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Black Like Me

In Black Like Me, John Howard Griffin offers the reader a disturbing glimpse into the segregated South of the culture of 1950s.  Griffin is a Caucasian who underwent pharmacological and topical treatments to darken his skin before setting out to experience just a bit of the world in which African-Americans were forced to live at that unique intersection of time and place in the United States.  He also shaved his head to erase hints of his white heritage and, by all evidence, was able to pass effectively as a black man.  The story is fascinating on many levels, and one need not be a scholar to appreciate the book.  However, this paper will address several important sociological concepts relevant to Griffin’s experience. Paper Masters can write a custom written research paper on Black Like Me that follows your guidelines.

Black Like Me

Socialization and Black Like Me

Understanding the process of socialization is critical to any reasonable interpretation of Black Like Me.  It would be a mistake to suggest that Griffin is able to report on the pre-Civil Rights era in the South from a black man’s perspective.  An adult with a white wife and white children when he began his journey through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, the author had been socialized as a white man.  He had already learned to conform to the norms and expectations of the white male.  He had internalized the sense of entitlement to certain privileges and opportunities enjoyed by those of his ilk in society.  As a Texan, Griffin was not naïve with regard to the “race game” and how it played out for whites in the southern regions of the United States.  Socializing agents included:

  • Griffin's white parents and peers
  • White teachers
  • White community
  • Media that touted accomplishments of white citizens

The impact of decades spent in this snowy environment did not magically disappear when Griffin darkened his skin and assumed the guise of a black man.   

Black Like Me and Social Class

One might argue that Griffin’s “whiteness” is his ascribed status, while his transformation amounted to an achieved status – one based on his own efforts!  Race is considered an ascribed status in that it is part of one’s birthright.  Given the lower status of the black man in southern culture, it might seem odd to use the term “achieved” to describe the author’s “diminished” class.  However, only because he was white and privileged were the means available to him, and he made the change of his own volition and for his own purposes.  He remains white by birth, with all the “perks” associated with that ascribed status.  When the going got tough, Griffin got white – depending on white resources and support to steer him through the darkness.

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