Black Like Me



John Howard Griffin was born in Dallas, Texas in 1920. At sixteen he went to France, where he decided to become a psychiatrist. In World War 2, Griffin worked with the French underground movement and later he joined the United States Army. During a Japanese bombardement he lost his sight. Two major changes in values had taken place during his eleven - year - absence. The first was an increasing attraction to Roman Catholicism and the second was a change of Griffin's eyesight suddenly returned and he became prominent as a newspaper columnist.
Novels of Griffin: "Nuni", "Land of the High Sky"
Griffin died at sixty, in 1980.


Griffin took the title of his book from the Negro poet Langston Hughes. Night is both tender and hostile for the black man. On the one hand it shows that blackness is a part of the nature, but on the other hand the darkness shows loneliness, isolation and even fear, in a white - dominated society.


It is a book about black people, written by a white man for a white audience.

In October 1959, the white Texas novelist, darkens his skin in order to find out what life is like for a Negro in the South. George Levitian, the owner of Sepia, a popular Negro magazine, agrees to finance Griffin's project in return for articles. So Griffin leaves his wife and his three children and walks out into the New Orleans‘ night as a Negro. Like a child, he finds out that he must learn the proper behaviour for each new situation. He is able to join Joe, an elderly - black shoeshine "boy". He now shares the hopelessness of their lives. Black people must do everything to please Whites (for example, giving them their seats in buses), in order to avoid troubles. Furthermore Whites try to frustrate black education by refusing to hire even the best educated and most highly qualified Negroes. On November 14, he prepares to leave for Mississippi, because of an article about the failure of the Pears River Bonty Jury to return any indictments against those involved in the lynching of Mack Parker. The Negroes in the bus are very friendly and they feel the need to protect each other against the hostility of the Whites. Mississippi Negroes aren't allowed to look at a white woman - or even a picture of one. In the desolate hotel room in Hattiesbury, Griffin finds himself unable to bear his sense of loneliness any longer and visits his friend P.D. East. There he has time for new insights into the problems of the South. Later Griffin meets several Whites, who see the Negro "as a different species"while hitchhiking through Mississippi and Alabama. A kind of turning point is the optimistic atmosphere in Montgomery as a result of the efforts of Martin Luther King Jr. and his followers. Now Griffin begins to switch back and forth between his black and white identities. Finally, he gives us a kind of epilogue, where he tells about the publication and the hostile reactions of his neighbours and fellow townsmen in Texas and of his decision to move his family to Texas.


John Howard Griffin:
Griffin is writing to tell Whites about what they are doing to Blacks. The author has just finished reading a report documenting the rise of suicide among Southern Negroes. He cannot understand the Negroes, who do not care if they live or die. If he wants to learn what Negro life is really like, he must become a black man. He is a committed Roman Catholic, who believes that the ideal of Christian love will kill prejudices and racism. His change into a Negro is a kind of rebirth into a totally new identity. As a black man he is no longer an individual, an identity, a person to Whites. As a Black he encounters an incredible friendliness to strangers that he is to find characteristic of most Blacks he meets. The important things for him as a black man are, in the first place, simply to have enough food and to establish a feeling of brotherhood. For several times Whites call him "nigger","Mr. No - Hair","Mr. Shithead" and he wonders if it would have happened if he were white. He often forces himself to silence because he must show his dignity. Nevertheless he finds out that some Whites, believe in the "happy darky". A Negro is happy when he is drunken or when he hears music because "he doesn't know any better". In Mississippi Griffin can be criticised because he is unable to bear more than a week what black man must stand all their lives. He finds out that P. D. East not only shares his concern about racial injustice but also has had to conquer the resulting loneliness. While hitchhiking he only meets one white man, who seems to be "colour blind". This man feels such an immense love for his wife and child that he cannot hate the Negroes. Griffin is shocked when he meets some "enlightened" who believe that they are only hope for Negroes. Now he knows how little hope there seems to be that true communication and understanding between the races will be achieved. He ends with a positive as well as a negative idea of what it is like to be black. The negative is that he needs not longer share their pain but he also cannot share their humor, brotherhood and kindness towards one another. He thinks that being black is more painful but it is also more human than being a racist White. After the publication of "Black like me" Griffin becomes very popular. However, it was also a time of isolation from most of his neighbours, of living under police protection, a time where he had only a few friends. All he can hope is that if enough people individually grow and change, sooner or later racism will end.

The Whites:
They hate the Negro because of his colour. The Whites force black men into a hell of loneliness. They believe that the Negro is a different species. Racists believe that blacks are more animalistic than Whites. Black women are sexual playthings for white men. Many Whites think that they are doing the niggers a favour by giving some of their children a little white blood. On the one hand they are decent Americans who have a family and go to church but on the other hand they feel the desire for power over others. Such men join the Ku Klux Klan, or gangs like the one which kidnapped Mack Parker. They warn the Black that if they stir up troubles they will be killed or imprisoned. Their attitude is that Blacks must serve the white men. However, they fear that one day the Blacks may win.

The Blacks:
The key words among most Negroes seem to be "unity" and "dignity". They are very friendly and helpful to black strangers. Negroes are prevented from satisfying their most basic needs. They only have a few rest rooms and drinking fountains and because of this they must stick close to them or they may have to walk miles. It was unlikely that any black man could have received a fair trial. They believe in the power of good to dominate evil. Such a philosophy was most prominent in the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. They think that even the Whites who hate Blacks are "God’s people. When we stop loving them, that’s when they win. A man who cannot love is degraded to the lowest level; he is deprived of his humanity." There are times when the only true escape for a black man is death.

P. East D:
He is a Mississippi newspaper editor and friend with whom Griffin stays in Hattiesbury. He decided to become a spokesman for racial justice. Now he gets threatening phone calls and must live in isolation. He has an incredible sense of humor, which is his way to cope with his tragedy.


John Howard Griffin’s journey took place in 1959, a time when many Whites had liberal attitudes on race and were happy about the progress towards full equality for Blacks. On paper, the civil rights legislation in the 1950s looks quite good: it includes the school desegregation order, the ruling on desegregated buses, the right of citizenship and the right to vote. But there was a vast difference beteween the actual and the paper status of Negroes in the late 1950s. Most Supreme Court decisions were ignored. Blacks were kept out of white schools, buses, rest rooms, eating places and hotels by any means. "We don’t want you people. Don’t you understand that?" Means of depriving blacks of their legal rights and the failure to prosecute crimes against blacks were still typical.


Racism is not only in the Southern but also in the Northern part of America. It is even in those who think themselves enlightened.

New Orleans:
There is a police that control and exploit Blacks. In common it is enough to be shocked, but it is not so bad for Blacks. However, in New Orleans a White can talk to a black without fear of being called a "nigger lover", as in other places in the South. "But if you think New Orleans is bad, you should see Mississippi!"

It is a place where Blacks must live in fear. There are almost no jobs for Negroes. The situation in Mississippi is unable to bear for Griffin. Blacks have no rights and there is the "white man’s justice", because Blacks were excluded from serving on local juries.

Alabama (Montgomery)
In Montgomery his impression is positive, because of the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr., whose philosophy was based on faith in the power of love and non - violent actions. Griffin finds not only optimism among Negroes but also real evidence of political progress.They have begun to hope that there really is a way to gain their rights.

Interpretation and personal comment

I take my hat off John Howard Griffin! I could never be in such a position to change my life into a Negro. It is true what the author says that only the skin colour decides on one’s life. I don’t know why we Whites claim that black people are dangerous - their skin couldn’t be the reason for our contention.

I think Griffin wants to tell Whites about what they are doing to Blacks. And if a Negro had written such a book, no one of the Whites would ever believe the writer. As a result that a white man had written this book, perhaps some Whites become aware of these racism problems.

Who can really say that Negroes are lower class people and have to do "dirty" works? I am prepared to admit that I also have prejudices about black people but I also try to lose these.

I presume that white people have prejudices about Blacks due to former times when black people were slaves and therefore lower class people. It is of the greatest significane for us to forget former times because Whites aren’t better in the present. And it is essential that all people get the same recognition and have the same rights to avoid needless troubles or armed conflicts.

Summing up, I may say that I was very impressed by the book. I became aware that I have also prejudices about Negroes. But more and more I try to understand black people because they aren’t lower class people. On the whole if Whites read such a book, I feel that they also begin to lose their attitudes toward Blacks.

1960 Worte in "deutsch"  als "hilfreich"  bewertet