Black Like Me


John Howard Griffin

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Black Like Me: October 30, 1959 Summary & Analysis

Griffin has lunch with Adelle Jackson and George Levitan, plus three Dallas FBI officers, since he wants them to be aware of the project in case anything goes wrong. Together, they decide he shouldn’t change his “name or identity,” but “merely change [his] pigmentation and allow people to draw their own conclusions.” Griffin asks, “Do you suppose they’ll treat me as John Howard Griffin, regardless of my color—or will they treat me as some nameless Negro, even though I am still the same man?” In response, one of the officers gives him a bewildered look. “You’re not serious,” the man says. “They’re not going to ask you any questions. As soon as they see you, you’ll be a Negro and that’s all they’ll ever want to know about you.”
The decision to maintain Griffin’s current identity is a significant one, since it emphasizes the importance of physical appearance when it comes to racial discrimination. If Griffin experiences bigotry even while remaining honest about who he is, then, it will be unavoidably clear that his skin color is the only thing inviting such hatred. This, in turn, will enable him to show ignorant white people the extent to which their implicit biases are rooted in arbitrary matters that have nothing to do with identity and everything to do with superficial aesthetic notions.
Appearance, Identity, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Implicit Bias and Systemic Racism Theme Icon
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