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

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NOVEMBER 6, 1959


The author has been taking the treatment for the past four days, which is making him feel very sick and uneasy. The doctor discusses his fears and also his own experiences with the blacks. This is the day the author meets his first black friend, a shoeshine man.


In this entry in his diary, the author describes his painful experiences undergoing the treatment to color his skin black -- a treatment that causes nausea and uneasiness and is very dangerous. Yet, he is determined to go ahead against all odds and this is yet another deeper glimpse of the authorís courage and unwavering will.

The readers here also get an insight into the white dermatologistís thinking. He resembles many white liberals, who on the one hand overtly believe in the brotherhood of man, but deep down inside still harbor racial prejudices and biases against the blacks. This becomes clear in some of his statements. One of them is -- "the lighter the skin the more trustworthy the Negro." Another statement that he makes is that, Negroís inherently love violence. And like the others of his kind, he also has ample evidence and personal experiences to support these racial biases and prejudices.

The author here meets the man, who is going to be his contact in the world comprising the blacks. It is Sterling Williams, an elderly, big and lame, shoeshine man with many sterling qualities. He is intelligent, polite and friendly and so the author confides to him his true identity as a writer touring the South to study the living and working conditions and civil rights of the blacks. But he does not yet reveal that he intends to do this as a Negro. Williams is full of dignity and self-respect, and just does not only shine other peopleís shoes but is a lustrous person himself.

NOVEMBER 7, 1959


The author ends his treatment with the doctor, who is now very apprehensive about the ill effects of the treatment, and so asks Griffin to contact him anytime he is in trouble. He bids farewell to his host, who is also very worried about this change of identity. Then the author tries to contact his home but fails. Finally he shaves his head bald, darkens his skin further and then walks out into the New Orleans night as a Negro. He goes into "oblivion," experiencing firsthand, for the first time, the very suffocating life of a Negro, on a streetcar and in a drugstore. But luckily he meets another Negro in his hotel and though a very brief encounter, it gives him much warmth and pleasure.


Todayís entry in the diary is very memorable for the very graphic description of the authorís dramatic transformation into a fierce, bald, black man, who feels Negroid even in the depths of his entrails.

As Griffin looks at himself in the mirror, he experiences a sense of panic. The man staring back is a huge bald black man. At this point, the author experiences an identity crisis. This is because; he is unable to find any semblance of the reflection with his true self. His true self seems to be hidden in the "flesh of another." He cannot identify with the black man, who he sees in the mirror. He now realizes the enormity of this major step - his transformation into a Negro. As Griffin gets ready to face the world as a black man, his fear and loneliness increases. This is because he realizes that the time, when he is actually going to face white racism, has come. Griffin knows that if his family were to see him now, all that they would see, is a large black Negro. He is appalled and devastated with what the future holds for him. But in spite of these emotions, his determination is supreme and he decides not to turn back, come what may.

The author faces white racism for the first time after his transformation. He boards a trolley but only after allowing a white man to enter first and he can take a seat only at the back amongst the other blacks, both of which are the laws of the land. There is another glimpse of racism when the author enters a drugstore to buy some cigarettes. Although everything is the same as when he was white, this time he cannot go to the soda fountain and order limeade or ask for a glass of water. As a Negro, he is forbidden to do so.

The third description of racism is of the very dim and dreary living conditions of the blacks. When the author checks into the Sunset Hotel, he is given a desolate, windowless cubicle, scarcely larger than the double bed. Even the bathroom is antique and rust-stained and broken down. All this arouses a deep gloom, a desperate sadness, and a sense of suffocating, which degrades the authorís spirits -- like the very name of the hotel, Sunset.

But amidst all this ruin and decay, the author also wants to show the reader the strength and solidarity of the blacks. He warmly describes his first long contact with other Negroes who treat him with great kindness, courtesy and respect, so that he feels reassured that a human being can show feelings other than hostility or hate.


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