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Wednesday Wisdom: Book Review | White Man Using Blackface To Expose Prejudice & Racism

Updated: Jul 11

Wednesday Wisdom will be a consistent feature to my blog. Every Wednesday I will offer some form of wisdom, advice or encouragement. It’s important to me that HeavieTalk is not only informative but also uplifting.

For this week’s Wednesday Wisdom I will give a short book review on one of my favorite novels: Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. This nonfiction novel was written in 1959, pre-Civil War, when racism and prejudice was fluid in America. As a white man, living in the deep South, John Howard Griffin like others, refused to accept and lacked awareness of the racism and mistreatment black people experienced during that time leading him to conduct this bold experiment. With the intent of experiencing the daily life of a black laborer, John Howard Griffin, used blackface to learn more about racism and the struggle of a black man.

In the novel Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin, he journaled daily his experiences as both a black man and a white man. Throughout the novel, for the sake of the experiment, he attended the same places at different times as both identities, to determine how he would be treated. He was shocked to discover that he was treated differently as a black man, at the same places he went to as a white man and was treated respectfully. Although he started the experiment naive of the racism and prejudice in the world, after a long experiment he realized just how brutal it was.

While he could never plumb the depths of experience that only black people can know, he was exposed for several weeks to the insane hatred of racial discrimination.

Black Like Me: The Definitive Griffin Estate Edition (pp. 195-196). Wings Press. Kindle Edition.



As he conducted the experiment, he journaled his hatred for the black man that looked back at him in the mirror.

The worst of it was that I could feel no companionship for this new person. I did not like the way he looked.. But the thing was done and there was no possibility of turning back.

Black Like Me: The Definitive Griffin Estate Edition (p. 195). Wings Press. Kindle Edition.



He realized this unconscious prejudice was taught to him from his environment and how he was raised. He often characterized his childhood growing up in Dallas Texas as:

Southern in the old sense, the terrible sense.


When journaling the impact his childhood had on his intellect he wrote:

We were not rich but not poor either; we were genteel Southerners, and I was taught the whole mythology of race.

Black Like Me: The Definitive Griffin Estate Edition (p. 197). Wings Press. Kindle Edition.



He also wrote that his unconscious prejudice and the prejudice of others was an attitude carried down by elders.

Prejudices are taught directly or indirectly by elders but we are all submerged in the inculcation process. This unconscious environment of communication in which we are imprisoned blinds our perceptions to institutionalized racism. We tend to deny that racism exists in this new century, but our denial perpetuates the systemic process.

Black Like Me: The Definitive Griffin Estate Edition (p. 196). Wings Press. Kindle Edition.


Even if you decide not to take the time to read this novel, I challenge you to take a hard look at yourself and determine if you are unconsciously racist or prejudice. Whether an attitude taught to you or one that you adopted, you must be conscious of prejudices you have and the part you play in the bigotry still active in America.

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