Black Like Me

by

John Howard Griffin

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Black Like Me: October 29, 1959 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Having made the decision to disguise himself as a black man, Griffin drives to Fort Worth, Texas and meets with his friend George Levitan, the owner of Sepia magazine, which is popular amongst African Americans. Levitan is a kind man who believes in racial equality, so Griffin wants to hear what he has to say about his plan. “It’s a crazy idea,” Levitan says. “You’ll get yourself killed fooling around down there.” At the same time, though, he can’t deny that it’s a worthwhile project. Still, he urges his friend to consider the fact that he’ll become “the target of the most ignorant rabble in the country” and that racists will likely “make an example” out of him. “But you know—it is a great idea,” he says. “I can see right now you’re going through with it, so what can I do to help?”
Levitan wants to dissuade Griffin from posing as a black man because he cares about him as a friend, not because he fails to grasp the importance of such a project. At the same time, his fears exemplify the fact that many white people often fail to do the right thing when it comes to racial justice. Indeed, if all whites let their fears of becoming “target[s]” stop them from acting according to their consciences, there would be no white civil rights advocates. This, it seems, is why Levitan ultimately thinks the plan is “a great idea.”
Themes
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Griffin and Levitan agree that Sepia will pay for all of Griffin’s expenses in return for a handful of articles about what it’s like for a white man to experience life as an African American in the South. On his way out of the office, Griffin has a similar conversation with Sepia’s editorial director, Adelle Jackson. “You don’t know what you’d be getting into, John,” she says, pointing out that “all the hate groups” will descend upon him after he publishes his book. She also reminds him that there are “the deeper currents among even well-intentioned Southerners, currents that make the idea of a white man’s assuming nonwhite identity a somewhat repulsive step down.” What’s more, there are also “other currents that say, ‘Don’t stir up anything. Let’s try to keep things peaceful.’”
When Jackson references the “currents” in America that Griffin will surely disturb if he goes through with his project, she calls attention to the fact that the country’s racial dynamics are deeply ingrained. What’s more, she intimates that many white people are committed to preserving these dynamics at all costs, which is why they don’t want anybody to “stir [them] up.” Once again, then, Griffin comes face to face with the many reasons that often keep nonracist white people from speaking out against bigotry.
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Implicit Bias and Systemic Racism Theme Icon
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Related Quotes
Maintaining his resolve to go through with the plan, Griffin goes home and tells his wife, who agrees to look after their three children because she thinks it’s important for him to do this project. That night, Griffin goes back to his office (which is in a barn five miles from his house) and listens to the faint sound of crickets outside his window. “I felt the beginning loneliness, the terrible dread of what I had decided to do,” he writes.
Even before Griffin disguises himself as a black man, he begins to feel the intense and isolating “loneliness” of what it’s like to exist outside a life of privilege. Given that he’s about to leave his family to do this, it’s rather unsurprising that he suddenly feels an overwhelming sense of aloneness, one that will no doubt be exacerbated by the discrimination he’s sure to face.
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