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Free Study Guide for Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin BookNotes

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OCTOBER 30, 1959


The author informs the FBI about his plans. He tells them that he will truthfully tell people his name and identity and then see if they treat him the same, or as a nameless Negro. One of the FBI men tells him prophetically that he will only be treated as a Negro.


In this entry in the diary the readers get a glimpse of the depth and extent of white racism against the blacks. He decides that he will not change his identity after the transformation. Having come to a decision, he wonders whether he is going to be treated as Griffin or a nameless black. But deep down he knows that the whites will not go beyond his skin color and that he will be treated as any other black. For white society, everything is but skin deep.

NOVEMBER 1, 1959


The author arrives in New Orleans to begin his experiment in transforming himself into a black man. He strolls through the white part of the city and wonders what the black part, where he will be staying in the days to come, is like. After having his supper, he contacts an old white friend who, fortunately, insists that he stay in his house and not in a hotel, while he transforms himself into a black.


This dayís entry in the diary is about the authorís visit to New Orleans. It is mainly a description of the white part of the town. The authorís literary skills are displayed in this description. The imagery is very sensuous-- the sights and sounds and smells are all very strange, enchanting and magical. Griffin has his dinner in style, in a superb courtyard, under the stars, amidst lanterns, trees, candlelit tables and a fountain, surrounded by elegant waiters, elegant people and elegant food. As he is having his dinner, he wonders whether he will be allowed to come to these places when he is a black. Griffin is determined to go ahead with his plan, even though he is aware of how difficult life will be for him in the black part of the town.

NOVEMBER 2, 1959


In this entry in the diary, the author gives a detailed account of how he goes about finding a dermatologist, who will help him in carrying out his plan. The author gives the dermatologist his case history and the former decides the line of treatment after consulting his colleagues. The doctor and the author agree that, the latterís body will be exposed to ultraviolet rays after he consumes some tablets, which will transform his skin color. In order to protect his host from any hostile reprisals, he does not tell him anything about his plans. He only tells him that he is on an assignment that he cannot discuss with anyone. He even tells him that he might disappear without saying goodbye. Then he tries to find a way of entering the black world, which, he realizes, is very difficult.


In todayís entry in the diary the readers are introduced to the dermatologist, who, though he has never been requested to change the color of a personís skin, is willing and suggests oral medication followed by exposure to ultraviolet rays. But this treatment is fraught with great risk and takes from 6 weeks to 3 months. The author however wants to accelerate the process and is even willing to monitor the treatment with constant blood tests. Once again the readers get an insight into the authorís great courage and even his determination. The readers by this time must have realized the great risks involved in undergoing a treatment to change oneís skin pigmentation. The author is willing to go through all this in his pursuit of truth.

This entry in the diary also gives a glimpse of the authorís acute sensitivity as he decides to carry out the treatment in private and not involve his host in any way, so that there are no hostile repercussions on him. The readers also meet the host, a generous, anti-racist white, the first example of white heroism.

Finally todayís entry describes the author walking through the poor and crowded black part of town, searching for an opening, a contact, a way to enter the world of the Negro. Once again the courageous character of the author is revealed as he tries to enter the black world -- which is a very complicated act for someone who has never personally seen that part of the world, a world about which he has only read about.


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