Black Like Me

by

John Howard Griffin

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Black Like Me: December 4-7, 1959 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After returning to Atlanta and finishing his work with Don Rutledge, Griffin concludes that Atlanta “has gone far in proving that ‘the Problem’ can be solved and in showing […] the way to do it.” This, Griffin upholds, is the result of “three factors.” First of all, the black people in Atlanta have “united in a common goal and purpose,” and they benefit from strong community leaders. Second, “the city of Atlanta has long been favored with an enlightened administration.” Lastly, Atlanta has a good newspaper that isn’t “afraid to take a stand for right and justice.” This is vital, Griffin says, since most publications in the South simply print what the racist public wants to hear, only circulating negative stories about African Americans.
It’s worth paying attention to the reasons Griffin lists when considering why or how Atlanta has succeeded in “proving” that it’s possible to improve the difficult racial dynamics in the South. When he references the fact that Atlanta has good community leaders—around whom the population can “unite in a common goal and purpose”—he points out that the city has established a strong sense of unity, which ultimately enables African Americans to better address injustice. What’s more, he identifies the importance of good political leadership, thereby underlining the significance of an “administration” that can disrupt patterns of systemic racism on an institutional level. Finally, Griffin highlights the role that the media plays in such matters, reminding readers that open and honest communication is vital when it comes to combatting racism.
Themes
Unity, Division, and Communication Theme Icon
Implicit Bias and Systemic Racism Theme Icon
Griffin explains that two economists came to Atlanta twenty-five years ago and “recognized that economic emancipation was the key to the racial solution.” Indeed, they realized that black people would never be able to attain upward mobility if they kept using white banks, since these banks invariably denied loans to African Americans. For example, there was one instance in which the black community wanted to build more black housing, but none of the banks would give them loans to do so. As such, the community leaders pooled money from black citizens and used it to grant loans to people wanting to build property. As soon as the white “lending agencies” saw this, they said, “Don’t take all that business away from us. How about letting us handle a few of those loans?” 
This story about housing loans illustrates the effectiveness of community organizing. Rather than working within a system that is rigged against black people, Atlanta’s local leaders decided to create a new framework, one in which black people could thrive. By shifting to a new economic model, the black community ultimately enabled itself to attain upward mobility. What’s more, this success encouraged white banks to change their policies, thereby altering the patterns of institutionalized racism that normally make sure black people remain disenfranchised and oppressed.
Themes
Unity, Division, and Communication Theme Icon
Implicit Bias and Systemic Racism Theme Icon
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