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However, Black Like Me is a unique piece because the author, John Howard Griffin, is a White man in a “black skin.” As a matter of fact, my interest to read the book stems from the fact that the author was a white man.
Griffin doubles up as the author and the main character in Black Like Me. The setting of the book is 1950s and 60s when racial prejudice was rampant in the United States. Driven by empathy and desire to understand the black experience, Griffin makes a radical step by undertaking a medical procedure that saw his skin color temporarily changed to resemble that of a black man. Sterling Williams, an articulate shoe-shiner becomes the contact person for Griffin within the black community. In his new identity, Griffin sets out to explore what life in America is all about when your skin color is black.
Griffin’s narration of his experiences is a shocking tale of discrimination and cruelty. He shoulders the burden of being black when all sort of insults, rudeness, racial slurs, violence among other forms of victimization are directed to him. As if this is not enough, Griffin comes to a surprising reality he is denied access to basic necessities such as place to live, reputable employments, transportation, and restrooms on account of his dark skin color. Perhaps revealing encounters unfold at the end of Griffin’s exploration when he transforms back and forth between black and white identities. He discovers that he can hardly receive similar positive treatments from both the white and black folks who had treated him kindly a few moments earlier. For instance, as a white man, blacks treated him with indignity and, on the other hand, whites treated him with disrespect when he turned his skin black.
The author finally makes a return to his family in March 1960 and restores his skin color back to white. He then publishes his article that ends up attracting massive attention from both prominent television shows and magazines.
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