Black Like Me, 50 Years Later

It has become common today to dismiss the fact that racial issues still exist. Many people assume that racism is not as prevalent as it was in the 1950s. It is important to discuss this social issue because countless Americans do not realize that in our modern day society we still deal with racism. It is known that we often become ignorant and take a seat when we witness these cruel acts against one another, which is a factor in keeping racism alive.

You would think that with time and patience we would have a better understanding of each other, but similar to the 1950s, people are still as insensitive or unenlightened. In the early ages this confusion led to numerous experiments, such as John Howard Griffin’s experiment, which he explains in his award-winning novel, Black Like Me.

In the novel Black Like Me, John Howard Griffin advocates for racial equality in America. His perspective about racism was that equality and empathy could be developed in society through bravery, compassion, and knowledge.

He was able to develop his perspective on the topic by transitioning into a colored person, he first underwent medical therapy to darken his skin color, and then he posed as a black man for approximately six weeks. Griffin then published his experiences dealing with racism, which led to an eruption of public controversy and hate. The purpose of this experiment was to gain knowledge on the impact of racism in the Southern U.S. Griffin quickly found out, that once his skin was darkened, he was judged differently by nearly everyone he met.

During the period when Griffin was black, he became the subject of interest as some whites asked him about his sex life, while others looked at him with suspicion or hate. Each day that the experiment carried on, and he lives as a colored person, he is constantly reminded of his low social status when he is not allowed to use white bathrooms in addition to drinking fountains. While riding the bus, many whites refuse to sit next to him and he even became the target of racially motivated violence, such as being harassed and threatened with death.

Griffin’s perspective that equality and empathy in society is through courage, knowledge, and compassion is both right and wrong. Although I agree with Griffin up to a point, I cannot accept his overall conclusion because I do not believe that a twenty-eight-day experiment can give you the ultimate solution to racism. This experiment also cannot compare to the years of prolonged discrimination and racism suffered by colored people in the southern United States during the 1950s. For example, we see the struggles of black people, but we see it through the eyes of someone who does not regularly have to experience those struggles. This being said, Griffin can quit his experiment at any time, and he does this when he realizes how lonely and miserable he has become. Griffin himself writes ‘suddenly I knew I could not go back up to that room with its mottled mirror, its dead light bulb and its blank negatives,’. The essence of this quote goes to show that as soon as griffin got fed up, he stopped taking his medication and returned to being white, but these black people that he interacted with cannot stop being black. Ultimately, then, my goal is to demonstrate that Griffin’s intentions were good; however, he cannot fully understand the life a black person if he can easily transition back to white whenever times are getting hard.

Racism plays an important role in the novel because it is what the story is centered around. In other words, without this social issue arising, there would be no Black Like Me. The message that was conveyed in Black Like Me, is that racism can show itself in a myriad of ways. As we discover in the novel, racism does not always come wrapped in the same package. Racism may be delivered to you as a smiling face saying that you cannot use the white bathroom, sometimes it is an angry face threatening to kill you, and it can even be a person using science to justify their reasoning. This topic is applicable to life because analyzing the topic of racism helps you to become more understanding. For instance, no one is born a racist. People who are racist are usually that way because of the way they were brought up. They often get thoughts in their head about what is right and wrong.

In the novel, Griffin claims that, “no one was judging me by my qualities as a human individual and everyone was judging me by my pigment.” I’m of two minds about Griffin’s claim that “no one was judging me by my qualities as a human individual and everyone was judging me by my pigment.” On the one hand, I agree that people were judging him on his new skin tone. On the other hand, I’m not sure if he fully understands that being black is not just your skin tone or pigmentation, it is a way of life, it makes you who you are as a person.

Those unfamiliar with this school of thought may be interested to know that it basically boils down to whether Griffin Since communication between the white and African American races did not exist, neither race really knew what it was like for the other. Due to this, Griffin felt the only way to know the truth was to become a black man and travel through the South. He tells us that as a white man, he would see black people living in poverty or working terrible jobs, and he would assume that they either liked it that way, or could do nothing else. He even tells us that during the experiment he actively looked for bad things to say about black people. This is indicated when he states, ‘I have held no brief for the Negro. I have looked diligently for all aspects of ‘inferiority’ among them.”

This novel goes to show that racism causes harm to not just those who are on the receiving end. It hurts our society at large. Studies show that experiencing racism has profound effects on people’s health and welfare. The effects can include feelings of sadness and anger, even anxiety and depression. The regular experience of racism can lead to people withdrawing from work or study, and diminish their quality of life. It can also hurt people’s freedom and dignity. Those who endure racism can be made to feel they have less freedom, or are second-class citizens.

In conclusion, my feelings on the issue are mixed. I do support Griffin’s position that equality and empathy in society is through courage, knowledge, and compassion, I still insist that he cannot fully understand the topic within six weeks.

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