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

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NOVEMBER 24, 1959


The author continues hitchhiking in Alabama. A white man gives him a ride. The white man is at first nice as he starts asking Griffin about his family. Griffin realizes his true colors when he makes a snide remark at his wife. He then proceeds to tell the author how he’s had every Negro girl before they ever got on his payroll and the author is stunned at the sheer hypocrisy of this white man erroneously discussing the Negro’s lack of sexual morality. The white man then asks Griffin what he is doing in this part of the country and warns him that he will be taught a lesson if he creates any trouble.

Finally the author gets off and continues his walk. After a long walk, the author is very tired and goes to a wayside service station to buy some food and drink. At first the white owners refuse, but then they relent and sell him whatever he wants. Throughout this period, when Griffin is eating and drinking, he is aware of the discomfort of the old couple and therefore he leaves hurriedly.

Then the author starts hitch hiking again and this time he is given a ride by a young Negro sawmill worker. He tells Griffin how the whites, in order to maintain their control over the blacks, always keeps them in their debts, that is never allows them to completely pay off their debts. This man takes Griffin home for the night, although he is poor and has a large family of a wife and six kids. Although the family has little food, they share it with the author. The author suddenly remembers that today is the birthday of his daughter. As he looks at the children he notices the wide difference in the lives of these children and his own children. That night when the author goes out to urinate, he remembers, as a youngster, reading a description of a Negro boy stopping along a lonely path to urinate and he feels more profoundly than ever before the totality of his Negro-ness. He remembers his own children sleeping now in clean beds in a warm house. That night he has a nightmare, the same one that he has been having quite often. The next day Griffin travels to Montgomery. Sitting in the rest room, as he looks at himself in the mirror, he notices that his face has not only acquired the skin color of a Negro but that it has taken the forlorn expression that can be seen on the faces of so many Negroes. That night he calls up his wife and children and is glad to hear their voices.


Today’s entry in the diary is another example of the lust and lewdness of the white man, for whom his age or his image is no barrier. An elderly, white man, already a grandfather, informs the author how all white men craved colored girls and how he too had taken every Negro girl before they started working for him. These women adhere to his demands, as they need money to feed their kids. The appalling attitude of the whites is once again highlighted here as they think that they are actually doing a favor to the Negroes by getting some white blood in their kids. One more white, inhuman hypocrite! This elderly white man, like the others, is not just lecherous, but also mercilessly cruel as he threatens the author that if he stirs up any trouble he will be jailed or killed. This entry is about white privileges under racism, how one can merrily sexually abuse Negro women and also brazenly murder a Negro and toss him into a swamp and get away. As the author listens to this man he imagines how this man maybe when he is with his family. Griffin is sure that he never exposes this wretched side of his nature to his family. They see only his gentle nature.

The next part is one more example of white racism when the author wants to buy some food and drink and is at first refused, but later served by the white owners, only for the money’s sake.

The author’s description of his experience with the Negro saw mill worker is heart warming amidst all this cold, hard and bitter racism. The young Negro saw mill worker not only welcomes the author to stay the night with him, his wife and six kids in their two-room rickety, cramped shanty, but all eight of them also treat him with warmth and exquisite courtesy, reminding him of his family.

Then the author symbolically moves into another plane, that of nature and its relationship to man. On that lonely night, he feels more profoundly than ever, the totality of his Negro-ness and the immensity of its isolating effects. The contrast between the white boy reading a book about Negroes in the safety of his white living room and an old Negro man in the Alabama swamps, becomes even more striking. He thinks about his children asleep in their clean beds in a warm house while he, their father, a bald headed old Negro is sitting in the swamps and weeping softly so that the Negro children do not wake up. He recalls the Negro children’s lips soft and tender against his, like the night around, and so very similar to the feel of his own children’s good night kisses. This part poignantly reveals how everything is the same for a sensitive human parent, be he Negro or white.

The next part of the diary very acutely and sharply describes the mental and verbal gymnastics of racism -- how the white racist has masterfully denied the Negro a sense of his personal value, his human dignity and even his honor. It shows how the racists’ claim about the Negro’s lack of sexual morality and his intellectual incapacity -- are actually smoke screens to justify his own racist bigotry and unethical behavior. Scientific studies show how the middle-class Negro has the same family culture, the same ideals and goals as his white counterpart. How the Negro’s lower academic performance springs not from his racial heredity, but from being deprived of cultural and educational advantages by the whites. So as long as the Negro is kept in tenth rate schools he will remain scholastically behind white children -- circumstances and the environment determine his fate and destiny.

The final part of the day’s entry is the author fondly telephoning his wife and kids back home and his feelings as father and husband. However since he is doing it as a Negro, the strangeness and peculiarity of the situation is very strikingly described.


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