John Howard Griffin, who is the writer of ‘Black Like Me’, was born in 1920 and past away in1980. Inthe beginning of his career he had a job as a newspaper columnist and worked for a magazine called Sepia. This magazine was interested in finding out more about the lifes of coloured people in the United States. One day, Griffin came up with the idea to change his skin color into that of a black man. He wanted to experience what it would like to be coloured and to live under such poor circumstances under which almost all coloured people in the United States lived. He brought up his idea when talking to his friend George Levitan, who was editor of the magazine. George refused the idea. So did Adele Jackson, the director of the magazine. Many people warned John of the dangers he would encounter if he continued his plan. But Griffin didn’t give up and after some time he convinced them that it would be a great opportunity.
He decided not to impersonate another, but he kept his own identity. Before he started living in the ghetto of New Orleans he got to know the neighbourhood as a white man. He was curious and scared at the same time. Two very heavy but very educational months were waiting for him. He would have problems like racism, poverty, unemployment and homelessness.
This book is a good example of how relations were between white people and coloured people in the sixties. At that time, white and coloured people lived on different planets. They only knew negative things about one another. People didn’t know how to behave when there was contact with another culture. Quoting one of the people in the white neighbourhood in New Orleans: ‘The blacker, the worse.’ White people would discriminate coloured people but nobody knew why.
The issue of discrimination is still relevant today, but the form of racism has changed. The book gives many examples of discrimination in the sixties. Griffin describes well how black people are crammed into ghettos. A decent meal and clean air were hard to find. Griffin not only got thrown words to his head such as ‘nigger’, he was also repeatedly harassed. This form of discrimination may not seem new to us, nevertheless, certain aspects of the book will be shocking and almost unbelievable. It’s interesting to see how racism has changed in time. It’s also a shame to see that, after all these years, there’s still such a big distinction between black and white people.
The main characters are quite cliché. A worried wife, a helpful old man and a curious writer are not very exciting characters, but they do make the book clearer. ‘Black Like Me’ is written in diary form, but makes the impression to be fiction. Griffin seems to make things more dramatic than they really are. He seems to want to please the reader, rather than telling a true story. Overall, it’s a well written book with a clear message: skin color determines your entire life.
Word count: 510