, he probably was "color blind" which is why he did this in the first place.

Do yourself a favor and get this book and read it. It was sad, funny, eye-opening and touching and deserves five stars and more.
1,591 reviews87 followers
August 28, 2020
In late 1959, Griffin embarks on a research project. He darkens his skin, shaves his hair, and travels by bus and by hitchhiking through several south eastern states. His aim was to document his experience so that he could reveal the ridiculousness, cruelty and injustice of racial segregation. Published in the early 1960s, this text was scandalous, prompting death threats against him and his family. Sixty years later, a white man masquerading in darkened skin, claiming to speak for a race to which he does not belong, drawing definitive conclusions about the perceptions, reactions and thoughts of “the black man” after intersecting with the black experience for a couple of weeks comes across as racially insensitive and arrogant. If a book group had not picked this title, I would never have read it and I don’t think I would have missed much. Do I rate it for the impact it had 60 years ago, or for my reaction today?
Profile Image for Kathleen.
892 reviews
September 7, 2020
I read the 50th Anniversary Edition of Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin and published by Wings Press. I liked the feel of the hardcover book and the smooth thick pages. The Forward by Studs Terkel is a great introduction to the book, and I recommend reading it before the Preface. The historic photographs taken by Don Rutledge enriched my reading experience.

Through the years I had heard of John Howard Griffin and his book "Black Like Me", but this is the first time to actually hold the book and read it.

A white Texan, John Howard Griffin, wanted to know what it was like to be a black man in the United States. He dyed himself black and shaved his head bald and began an odyssey of discovery through the segregated Deep South. He kept a journal of his experiences living as a Negro. The first entry was October 28, 1959. "Black Like Me" is his published journal.

"My revulsion turned to grief that my own people could give the hate stare, could shrivel men's souls, could deprive humans of rights they unhesitatingly accord their livestock."

"Once again the terrible truth struck me. Here in America, in this day, the simple act of whites receiving a Negro had to be a night thing and its aura of uneasiness had to be countered with gallows humor."

Black Like Me's moral power has not diminished with time. It still has things to teach us about the past - and the present. I recommend the 50th Anniversary Edition of Black Like Me. 5 stars
Profile Image for Natalie Richards.
404 reviews177 followers
November 18, 2014
What a powerful and moving read. What the author did, a white man who darkened his skin using medication, becoming a black man and travelling to the Deep South to experience what life would be like, is truely remarkable.
Profile Image for Bobbieshiann.
317 reviews76 followers
January 6, 2019

“If a white man became a Negro in the Deep
South, what adjustments should he have to make? What is it like to experience discrimination based on skin color, something over which one has no control”?

At first, I was hesitant to read this book even though I had it for some time now. John Howard Griffin was a journalist who decided to “cross the line” . This happened at the end of the 1950’s into the 60’s were just John took interesting/extreme steps to become a “Negro” and that did bother me.

What surprised me the most was the support he got from both blacks and whites. Of course it was not always peachy. The fact that John as a now “Black” man who could finally see what it was like for the “other side” was needed. It seemed as if his 6 week experience as a “Black” man was not as rough but he was seeing what was always right in face but yet he ignored, because even though he was not opposed to “Negros”, he never looked to see the lifestyle, judgement, and every trials a Negro man endured.

John first ventured into Louisiana and did not stop there as he went deeper into the south where there was no justice at all for a “Negro” man.

I was able to read this without anger but instead, patience. Throughout, John Howard Griffin was not looking for solutions but understating the difference between blacks and whites, and he said best when he stated, “I concluded that, as in everything else, the atmosphere of a place is entirely different for Negro and white. The Negro sees and reacts differently not because he is Negro, but because he is suppressed. Fear dims even the sunlight”.

In the end, Griffin could not handle it. The hatred became to much for him after 6 weeks of being a “Negro” man. So he scrubbed off his “blackness” and became white John Griffin again.

This book was another step for John Griffin, as he continued to be an advocate, “that this country rid itself of the racism that prevented some citizens from living as fully functioning men and as a result dehumanized all men”.

Note: When I googled John Howard Griffin as himself and as a “black” man, I truly do not know how he got away with it 🤔.
Profile Image for Bren fall in love with the sea..
1,576 reviews270 followers
June 11, 2019
“Fear dims even the sunlight.”
― John Howard Griffin, Black Like Me

Reading this book made me think: I don't know anything.

It is so strange reading about times that I did not live through. And then reading about bold strong human beings who did live through them with a bravery one can only marvel at. Black like me is a work of Non Fiction and what a book it is. The writing is so without pretense and so absorbing.

You really learn alot. And even if you think you know alot, reading word for tragic word what times were like back then. I remember after reading this book I said to a family member, "Now I get it". Of coarse I can't get it. Nobody can get everything who was not alive during that time period and did not experience what went on personally.

We read all sorts of books for different reasons. This one should be mandatory reading. A superb and heart breaking book.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
968 reviews101 followers
September 29, 2017
During the 1950's, John Howard Griffin, an upper class white man, took medication to darken his skin so that he could experience life as an African American male in the South. In this fascinating memoir, he reveals the injustices he encountered. I read this book many years ago, but think that in many ways, it unfortunately is still relevant today.
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