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Black Like Me

HSB4M1-02 Independent Study Unit

Janine Thomas

on 15 April 2013

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Transcript of Black Like Me

Black Like Me John Howard Griffin Timeline Janine Thomas October 28 This passage is important because it explains why Griffin wanted to become a black man. It also demonstrates why Griffin did not want to be an observer; he wanted to experience emotion to create a more thorough study. This is also significant because it proves that Griffin’s actions were to promote racial equality. His intent was not to prove why black people should be inferior to whites. This chapter begins the reader’s journey, and is hopeful because of Griffin’s good intentions. Summary Importance October 28 November 7 On November 7, it was Griffin’s first experience as a black man in New Orleans. He was surprised at his reflection in the mirror because did not feel like himself. “In the flood of light against white tile, the face and shoulders of a stranger - a fierce, bald, very dark Negro - glared at me from the glass. He in no way resembled me....[I] lost the sense of my own being.”

Griffin had to adapt to different customs as a black man. He explored the same areas that he went to as a white man and was treated very differently (ie. as a Negro, he was not invited into any of the bars). Griffin also had to learn behaviours, such as letting white people on the bus first and then sitting at the back. He checked into a small, windowless hotel and had his first conversation with Negroes. Griffin noted that they were very friendly and polite. Summary November 7 Importance This date was important for a number of reasons. Griffin felt like a stranger when first viewing his reflection in the mirror. He was shocked, regretful, and felt unrecognizable. This means that he thought he was a whole other person just because he had a different skin colour. This is significant because he had to prove to himself why this feeling should not have happened. It was the beginning of his journey, and the reason for his experiment.

This section demonstrates the contrast between the white and black standard of living. Griffin had to stay at a cramped and extremely basic hotel room, even though he could have afforded a luxury suite at another location. The reason that he had to stay there was because it was the nicest hotel that allowed black people. Also, the Negroes seemed to have only existed simply to increase the standard of living for the whites. This is shown in the chapter when Griffin travels on the public bus, and has to change his behaviours to benefit the white passengers. November 8 On this date, Griffin stopped at a cafe and met a black man who explained where Negroes were allowed to go in New Orleans. He also travelled on a bus, and was yelled at by a white woman simply for smiling at her. Later on, he stopped at a shoe-shining stand and met a black man named Sterling. Griffin decided to tell Sterling about his experiment, as he interacted with him while he was white. Sterling gave Griffin some advice about his appearance (ie. shaving his arm hair), and in return, Griffin helped with shoe-shining. During that time, customers pretended that Sterling and Griffin did not exist. Other white men only spoke to them to try to find black girls. During their breaks, Griffin had his first glimpse of the hungry and drug-addicted Negroes. Later, Griffin wanted to find out if white men would help him with directions. Surprisingly, all of them were courteous and polite. After dark, however, Griffin was threatened by two white boys just because he was black. Summary November 8 Importance This passage is significant for a number of reasons. Griffin learned about the city and discovered the expectations of the Negroes. They had many rules that they had to follow, such as what places they could enter and protocol for interacting with the whites. He also saw the effects of poverty that black people endured, such as hunger and drug-abuse. Griffin discovered the way of life of Negroes in New Orleans, and was shocked by it. John Howard Griffin was an American writer living in Mansfield, Texas. On October 28, 1959 he decided to become a black man for a few weeks. He wanted to experience racism first-hand in the southern United States. He chose this method of study because he knew it was the only way to get a thorough and accurate understanding about what it was like to be a black person at that time. He was planning on using his research to write a series of articles about racism. November 14 Summary On November 14, Griffin had heard about the lynching of a black man in Mississippi. He experienced outrage from Sterling about the court refusal to hear the case. Griffin wanted to experience the atmosphere in Mississippi because of this event, so he decided to take a bus there. In order to do this, he needed to cash his traveller’s checks. Griffin walked into countless stores only to be refused at each. “They implied clearly that I had probably come by these checks dishonestly and they wanted nothing to do with them or me.” Later on, however, a Catholic book store cashed his check with no argument.

When buying his ticket at the bus station, Griffin was treated very rudely by the woman working at the counter. He was also treated poorly but the white people waiting at the bus station; he received many hate stares. On the bus, he met a Negro man who felt hateful towards his own race. The man felt superior to all of the passengers, and tried to start fights. Griffin also met a black man named Bill Williams who gave him advice about Mississippi and helped him find a place to stay. The driver of the bus was very racist and would not let the Negro passengers off at a rest stop. Bill, however, stood up for his rights and got off the bus anyways. Arriving in Mississippi, Griffin did not feel safe where he was staying and decided to call a friend for a place to sleep. November 14 Importance This day is important for a number of reasons. It demonstrates the white’s mistrust of black people because of a criminal stereotype. It is interesting to discover that a Catholic person did not believe in these stereotypes. This could imply that religion affects racism. This passage is also significant because it emphasizes the cruelty that white people inflicted onto black people for no reason. Griffin did not provoke any white person to treat him poorly. For example, no black person offended the bus driver. The driver just wanted to make the black people suffer in order to feel a sense of power. November 19 Summary On November 19, Griffin hitchhiked in Biloxi, Mississippi. During the day, he got a ride from a white man who insisted that southern people had good intentions. Later on, after being dropped off by the driver, he walked until dark. He noted that “ men would pass by you in daylight but pick you up after dark...all showed morbid curiosity about the sexual life of the Negro, and all had, at base, the same stereotyped image of the Negro...all that I could see here were men short of respect either for themselves or their companion.” Griffin had to endure countless conversations with different men about his sex life, and was forced out of their vehicles once they realised he would not give any information. November 19 Importance This passage is significant because it shows that all white men thought that black people had a interesting sex life. When talking to Griffin, most people assumed that “your people like this” or “your people admit this”. White men used black people for verbal pornography in exchange for a ride. This was interesting to read about, because I did not know that this was common at that time. It seems like white men did not care about breaching privacy, almost as if they did not regard Negroes as people. It is as if white men expected for Negroes to be proud of this stereotype, and to brag about personal experiences. November 21 Summary On this date, John Griffin spent three days in Mobile, Alabama. During this time, he spent many hours searching for food and water. He could only access these in the few Negro cafes across the city. He also spent his time looking for jobs. Griffin had a very difficult time with achieving this due to racist managers. For example, a worker at a plant did not hesitate to explain his racist beliefs to Griffin: “We don’t want you people, don’t you understand that? ...we’re gradually getting you people weeded out from the better jobs at this plant. We’re taking it slow, but we’re doing it. Pretty soon we’ll have it so the only jobs you can get here are the ones no white man would have...we’re doing our damndest to drive every one of you out of the state.”

At the end of the day, Griffin realised that there were two different atmospheres in Mobile: a different perspective for both the white and the black people. He also concluded that Negroes saw a different face of the southern whites than the whites saw themselves. Black people always saw an hatefulness in the expressions of white people. November 21 Importance This date is important because Griffin realised the hardships that black people had to go through everyday. He experienced first-hand the struggles that Negroes had to endure just to meet basic human needs (ie. food and water). Griffin also understood the perspective that black people had on whites; they were not fooled by their kind composure as they constantly received hatred from them. November 24 Summary On November 24, Griffin hitchhiked on the highway and received a ride from a white man. The man appeared to be friendly, but as the ride progressed, terrified Griffin with threats about the acts white people would do to misbehaving Negroes. Throughout this experience, Griffin tried to picture the man’s alter identity to keep calm: the man who was a participant in the community and who had a family.

After the man dropped Griffin off on the highway, he was picked up again by a Negro man. The man offered to let Griffin stay with him at his home. Griffin got to experience how a Negro family lived. The family lived in complete poverty, but extended great courtesies towards Griffin. During the night, he had an emotional breakdown due to missing his children. November 24 Importance This date is important for a number of reasons. The hitchhiking event is important because it is a representation of what all white people were like at the time. Everyone first appeared to be friendly and polite until racial issues became present. Griffin was trying to see both sides of the man in the car: the white, family man as well as the white, racist man.

Griffin realised that the only reason his family was not living in bad conditions was because of skin colour. This also applied to all aspects of life; black people did not have access to opportunities and were treated with complete hatred simply because of their race. Griffin concluded this after searching for other reasons for inferiority and coming up with nothing. November 25 Summary Griffin travelled to Montgomery, Alabama and experienced a new atmosphere. Black people were more hopeful about racial equality due to the influence of Martin Luther King Jr. They also developed a strategy of nonviolence so that authorities would have no right to punish them. It was the white people’s strategy, however, to evoke violence from the Negroes. That way, the whites could claim self-defence if ever brought to court. This would have definitely put the black offender in jail. This atmosphere was also different as it was more tense between the races: “the issues had degenerated to who would win”. November 25 Importance I decided that this was an important day in Griffin’s journey because it shows a community where black people had the closest chance of achieving equality. It depicts a different picture of a southern town, as black people were fighting back. It also demonstrates the motives of Negroes in this town; they aimed to reverse the roles and become superior to the whites. This is why the atmosphere was so tense. It was a battle to win the racial war. November 28 Summary On this date, Griffin decided to become a white man. He had to be extra careful when making this transition, especially when first emerging onto the streets. Griffin left during the night, and crossed the path of a Negro teenager. The boy took out a knife as if to warn Griffin not to harass him. Once he passed into the white sector of the city, Griffin felt elated. He could have entered any building that he wanted to. He did feel remorse, however, when thinking of the Negro men who did not have the same opportunities. Griffin checked into a lush hotel, and was assisted by a Negro boy. November 28 Importance This passage is significant because it demonstrates the connections between the blacks and the whites. Black people seemed to be extremely distrustful of whites, and constantly felt threatened by them. This explains why the Negro boy had a knife when walking at night. Black people felt like they always needed to defend themselves from an attack, just because they had a different skin colour. This day is also important because it shows the contrast between the different lifestyles of black Griffin and white Griffin. The Negro Griffin had many boundaries that he had to respect. As a white man, he had total freedom. Freedom, however, did not seem like enough for most white people as they felt that they needed to be superior to another race. November 29 Summary Griffin decided to become white to experience the city of Montgomery with a different perspective. He understood that the southern whites were truly friendly and polite but did not realise their racism. He also experienced reversed roles while walking in a black sector of the city. Griffin received hate stares from the blacks. These were the same looks that he saw from the whites when he was black! November 29 Importance This passage is important because Griffin got to see a southern town through different eyes. It is interesting because he experienced the same hate from the black people as he did from the white people. This means that that no matter what the skin colour was, a person would receive hate from the opposite race. It seems like it was an ongoing battle for superiority that would eventually lead to war. December 1 Summary On December 1, Griffin was constantly switching his skin colour. He reflected that “...when I was white, I received the brotherly-love smiles and the privileges from whites and the hate stares or obsequiousness from the Negroes. And when I was a Negro, the whites judged me fit for the junk heap, while the Negroes treated me with great warmth”.

Griffin (as a Negro) travelled to a university and met a racial observer from New York who wanted to interview him. After he refused, the observer showed racist behaviours and told him that he was going to write an article supporting segregation.

Griffin was on a bus and a small verbal fight occurred between a black man and a white man. Later, when the bus was almost empty of white people, a white man told the Negroes that he would have defended them if violence happened. At the end of the day, Griffin switched his skin colour to white because he could not stand the constant degradation. December 1 Importance This passage is important for a number of reasons. Griffin realised that no matter what type of person he was, he would always be accepted by whatever racial group he was apart of. It also proved that Griffin was performing his observation for the right reasons (to promote integration) when compared to the corrupt observer. The incident on the bus showed that even though white people’s intentions were true, they were too afraid to stand up for their beliefs against their own race. December 2 Summary On this date, Griffin travelled to the Trappist monastery to explore the connection between racism and religion. He noted the contrast between the church and outside atmospheres. He felt that the monastery was more welcoming. Griffin also discovered the justifications of racism in the South. A monk told him that “...outside I had seen mostly men who sought to make God’s will conform to their wretched prejudices.” The monk also told him that white people who visited were not bothered by Negroes. He said, “Here, men know nothing of hatred. They sought to make themselves conform ever more perfectly to God’s will”. He also gave Griffin a book that proved that the Bible did not promote racism. December 2 Importance This day is important because it helped Griffin understand the reasoning behind racism. People thought that it was okay to treat others less than themselves because of a passage in the Bible. Griffin, however, realised that people were purposely misinterpreting it in order to justify their actions. This day is also significant for Griffin because he was healing from the constant degradation he had endured from being black. This healing allowed him to learn valuable lessons about his journey on racism. March 17 Summary On March 17, Griffin was in New York doing interviews about his experience in the South. After the television airing of two interviews, Griffin’s mother received a phone call. His mother was threatened by another woman simply because she did not agree with Griffin’s beliefs. She stated, “Why he’s just thrown the door wide open for those niggers, and after we’ve all worked so hard to keep them out”. The woman also implied that Griffin was going to be a victim of abuse when he returned from New York. After this call, Griffin ensured police surveillance on both his and his parents’ houses. March 17 Importance This is a significant passage because it shows the racist’s view on Griffin’s actions. They were terrified about the aftermath of his observations, so they felt like they could make a difference by terrifying his family. It seems like drastic measures to ensure that integration would not occur. April 2 Summary On this date, Griffin’s effigy was hanged on Main Street. It was half black, half white, and had his name printed on it. The town seemed to have no comment on this event. When Griffin’s dad went to the supermarket, however, people showed support for his son. Nevertheless, Griffin received threats (ie. castration) and hate stares from his past friends. He decided that it would be safer to take his family and leave town. April 2 Importance I chose this passage because I thought that it was a good representation of the results of Griffin’s experiment. It shows that people did not want integration to occur, and took out their anger about Griffin’s actions on him and his family. It shows that people did not want to accept change, and the actions they would take (ie. violence) to ensure that it would not happen. August 17 Summary Griffin hired a Negro boy to help him clean his parents’ house. They discussed how racism starts, and concluded that it was taught by parents to their children. They also realised that racism occurs due to lack of communication. In addition, Griffin explains that black people were just as racist as whites if they started demonstrating anger and hatred. He concluded his journal with predictions that a war would happen if “ignorant [is] against ignorant” and “injustice answers injustice”. August 17 Importance I thought that this passage was important for a number of reasons. Griffin explains how racism begins, and implies that if parents stop teaching racist beliefs, there would be no racism occurring in the next generation. In today’s society, this fact is true - there is less racism in our generation than the previous, due to fewer racist beliefs. Griffin also explains that stereotypes start because of limited interaction with a specific group. People start regarding others as “they”, “them”, or “those people”, and regards their own group as “we”, “us”, or “our people”. Griffin concluded that if both races regard the situation with hatred, a war would begin. This is a profound statement that causes the reader to question their own beliefs, to try to prevent any wars. HSB4M1-02 April 15, 2013 Summary
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