SONNIER: ‘Black Like Me,’ a story about self-revelation

 In Texas, a white male, John Howard Griffin, wanted to figure out whether racism was a world or human problem. During his experiments, he learned that racism is indeed a human problem.


Dating back to the late 1950s, white people believed that based on the simple fact that they did not treat black people as worse as the Jewish people were being treated, then they were simply not being racist. 


His book helps show the underlying racism black people experience on daily bases.  


John Howard Griffin had set out on an adventure unlike any other. Many black writers had only written about the hardship of living in the Jim Crow South. A writer of remarkable compassion established in his Catholic faith, had formulated a challenging trial: to better understand the life of the Negro, he underwent many skin treatments to make his skin darker, and become “black”. 


He anticipated that it would be “a obscure work of intrigue fundamentally to sociologists,” however Black Like Me, which told white Americans what they had since a long time ago declined to accept, turned into an advanced classic. 


Born in Dallas in 1920, Griffin was brought up in a nearby town, Fort Worth, Texas. “We were given the destructive illusion that Negroes were somehow different,” he said. 


However, his white-collar class Christian guardians instructed him to treat the family’s black workers with paternalistic generosity. 


He talks about a time when his grandfather slapped him for using a typical racial slur of the period. “They’re people,” the old man told the boy. “Don’t you ever let me hear you call them that again.”


It was never spoken about in public or at main events, but people knew that people other than the whites, were talking about racism. “There was this idea that black people said certain things about racism, and one rather expected them to say these things.


Griffin revealed that what they were saying was true. It took someone from outside coming in to do that. And what he went through gave the book a remarkable sincerity,” says Gerald Early, a black scholar at Washington University and editor of Lure and Loathing: Essays on Race, Identity, and the Ambivalence of Assimilation.


Before publishing articles about his experiments in Sepia magazine, which had helped finance his travels, word got out. In interviews with Times and CBS, he clarified what he’d been up to without attempting to insult Southern whites. He was subjected to what he called “a dirty bath” of hatred. 


Coming back to his Texas main residence, he was hanged in effigy; his folks got dangers on his life. 


Any day now, Griffin heard, a crowd would come to maim him. He sent his better half and kids to Mexico, and his folks sold their property and went into oust as well. 


During the 1970s, Griffin struggled to live after Black Like Me. He passed in 1980, of heart failure at the age of 60. By that point, the South was choosing African American leaders, congressmen and sheriffs.

 The progressive rising of black political power has transformed Black Like Me into a terrible preview of America’s past. 


Still,  Gerald Early figures the book may be much more important now than in the 1960s. 


“Because the book talks about events that took place some 50 years ago, it might get people to talk about the racial issues of today in a calmer way, with a richer meaning because of the historical perspective.”