1000 Books In 10 Years; Vol. 125: Black Like Me, by John Howard Griffin

In 1959, John Howard Griffin went to see a dermatologist about darkening the hue of his skin so that he could pass as a Black man and take a tour of the south and report of the treatment of Blacks. Interesting experiment, no doubt, but Griffin has a tendency to indulge in his adopted “Blackness” at points, and the book is surprisingly short, or at least the portion of the book that deals with his tenure as a Black man, as he opts to go back to being white after about three weeks, I think because he got scared shitless after one white man picked him up hitch-hiking with a shot gun in the cab of his truck and then went onto point out that it would be easy to kill a Black man and just dump the body in the swamp. His encounters with white people whist hitch-hiking are perhaps the most telling parts of the book. White men would ask him about the size of his reproductive organs and about his sex life and one guy even asked him to whip it out. Another boasted of the fact that he only hired Black women in his place of business after they slept with him, stating that putting a little white into Black children was doing Black people a favour, this mind you is the same guy with the shot gun in the cab of his truck. About a third of the book (which is less than 200 pages) is taken up detailing interviews Griffin gave after his experiment was finished and the afterword details how he would be brought into certain communities as a consultant on the “Black situation”. His advice invariably was to “ask Black people” about the situation, since they would be able to tell them better than a white man. But if Griffin truly applied this logic, he would have let a Black man write of his experiences down south, instead of usurping Blackness for his own experiment. Just saying.

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Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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