Thursday, July 21, 2016

Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin


By 1964 John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me had been reprinted at least fifteen times. Griffin and his book are forgotten today, unheard of in today’s vast universe of digital exploitation and home-grown racism. The tragedy being that such an important work of non-fiction could strike a chord with a nation of believers, only to find itself banished in an age that supports religious hatred, racial division, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I don’t believe in those people, and I don’t believe that the America we have become is representative of our true potential. We have changed so much since 1964, and everything that we once held dear as a nation is now polluted. In 1964 Bill Cosby was at the height of his fame; Martin Luther King was making historic strides for Civil Rights, and Bobby Kennedy was undergoing personal changes that would impact his view on Vietnam prior to his own presidential campaign. And then they were dead, except for Cosby, who remained unblemished until he, too, fell upon the funeral pyre and became a zombie. Black Like Me was first published in paperback in 1962 and became a best-seller. White novelist John Howard Griffin had his skin chemically treated so that he looked like a black man, and he set out to discover how black people are treated in the deep south. The resulting book was a groundbreaking piece of journalism and a remarkable work of cultural anthropology. Griffin discovered immediately how racism effects the black community, and he is plainly disturbed at the prevalence of racism in American culture. He is outraged, and throughout the book I had a sense that his outrage was growing. As a result, his journalistic objectivity has been criticized because he involved himself directly in his story. Griffin has also been criticized for offering “the white man’s view” of racism. I believe those criticisms miss the point. Griffin’s book explores that evil part of American life that is still predominant today. Griffin argues that racism must cease altogether, or what will ensue is “a senseless tragedy of ignorant against ignorant, injustice answering injustice – a holocaust that will drag down the innocent right-thinking masses of human beings.” Griffin was right, and sadly, that’s where the United States is today.

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