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

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NOVEMBER 19, 1959


The author arrives in a coastal town and learns from a local Negro that Negroes arenít permitted to enjoy the beaches. The blacks find this even more objectionable as a part of the money that they pay for gasoline is used for the maintenance of the beaches. A pleasant Northern white man from Massachusetts gives him a ride and tells Griffin that the whites do not appreciate his sympathy for the blacks. The authorís encounter with the next white man, at the ice cream stand, is an absolute contrast to this. The owner of the ice cream stand is a typical Southern white. He refuses to let the author use the toilet in the dilapidated outhouse near his ice cream stand and directs him to a toilet that is more than ten blocks away.

The authorís next encounter with racism is quite a terrible one. The author asks for lifts and, contrary to the mornings, number of white men give him a ride in their cars. It is only after stepping into the car that Griffin realizes that these men are giving him a lift only to discuss the sexual life of the Negro. One of them even asks him to expose himself, because he has never seen a Negro naked - So much for the ethics and morals of the white man.

In pleasant contrast to these depraved whites the white construction worker from Alabama, who gives Griffin lift appears "color blind," since he does not treat the author as a Negro, but as an equal. From his conversation with the man, Griffin learns that he is returning home to his wife and his infant child, who he loves very much.

Finally, when the author reaches his destination that night, an unknown, kind, elderly Negro preacher invites him to share his tiny, but brightly lit, home as long as he wishes to. This is even though the author is a complete stranger to him.


The first part of todayís entry gives another glimpse of white racism and also Negro opposition. The Negroes arenít permitted to savor the flavor of the beaches, but can only sneak off to some isolated spot if they want to swim. Fortunately, the local Negroes have decided to oppose this racial segregation.

The next part of todayís entry is a contrast and is about the good whites, though few and far between. A Northern white man from Massachusetts, who, though he has lived in Mississippi for five years, gains nothing but apathy from his neighbors when he expresses any sympathy for the Negro. Griffin once again experiences racism, when he stops to buy an ice cream at an ice cream stand, and the white owner refuses to let him use the toilet. One more example of how the white man means nothing but business with the Negro.

The next part of the diary is the most despicable in the whole book. The episode related here once again strips the white man and exposes him in all his naked depravity devoid of even the fig leaf of any self-respect or respectability. It shows white men, with not just morbid curiosity but also, with outright misconceptions about the quantity and quality of a Negro's his sexual experiences. White men with a stereotyped image of the Negro as an inexhaustible sex machine with vast and varied store of sexual experiences, who has done all those things that they themselves have never dared to do. White men who believe that a Negroís life consists only of marathon sex with many different partners open to the view of all, while marital fidelity and love are exclusively the white manís property. Whites who believe that Negroes are over-sexed, because they grow up seeing sex from infancy and hence illegitimate children and loss of virginity are natural to them. But the depths of depravity are plumbed when one white even wants the author to expose himself to him, as he has never seen a Negro in the nude.

In this entry the sexual aberrations of white men are stripped bare. The author here gives a very mature and sensitive response to the white manís depraved fantasies and degenerate illusions. He painstakingly explains to the young white boy that the Negro is not a mystery but is similar to the white man and that Negro trash is the same as white trash and Negro decency is the same too. He tells the young man that if one puts the white man in the ghetto, deprives him of education, makes him struggle hard for self-respect and gives him little physical privacy and less leisure, he would, after a time, assume the same characteristics as the Negro. The author is therefore trying to explain to the young man that every child id born innocent, what he eventually becomes is determined by the environment that he lives in.

According to the author, racism destroys the Negroís mind and intellect, his soul and spirit. The Negro today knows that something is terribly wrong, that the only way out of this tragedy is through education and training. So thousands of them sacrifice everything to get an education and prove once and for all that the Negroís capacity for learning and achievement is equal to that of any other man - that the pigment has nothing to do with intelligence, talent or virtue.

Finally, at the end of all this lewdness, just when the author is ready to cry out, ĎEnough,í he has a completely different experience. This is when he meets a white construction worker, who, surprisingly, is colorblind. He appears totally unconcerned about the fact that the author is a Negro and converses with him on equal terms. The author tries to understand how this man can be so oblivious to his (Griffinís) skin color in these times of racial hatred. He finally comes to the conclusion that; this probably has to do with the intensity of his love for his family. This love that he pours on his family somehow spills out onto the whole of mankind.

And finally there is the character sketch of an elderly and kind Negro preacher who invites the author to stay with him for as long as he wants. He is one more shining example of Negro brotherhood and fraternity amidst all the white sodomy and savagery. These two experiences that Griffin has gives him a lot of hope, hope that love can exalt the human spirit.


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