Book 2 Media

Posted: January 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

Black Like Me, the true account of John Howard Griffin’s endeavor to temporarily alter the pigment of his skin and pose as a black man on a six-week long journey across the Deep South in order to experience racism first hand, was coverted to film and released to audiences on May 20, 1964 by director Karl Lerner. This one hour, forty-seven minute long drama was filmed in locations which include New York City, Tampa, and Washington DC. Although the film’s setting was in the states that represent the Deep South such as Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, the director felt that the scenes should be shot in these other cities because of the racial tensions that were still spewing throughout the South, and the prime action such as protests on racism and segregation occuring in some of these hotspots (Washington DC, NYC) that they could capture on film, and include within the movie. Some of the stars of the movie Black Like Me include:

James Whitmore as John Horton

Sorrell Brooke as Dr. Jackson

Roscoe Lee Browne as Christopher

Lenka Peterson as Lucy Horton

Although this movie was never nominated for any major awards because of the controversy concerning this film during its time of release, many of its viewers have been touched by the films overall message behind Griffin’s accounts, and is sure to bring a tear to your eye, and a pang to one’s heart.

The clip below is an excerpt from the film, Black Like Me, that depicts John Griffin’s (Horton) encounter with a black man in a small cafe on a stop along his journey. Through this scene, we are able to view how he was treated differently by blacks because of the altered state of his skin tone, and how blacks depicted and acted upon a person’s race and heritage.

This was one of Griffin’s final statements in his journal after returning home to his family as the original, white, John Griffin. Upon receiving his wife and children’s greetings, Griffin questions once again how people are capable of being so cruel to one another based upon the other’s race when there are so much more important things in life, such as your family, to spend your time loving and caring about rather than putting allof your efforts into hating others unnecessarily because they are not the same color as you are. Griffin discusses how there are people starving in other countries, people that are alone and without, people that are dying and suffering, and all everyone seems to care about it whether or not a black man is seating in “thier” seat on a bus, or if a white girl sits next to a black girl in class. There are so many other important, REAL, issues out there, Griffin says, and it’s time for us to come to this conclusion and see that what we are doing is not necessary. We need to realize that the things we love in life are what matters, and what we should be focusing our efforts upon, not these petty issues that will get us nowhere in life. Love is what matters, Griffin realizes, and he shares this realization in his journal entries, hoping that others will read upon these, and come discover the same thing. If we all cared for one another and didn’t view people as black or white, short of tall, fat or skinny etc. but just loved them for who they are on the inside, this world would be a better place, and Griffin expresses this idea after finalizing his journey and receiving the love and compassion from his family that he had lived without for so long. 

Racism

Posted: January 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

Another major theme, as well as the main component and purpose of Griffin’s story, is that of racism. The entire purpose of John Griffin’s expedition was to explore that of racism, and to see what it was like on the other side so that he could gain a deeper understanding, and be able to compare the two. As a “black” man, Griffin finds it highly difficult to find food, shelter, a restroom, and even a ride across town on a bus. He is treated with hate and disgust by white people who are under the impression that he is a Negro, and he is constantly overwhelmed by the stench of lingering violence at every which way he turns as a cause to the color of his skin. However, on the other side, he is treated with warmth and compassion by his supposed “fellow blacks”, because they do not just see him as a white man, but for who he truly is on the inside, which is what they (both blacks and whites) should have been looking at all along. Although he recognized it before, Griffin comes to realize that not only do whites treat blacks differently than their own said “kind” but blacks do the same to Caucasian people as well. Both races seem to fail at understanding the other, and are unable to view them for who they are as people rather than dividing each other based upon the color of their skin. Through seeing what it is like on either sides of the fence, Griffin is able to piece together the conclusion that racism is an issue that must be stopped and that segregation was doing nothing but cause trouble in a society that deserved to come together and act as one rather than punishing one or the other because they are black/white. Even still today, we see acts of racism occur, and many are prejudiced towards one or the other based upon this minor variation in appearance. Racism is an issue that is still present today, and in reading about Griffin’s experiences and thoughts behind this given matter, one is able to come to their own realizations and conclusions concerning racism and how this issue is seen on both sides, black and white, through this common theme found throughout John Griffin’s accounts upon his journey.

“The completeness of this transformation appalled me. It was unlike anything I had imagined. I became two men, the serving one, and the one who panicked, who felt Negroid even to the depths of my entrails. I felt the beginings of great loneliness, not because I was a Negro, but because the man I had been, the self I knew, was hidden in the flesh of another.” -John Howard Griffin (p 16)

A constant theme of isolation and the sense of being alone remained prominent throughout Griffin’s recollections of his journey, and even remained so upon his return to somewhat normalcy. The quote above was said by Griffin in reference to his altered appearance as he was preparing to embark upon his journey across the South as a supposed black man. John Griffin is unhappy with the man in which he sees in the mirror, and does not feel that his appearance correlates with the man that he is inside, and who he feels that he is in his soul. Because of this, along with him being physically alone throughout his journey as well, Griffin begins to adopt this sense of isolationism between his appearance and his actual heart and soul (the white John Griffin that he has known for all of his life), and truly suffers psychologically as he tries to find somewhat of a connection between the two. In a way, I was able to sort of connect with the feelings expressed by Griffin upon this issue in that my mother underwent the same type of problem not that long ago. After being diagnosed with Breast Cancer, my mom had no choice but to get a hysterectomy. Her appearnce was significantly altered after this, and even to this day, she says that she cannot look in the mirror and say that she honestly feels like the same person that she was before. She is unable to find a connection with her physical appearance as it is now, and the person that she was before this occurence, and who she believes to be inside. This is highly similar to the thoughts expressed by Griffin, and that sense of isolation and struggle seemed to be somewhat familiar to me upon reading about his experience; enabling me to futher relate it to my life in a way that I had yet to believe a book of this nature could do for me.

This is another realization expressed by Griffin in the story after pondering a recent encounter with a white person that unknowingly treated a white man, disguised as a Negro, with such a level of cruelty and hatred that John had yet to experience from any man throughout his life as a Caucasian, all because the color of his skin appeared to be darker. This particular person, along with many others, automatically judged Griffin by the color of his skin. He didn’t know anything about who this man was, or what he stood for. He judged Griffin and treated him unkindly because he wasn’t like him. He wasn’t white. I have often wondered what makes white people feel like they are so much above everyone else who is not the same skin tone as they are. How are we better? In what way do we set ourselves apart from those who are “colored” to such an extent that we feel/have felt the need to treat them with such hatred? Griffin underwent this journey in order to find these types of questions out for himself, and experienced first hand what it was like to be harrassed and talked down to by a white person who felt that they were so much better than a colored person that they could behave in such a manner towards another honest human being based upon the color of their skin, and think that it was okay. It’s not okay in my book, and through reading of encounters such as this in which Griffin writes about in his journal entries, I have come to a better understanding of what it was like for a Negro during this time period, and how we should treat everyone with respect no matter what their skin color is, no matter what their hair color is, no matter what they’re wearing etc. It’s not right to judge a person based on appearances before you even know who that person is, and Griffin brings this idea to light and gives you a glimpse of the reality behind this premature judgement that has caused such controversy throughout our nation in the past, and even still some today.

The above quote was expressed by Griffin upon the completion of the skin darkening process, and his initial reaction toward seeing his new-found appearance in the mirror for the first time. Griffin underwent this process in order really understand what it was like to actually look like a Negro, and to better his disguise as he journied across the South posing as such. Upon reading about Griffin’s change in skin tone, I couldn’t help but think about whether or not Griffin would have ever become so active as far as civil rights and racism is concerned if he had not undergone this process. Before this journey, Griffin was no stranger to racism and recognized that it was a cause which must be dealt with, however; did he have deep enough understanding as a white person to actually do something about it, or did it take him actually changing the color of his skin and posing as a black man to truly get into civil rights, and want to put a halt to segregation? What if we all changed the color of our skin to see what it was like on the other side of where we are? Would we think differenlty about others, and would they about us? You always hear people say to “take a walk in someone else’s shoes” etc. but Griffin actually did just that. He walked on the other side, and look what he discovered. John Griffin’s actions such as altering the pigment of his skin make you consider these things, and enforce a sort of inspiration to look at ideas/issues with different eyes, and try to understand the reality of another that may not necessarily be in the same boat as you per say.

2005- In a novel or play that you have studied, identify a character who outwardly conforms while questioning inwardly. Then write an essay in which you analyze how this tension between outward conformity and inward questioning contributes to the meaning of the work.

Noteworthy author and civil rights activist, John Howard Griffin, significantly altered the pigment of his skin in order to pose temporarily as a black man; however, Griffin failed to realize that through this temporary alteration of his outward appearance, that who he wass on the inside, or who he thought he was, would ultimately change forever, and cause him to question his inward being as compared to who he had conformed to be on the outside, in order to temporarily become an altered version of himself and  successfully fulfill his experience upon this journey as the new, black, John Griffin.

In order to embark upon this journey, John Griffin felt that it was necessary to temporarily darken his skin so that he could physically look like a black man in order to experience racism first-hand. After completing the final procedure of the skin pigmentation process, Griffin’s initial reaction upon looking into the mirror for the first time was nothing less than total shock. Griffin exclaims that, “The transformation was total and shocking. I had expected to see myself disguised, but this was something else. I was imprisoned in the flesh of an utter stranger, an unsympathetic one with whom I felt no kinship. All the traces of the John Griffin I had been were wiped from existence. Even the senses underwent a change so profound if filled me with distress. I looked into the mirror and saw nothing of the white John Griffin’s past.” (p 16) Needless to say, Griffin felt as if who he was on the outside, and who he felt to be on the inside, were now completely separate from the “new”, black, John Griffin, and he significantly struggled to find a connection between the two throughout his journey, as well as the memory of this sort of double life of which he temporarily took on, for the rest of his life.

Along his journey, John attempted to learn how to talk and behave such as a Negro during this time period would have, and was able to come across as more believable to others through this portrayal of characteristics. Through this however, John felt that he was now facing issues in which he had not yet considered upon his transformation because as  he went about this alternate life-style as a black man in the South, not only did John experience first-hand the cruelty and hatred in which Negroes faced during this time, but he also felt that he was losing the “white” John that he was originally, and was now beginning to turn into this role in which he played on the outside after being able  to see and understand what it was like to be black during this time. Not only was John Griffin beginning to capture the true imagery of a black man through his outward appearance and behavior, but he now was also able to almost feel like one on the inside as he experienced the traumatic emotions and thoughts that would most likely run across a Negro’s mind upon being segregated and spit up by the rest of society during this grueling time.

Towards the end of his excursion across the South, Griffin writes that, “I felt strangely sad to leave the world of the Negro after having shared it so long–almost as though I were fleeing my share of his pain and heartache.” (p 143) This shows an idea of the struggle in which John Howard Griffin experienced upon trying to find a balance and connection between his two selves, the black and white John, and his thoughts behind why it was so difficult to leave one for the other because of the heartache and lament of which he felt upon having to trade one for the other. John Griffin’s alteration of his outward appearance not only fooled others into thinking that he was a black man, but in a way, it essentially fooled him into believing this as well. Even after the dark pigment of his skin began to fade and he began to return back to his normal life-style, Griffin could not help but feel that that as if there was still something left of the “black John” that he had once known so well and for so long. John Griffin was never able to truly connect who he felt that he was on the inside, whether it be the black or white version, to who he appeared to be on the outside, even after the fading of his skin pigmentation.

Through it all; the skin pigmentation, his journey across the South as a “black” man, and upon his return home to normalcy, John Howard Griffin seemed to constantly undergo some type of struggle to find the connection between this varying image of who he appeared to be on the inside, and what he felt was truly him on the inside as well. From “black John” to “white John”, John Griffin was never truly able to put the two together in a way in which he felt at ease with himself from the inside out, and serves as a primary example of how one’s appearance on the outside often off-stages who they may be, or have been at one time, on the inside as well, and poses for many struggles to come in order to find a balance within one self’s own being. But despite this confusion due to this temporary alteration of his outward appearance, John Howard Griffith discovered something that most people will never be able to understand, and that is to know first-hand what it is like to be someone else, a different race other than your own, and to feel what they feel, and understand their thoughts and emotions because you have been there with them, and have almost literally walked in their shoes. Yes, this discovery came with its consequences emotionally and psychologically as far as Griffin’s struggle for connection between his inward and outward appearances, but in the end, this journey proved to be worth the endeavors that he embarked upon through the findings in which John Howard Griffith discerned upon as a result of this journey.