Black Like Me
|Black Like Me|
|Author(s)||John Howard Griffin|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover and paperback)|
Black Like Me is a nonfiction book by journalist John Howard Griffin first published in 1961. Griffin was a white native of Dallas, Texas and the book describes his six-week experience travelling on Greyhound buses (occasionally hitchhiking) throughout the racially segregated states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia passing as a black man. Sepia Magazine financed the project in exchange for the right to print the account first as a series of articles.
Griffin kept a journal of his experiences; the 188-page diary was the genesis of the book.
In 1959, at the time of the book's writing, race relations were particularly strained in America; Griffin's aim was to explain the difficulties facing black people in certain areas. Under the care of a doctor, Griffin artificially darkened his skin to pass as a black man.
Robert Bonazzi subsequently published the book Man in the Mirror: John Howard Griffin and the Story of Black Like Me.
The title of the book is taken from the last line of the Langston Hughes poem "Dream Variations":
- Rest at pale evening...
- A tall slim tree...
- Night coming tenderly
- Black like me.
Account of the trip 
In the autumn of 1959, John Howard Griffin went to a friend's house in New Orleans, Louisiana. Once there, under the care of a dermatologist, Griffin underwent a regimen of large oral doses of the anti-vitiligo drug Methoxsalen, trade name Oxsoralen, and spending up to fifteen hours daily under an ultraviolet lamp.
To complete the illusion, Griffin used dyes to cover uneven areas and closely cut his hair.
During his trip, Griffin made it a rule that he would not change his name or alter his identity; if asked who he was or what he was doing, he would tell the truth. In the beginning, he decided to talk as little as possible to ease his transition into the "black world", i.e., the social milieu of southern U.S. blacks. He became accustomed everywhere to the "hate stare" received from whites.
After he disguised himself, many people who knew John Howard Griffin as a white man did not recognize him. A black shoeshine man named Sterling Williams in the French Quarter, a man whom Griffin regarded as a friend, made no connection with his looks now that he was black. Because Griffin wanted assistance in integrating with the black community, he decided to tell Sterling that he was in fact the white man he'd met before. He first hinted that he wore the same unusual shoes as somebody else, but Sterling still did not recognize him until Griffin told him.
In New Orleans, a black counterman at a small restaurant chatted with Griffin about the difficulties of finding a place to go to the bathroom. He turned a question about a Catholic church into a joke about "spending much of your time praying for a place to piss".
An episode on the bus reveals the climate of the times. Griffin began to give his seat to a white woman on the bus, but disapproving looks from black passengers stopped him. He thought he had a momentary breakthrough with the woman, but she insulted him and began talking with other white passengers about how sassy "they" were becoming.
After his book was published, Griffin received many letters of support, helping him get through this difficult period.
Griffin became a national celebrity for a time. In a 1975 essay included in later editions of the book, he described the hostility and threats to him and his family which emerged in his Texas hometown. He was forced to move to Mexico for a number of years.
- John Howard Griffin (1961). Black Like Me. Houghton Mifflin. LCCN 61005368.
- John Howard Griffin (1962). Black Like Me. Signet Books. ISBN 0-451-09703-3.
- John Howard Griffin (1977). Black Like Me. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-25102-8.
- 2nd Edition, with an epilogue by the author.
- John Howard Griffin (1996). Black Like Me: 35th Anniversary Edition. Signet. ISBN 0-451-19203-6.
- John Howard Griffin (1999). Black Like Me. Buccaneer Books. ISBN 1-56849-730-X.
- John Howard Griffin (2003). Black Like Me. New American Library Trade. ISBN 0-451-20864-1.
- John Howard Griffin (2004). Black like me: the definitive Griffin estate edition, corrected from original manuscripts. Wings Press. ISBN 0-930324-72-2.
- John Howard Griffin (1962). Black Like Me. Collins.
- John Howard Griffin (1962). Black Like Me. The Catholic Book Club.
- John Howard Griffin (1962). Black Like Me. Grafton Books. ISBN 0-586-02482-4. (repeatedly reprinted under same ISBN)
- John Howard Griffin (1964). Black Like Me. Panther. ISBN 0-586-02824-2.
- Malcolm X makes reference to this book in The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
- A Boy Meets World episode, 'Chick Like Me', references and bases the plot on Black Like Me.
- A Saturday Night Live episode featured a short film starring Eddie Murphy called "White Like Me" where they used make-up effects to turn Murphy into a white man."White Like Me"
- In the John Waters film Hairspray, itself about racism, Penny Pingleton (Leslie Ann Powers) is seen reading this book while standing in line next to her African-American boyfriend.
- In the Alien Nation (novel series), Alien Nation #5: Slag Like Me by Barry B. Longyear, 1994, is an allusion to the book.
- An episode of the comedic Adult Swim series Aqua Teen Hunger Force, titled 'Shake Like Me', is a direct parody of the title and plot of the book.
- An article from the Fall 1999 issue of Souls Magazine is entitled "Black like Mao"
See also 
- American Civil Rights Movement (1896-1954)
- American Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968)
- Timeline of the American Civil Rights Movement
- Grace Halsell, a white investigative reporter who lived for a time as a black woman and wrote the book Soul Sister about her experience.
- The Lowest of the Low (German: Ganz unten), a similar book about Turks in Germany written by Günter Wallraff
- Black Like Me profile at the IMDB
- Urban Legends Reference Pages: Death of John Howard Griffin
- "I decided not to change my name or identity. ... If asked who I was or what I was doing, I would answer truthfully." (page 4) Black Like Me, Signet & New American Library, a division of Penguin Group publishers.
- "I had made it a rule to talk as little as possible at first." (page 23)
- He looked up without a hint of recognition. ... He had shined them many times and I felt he should certainly recognize them.(page 26)
- "There were six thousand letters to date and only nine of them abusive" (page 184)
- Kevin Connolly (25 October 2009), Exposing the colour of prejudice, BBC News
- Jonathan Yardley (March 17, 2007), John Howard Griffinthe Finish, Washington Post
- Robert D.G. Helley & Betsy Eech (Fall, 1999), Black Like Mao, Columbia University