Black Like Me

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate April 2001

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This novel opened my eyes to things I could never imagine. Some of the encounters that Griffin had, I honestly believed only happened on The Jerry Springer Show. I, being too young to have experienced segregation, have never known anyone to cat in such hypocritical ways. This book truly enlightened me on my own personal ignorance of my own ignorant country.

When Griffin first began his "transformation" into a Negro, I was astonished at how the doctor reacted. I am sure that the doctors intentions were good natured though the way he kept warning Griffin made it sound as though "becoming" a Negro was the worst thing a man could possibly do to himself. By sending this subtle message, he showed me that even a doctor who speaks and acts as though he is definitely not raciest in any way, shape, or form somewhere deep down in his soul he still believes that the Negroes are a lower class.

As Griffin begins his journey as a Negro he comes across his first encounter of pure racism (on both sides of the spectrum). Griffin merely tries to be polite and offer a white woman a seat next to him on the bus. The other Negro's on the bus showed disapproval. This is the first of many instances where the Negro's show their racism toward the whites. Before the woman had a chance to respond the automatically thought that this simple act of kindness was "going against the race". On the other hand, the woman did turn out to be exactly what the Negro's expected. Her reaction was crude and uncalled for. Both the Negro's and the white woman showed their mutual dislike for one another. Unfortunately, this ridiculous and ignorant behavior happens constantly throughout this book. One of the more distressing displays of ignorance mentioned in this book is on the part of the Negro.

It is a sad thing to read that the very Negro's who constantly complain about how they are treated by the whites, Griffin included, can treat another human being in that very same manner (another Negro no less). By calling a beggar a "dogass" directly to his face and by purposely degrading this man Griffin and his Negro friends are putting themselves on a higher level than the beggar. This is exactly what the whites do to them. The saddest part of it all is that Griffin and his friends actually take pleasure in doing this and making this poor man feel as if he were on a lower level than they were. Maybe some Negro's do understand why the whites act in the way that they do. The whites do it for they same reasons that the Negro's do it, to feel as if they are better than the other person. Somehow this makes them feel good about themselves.

That same day Griffin encounters a white boy harassing him. This really irritated me because I just do not understand how any person could take pleasure in seeing someone else terrified of him or her. It is all about feeling superior. Just like how Griffin took joy in seeing the beggar beg, this boy takes joy in seeing Griffin get scared. It is sick! Yet, the worst part about this episode is the old couple that seems not to care in the least about a man (no matter what his color) that is terrified for his life. Griffin never mentions what color the couple was, but weather they were black or white how could a person sleep with themselves at night knowing that they are capable of being so uncompassionate towards another human being? Griffin meets some Negro men at a café at the Y.M.C.A. They talk together about many different subjects. One subject really struck a nerve with me. One of the men Griffin was talking with said, "If you want to be a good Christian you mustn't act like one." And "if you want to be a good American, you've got practice bad Americanism." From the Negro's point of view this must be true. The whites viewed any attempt toward racial justice and equality as unchristian. For some ignorant reason most whites in the south believed that that was not what God had intended. Therefore, they had the wonderful idea to just kill all the "damn niggers". Anyone who attempted to take the first step towards racial justice was seen as a communist and had some long drawn out conspiracy against the white race and ultimately America. The whites believed that the Negroes would take over the country. So, in the ignorant minds of the southern whites the idea of Negro take over gave them all the more reason to suppress the Negro's. It is painfully obvious that these moronic white people are not only ignorant but hypocrites as well. How can a person say that they are a man of God (as so many of them claim) and either justifies their own actions or those of others when those actions are detrimental to the livelihood of other people? At this point in the Novel Griffin is still in New Orleans, where he had begun this project. A few very degrading things happened to him there. At one point Griffin is simply reading a menu outside of a "white" restaurant. For some ungodly reason the whites in the restaurant were, to say the least, not too happy about this. These fools gave him dirty looks. It upsets me so much, as well as surprises me, to know that just because of his God-given skin color a Negro man did not even have the right to read in the south. In my opinion, Griffin's next encounter with a white man was even more degrading. Griffin sat down on a park bench to take a load off when an old white man passed by and pleasantly suggested that he find somewhere else to sit. Come to find out, there was no law stating that a Negro could not sit in that park. The old mans pleasant face seems more insulting than the scornful faces of the whites in the restaurant. At least the people in the restaurant were not scared to let it be known exactly how they feel towards Negro's. The old man, for whatever reason, felt the need to hide behind a fake smile.

The young bus driver who slammed the door in Griffin's face and refused to let him off of the bus made one of the most outrageous acts by a white man in this novel. This man then proceeded to drive Griffin eight blocks past where he originally tried to get off. This man, for lack of a better word, is an asshole. I believe that this bus driver must have had a self-image problem. In order to feel better about himself he needed to publicly humiliate this Negro. (Of course I am sure that the bus driver meant no harm, his white psychologist probably suggested that he practice humiliating other people as a form of therapy.) Griffin apparently had a very difficult time when it came to transportation in the South. When he decided to go to Mississippi he came across a young lady that worked at the bus station as a ticket teller. This woman treated Griffin as if he were the most repulsive heap of scum she had ever come across. She gave him what the Negro's call the "hate stare". I have decided that this girl must have some sort of a chemical imbalance. I cannot bring myself to believe that a person could truly hate another human being this much unless there was something terribly wrong with their thought process. Maybe this poor woman had Turret Syndrome and could not help acting this way. Needless to say I feel very bad for her that she has to live her life with the handicap of being cruel.

Once Griffin got on the bus he had another run in with the public transportation employees. The bus had stopped at a rest stop. The white passengers were allowed off to stretch their legs and use the restroom. The Negro's had to remain on the bus. Now this guy has no excuse he was just plain dumb. When someone has to go, they have to go, even if they are black. The one Negro who decided to urinate in the back of the bus is a better person than I. I would of sat right down in the drivers lap and gone there. Of course this would not have been very smart. The Negro's, on the other hand, had the right idea. They did not let the stupid bus driver get to them. That man, in the back of his puny brain, wanted the Negro's to humiliate themselves by urinating all over the bus and therefore paying the consequences.

Griffin's most humiliating experience, by far, with transportation in the South had to have been while hitchhiking through Mississippi. For some sick reason every white man that picked up Griffin only wanted to talk about his sex life. I am not quite sure why they thought that this was any of their business, but even if it were their business, I am not sure why they would want to ask about it. By asking questions about the sex life of a Negro just made these grown men look like a bunch of inexperienced little boys. I suppose they got off on degrading Griffin by asking him these things as well as by degrading themselves by, basically, openly admitting their own lack of manly hood. I personally would have told them some really wild stories that would have made them feel like the little boys they were acting like. I suppose that is why God choose not to make me a Negro in the South in those days. I probably would never have made it past my thirteenth birthday. (If the whites did not kill me for being so openly defiant to their "superior race", the Negro's would have killed me for making their race look bad.) One man that picked up Griffin had some real issues that he needed to deal with. He was practically certifiable. He talked about his family and church as though they were a large part of his life. Yet, he showed absolutely no shame in admitting that he would only hire a Negro woman if she "put out". This seems, to me, to be a very large case of conflict of interest. One cannot possibly be a family man and a man of God and still commit adultery (practically rape) every other day. Being that this display of conflict of interest was so great I would be willing to bet that this psycho must be schizophrenic. This is the only logical reason that I can think that would cause a man to act in this fashion.

Griffin's last encounter, as a Negro, with the transportation in the South was very humorous to me. The driver of the bus that Griffin was on in Georgia always made it a point to tell the white passengers to "watch your step, please". He never said this to the Negro passengers. An older Negro woman was boarding the bus behind a group of white people. The driver had to say, "watch your step, please" to the white people. As the black woman passed him she was the only person to say thank you. I was so proud of this woman. She put that uncouth bus driver in his place. She did not cause a scene and did not lower herself to his level. She just simply killed him with kindness. This is exactly the way all of the Negroes in the South should have acted.

It is unfortunate that I cannot go into detail about all of the injustices in this novel. If I did I would end up writing a novel myself. Though, just as I said in the beginning, I could never imagine anyone acting in the way they did towards another person simply because of their skin color. The different ailments that I have chosen to believe these people must have are the only logical explanations that I can come up with to try to explain to myself how anyone could be so hateful and ignorant all at the same time. This novel was truly an eye opener into the world of the Southern Negro.