Black Like Me by Howard Griffin
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Griffin beganhis experiment in New Orleans on November 6, 1959. He faced many incidents ofdiscrimination during the month, and experienced many emotions. When he calledhome he felt like an outsider, a stranger.
The discrimination Griffinfaced was appalling, including reactions of anger and
disgust on the solebasis of his skin color. Once, he was let off the bus 10 blocks past his stopbecause the driver refused to stop for a black man. Another time, he feared forhis life when a young white man followed him in the dark, threatening and mockinghim. No store would cash his travelers checks, fearing they were stolen. Thereseemed no end to the discrimination.
After finishing his project, Griffinreturned to his hometown of Mansfield, Texas. He told his story in manynewspapers, magazines and television interviews. Though many Americans applaudedwhat he had done, others were infuriated that he "turned against hisrace." Harsh words were written, threats were made to his family, friendswere lost and enemies made. He was even hung in effigy.
Thisgroundbreaking book shocked America. Griffin captured the black experience at atime when African-Americans had few ways to express the daily discrimination theyfaced. His work exposed how bad race relations really were.
Griffin usedan excellent blend of facts and personal experiences in Black Like Me. His storywas very emotional and exciting; I was never bored. His vivid descriptions mademe feel I was there right beside him. I also realized how cruel the human racecan be. In my daily life I am not directly affected by racism, and this bookopened my eyes and helped me see this issue more clearly. Before, I couldn't evenfathom the level of discrimination African-Americans face, but now I know itplays a large part in their lives, even today.
I recommend Black Like Meto anyone looking for a straightforward, heartfelt book. Once I started reading,I couldn't put it down!
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.
Griffin’s purpose in darkening his skin was to discover what it was like to be an African American in the South. He called his experiment a “scientific research study,” and clearly his intention was to write journalistically objective articles for Sepia detailing his experiences. During his experiment, however, Griffin lost his detachment, and the book is a series of journal entries, some of them very emotionally charged. As a reporter for Sepia, he gave his audience traditional reportage; as the author of Black Like Me, he gave his audience a series of personal narratives intended to persuade his readers that segregation must be eliminated in the South.
While Black Like Me is not specifically directed at young adult readers, it has been and continues to be extremely appropriate for them for several reasons. First, the style is straightforward, unpretentious, and honest. Griffin uses fragments and simple sentences, short paragraphs, and an easy-to-follow chronological order. He keeps the entries short except for a few long, emotional narratives; these are very effective, and their length in the context of so many short entries reinforces their importance. Griffin uses enough dialogue to provide narrative variety and employs a range of informants—successful and poor African Americans, white liberals, and extreme racists—letting them speak for themselves. The book is also fast-paced: In the first eleven pages,...
(The entire section is 553 words.)