Black Like Me


John Howard Griffin

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Black Like Me: November 28, 1959 Summary & Analysis

After taking the stain off his skin and dressing in low-contrast clothes, Griffin looks like a tan white man. Once he does this, he decides it’s “important to get out of the neighborhood and into the white sector as quickly and inconspicuously as possible.” In the street, a young black man sees him and reaches into his pocket, grasping a knife because he thinks Griffin is going to “harass” him. To “reassure him” that he has “no unfriendly intentions,” Griffin walks up to him and says, “It’s getting cold, isn’t it?” The young man, for his part, stands “like a statue, unresponsive.” As Griffin moves through town, he has trouble “adjust[ing]” to life as a white man, though he eventually feels a “sense of exultant liberation” when he walks into a nice restaurant and is greeted with kindness. That night, he checks into a white hotel.
When Griffin tries to connect with the frightened young man, he finds himself unable to bridge the gap between the white and black communities. This is because this gap—at least in this moment—is one based on fear, since the young man thinks Griffin is going to “harass” him. Readers might recall Griffin’s fear when one of the white drivers who picked him up urged him to say that he is attracted to white women. In that scene, Griffin felt trapped, knowing that he might be putting himself in danger if he responded to the white man’s question. Similarly, this young man on the street now clearly fears that speaking to Griffin might lead him into a difficult situation, so he remains silent. As such, readers see the ways in which fear inspires a rift between blacks and whites, shutting down any possibility of genuine communication between the two groups.
Unity, Division, and Communication Theme Icon
Fear and Violence Theme Icon