Black Like Me


John Howard Griffin

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Themes and Colors
Appearance, Identity, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Unity, Division, and Communication Theme Icon
Implicit Bias and Systemic Racism Theme Icon
Fear and Violence Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Black Like Me, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Appearance, Identity, and Bigotry

In Black Like Me, John Howard Griffin emphasizes the profound effect that physical appearance has on the way a person moves through society. A white man, Griffin darkens his skin by taking pills that enable him to present as a black man. This, of course, is a fraught premise, especially with today’s understanding of the problematic implications of blackface and the offensive stereotypes white people advance by disguising themselves as African Americans. But Griffin’s…

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Unity, Division, and Communication

In Black Like Me, Griffin suggests that the only way to overcome division is by finding ways to effectively communicate both across and within cultural boundaries. First and foremost, he considers the division between white and black Americans and laments the lack of understanding between the two groups, intimating that the country’s racial problems have to do with an unwillingness on the part of whites to establish a fair dialogue with black people. What’s…

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Implicit Bias and Systemic Racism

Black Like Me documents the many kinds of overt racism that play out in everyday life, but it also looks at the ways in which black Americans are oppressed on a broader, institutional level. Indeed, Griffin upholds that racism manifests itself in the very structures of power in the United States, working its way into the country’s economic, educational, judicial, and religious institutions. What’s more, because these forms of discrimination aren’t as apparent as the…

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Fear and Violence

John Howard Griffin experiences many emotional moments while disguised as a black man, but nothing he encounters compares to the fear he begins to feel on a daily basis. A white man who normally feels safe at all times, after altering his skin color he suddenly finds himself terrified and in a state of constant self-defense, as white people antagonize him in any way possible. Although he’s never physically harmed during the project, he faces…

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