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  • Mary L. Hanna

BLACK LIKE ME: Looking at the Seminal Work 62 Years Later

by Anna R., MPT Intern

John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me has long been considered a keystone work. The author’s blunt descriptions of the life he experienced after dyeing his skin and introducing himself into Black society in the South has been lauded as eye-opening, especially to white people living in the United States. However, over 60 years after this work was published, does it still hold up? In this post, I want to compile a short list of resources that allow for a further examination of the text and an understanding of modern perspectives on the lessons it teaches. 

“Rereading: Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin,” published in The Guardian by Sarfraz Manzoor, examines the book in the context of its 50th anniversary. While Manzoor acknowledges the continued role of the book, he also highlights some areas where the book is problematic, such as questions surrounding the credibility of certain experiences described by Griffin. This review also brings the unique perspective of someone who is not Black, but was still marginalized by society. As the author states, “as an Asian teenager growing up in the 1980s I felt like a second-class citizen.” This is a powerful review of the book, providing a critique from a unique perspective and from 50 years after the novel was first published. It can be found at https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/oct/27/black-like-me-john-howard-griffin.

“Black Like Me, 50 Years Later” by Bruce Watson is also an examination of the text for the occasion of the 50th anniversary of its publication. Watson includes the perspective of numerous other authors, which provides a good overview of competing ideas surrounding the text. It also highlights some problematic aspects of the text. For instance, the point is raised that Griffin was saying in this book the same thing Black people had been saying for a long time. It also points out that Griffin eventually limited the number of speaking engagements he took on to allow Black people to share their own experiences. This text argues that there is a continued place in society for the lessons of the book, while highlighting some of the issues it presents. This article can be found at https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/black-like-me-50-years-later-74543463/.

“Fifty years after publication, ‘Black Like Me’ still resonates” is a newspaper article for the Dallas Morning News written by Chris Vognar in 2012. This article examines the many “parodies, distortions and dissections that speak to [the novel’s] cultural resonance” and how these can highlight the book’s true impact on society. While the author of this article acknowledges that Griffin’s book continues to strike cultural nerves, Vognar also highlights that the book is dated and, regardless of Griffin’s intentions, remains a book from the perspective of a white man who was a “tourist” in the society he was examining. This article can be found at https://www.dallasnews.com/arts-entertainment/books/2012/02/10/fifty-years-after-publication-black-like-me-still-resonates/.

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