America is a land of freedom, specimen ofsocial justiceand the custodian ofhuman rights. But how far is this true. Presence ofdiscriminationandracismin American society does not support this claim. Racism is one menace which has plagued America for centuries, and to some extents it stills exists today. The major reason for its existence for so long was our lack of knowledge and realization about it. The book ‘ Black Like Me’ written in late 1950s is a mere depiction of the same.
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The author John Howard Griffin, a journalist and an anti-racists, wanted to experience the miseries the racism extends and dared to do what no white man had ever done before. He left behind his privileged life, colored himself black, and walked into an unknown world of hatred, discrimination, and sufferings. Griffin did expect to be treated differently as a black man, but was shocked and horrified to find out the extent of prejudice, segregation and degrading living conditions he confronted.
In 1959, Griffin’s journey of a lifetime commenced when he headed to New Orleans. He had darkened his skin to merge into the black society. While walking through the streets of New Orleans, he wondered how he will adjust himself but he found people living there to be very supportive, and cordial. The first black he encounters was Sterling Williams, a shoe shiner. Griffin found Sterling to be very helpful and generous. Sterling makes him familiar with the black society in the South. Griffin’s journey does not stop here.
He travels from state to state, from Louisiana to Mississippi to Alabama and to Georgia, until he could no longer withstand the atrocities committed due of racism. Problems faced by Griffin as Negro were enormous. He had to walk and walk just to find a restroom where a black can go. It was not easy to find a cafe that served black people. These cafes also only served rice and beans to blacks. He could not find a job for him. To his astonishment, nobody was ready to cash a black man’s traveler’s check that he carried.
The problems ranged from getting off from a bus at a rest stop to even a white mob nearly killing a Negro. Despite the feelings of disgust, pain and sufferings, one great thing Griffin admires is the extraordinary generosity and supportiveness of the black people. He finds that even in the world of social injustice, good people do exist. He experiences human kindness and love by meeting P. D. East, a construction worker from Alabama, and Sterling Williams from New Orleans. ‘ Black Like Me’ is a human story; a story of a white Texan who wanted to lift curtain from the social injustices, plight and miseries of black people.
The book gives a straightforward look into the ugly truth of racism which was ever concealed behind the mask of tolerance. It is an inspiring and thought provoking episode of human inequalities. It really touches emotions. Griffin has left no stone unturned to expose the menace of racism. And he does so by personally experiencing the facts on ground. The book might not have caught the attention of people or even would not have been published, if it was narrated by a black man. Griffin knew the same and therefore he went through the journey of the ‘ underworld’ by himself.
The book ‘ Black Like Me’ is for every American to read and think; to scrutinize what wrong has been done and what can be done to prevent it; to look into discriminations carried out by each one of us, and to correct ourselves and our attitudes. Let the future historian write that the menace of racism vanished from the American society in 21st century and the book ‘ Black Like Me’ was a major contributor to this. Reference Griffin, John, Howard. (1976). Black Like Me. New York: Penguin Books USA Inc.