Black like Me
John Howard Griffin’s powerful memoir Black Like Me explores multiple aspects of belonging. Disturbed by the racial prejudice of the Southern States of America, Griffin undertakes a bold social experiment and lives as a Negro for two months in the South. Set in 1959, Griffin undertakes a series of medical supervised drugs and tanning salons to change the colour of his skin. As a white, catholic journalist Griffin is shocked by the extent of the racial prejudice he encounters and how deeply it affects him. The systematic barriers created and fostered by the white society in these southern states creates a lack of belonging for the negro population deemed inferior which disturbingly is fostered by the white community. However from this racial exclusion what also surprised Griffin was the kindness and racial solidarity that he encountered amongst the Negro community. The connections and sense of belonging within the Negro community deeply affected him and on completion of the social experiment he is left with a feeling of not belonging to either community. The American southern states of America’s laws and attitudes create enormous barriers for the Negros that limits and prevents them from belonging to the larger world. The barriers to belonging are not just laws but often unwritten and reinforced through violence and aggression. Griffin’s struggles to accept when a friendly Negro, Sterling foreshadows examples of the barriers when he states that “you’ve got to plan ahead now, you can’t just walk into any place and ask for a drink or use the restroom.” His use of imperatives when explaining this and how he will struggle to cash a cheque and even must be alert when sitting on a park bench highlights the dangers if a negro attempts to integrate into large parts of the town. Griffin encounters these attitudes with the dismissive aggression coming from the shop owner who violently orders him to leave as “We don’t serve niggers” and when he looked at a...
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