“This may not be all of it,” John Howard Griffin begins. “It may not cover all the questions, but it is what it is like to be a Negro in a land where we keep the Negro down.” Going on, he suggests that some white people won’t believe that his experience disguised as a black man is an accurate reflection of what it’s like to be African American in the segregated South. However, Griffin insists that this is nonsense, saying that “we no longer have time” to argue insignificant points and ignore the facts. “The real story is the universal one of men who destroy the souls and bodies of other men (and in the process destroy themselves) for reasons neither really understands,” he writes.
Griffin’s decision to open Black Like Me with the sentence, “This may not be all of it” is important, since it addresses the fact that one person’s experience—and especially a white man’s—cannot necessarily create an all-encompassing portrait of racism and bigotry. By saying that this text might not “cover all the questions,” Griffin acknowledges that racism and discrimination are very complex, nuanced subjects. At the same time, though, he does claim that he has captured “what it is like to be a Negro in a land where we keep the Negro down” (it’s worth noting here that “Negro” was a widely accepted term when Griffin was writing this book). Of course, this claim is rather bold and will be put to the test in the following pages. Whether or not it’s true that Griffin has succeeded to convey the African American experience, though, it’s clear that what he really wants to communicate is that racism “destroy[s]” “souls” and “bodies”—a message that transcends whether or not he has successfully portrayed what it’s like to be black in America.