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Free Study Guide-Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin-Free Booknotes
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DECEMBER 1

Summary

The author masters the technique of zigzagging back and forth between being a Negro and a white. As a Negro he decides to visit the famed Tuskegee Institute, a Negro institute of education. It is here that the author meets a drunken white researcher from New York, who wants to share a drink with him -- a very embarrassing situation for a Negro. Just then a Negro turkey seller arrives and the white decides to buy all his turkeys. But the black man refuses his offer and this makes the white man very angry and he walks away, to get drunk, saying that the Negroes are funny.

The author boards a bus for Atlanta. The journey is quite uneventful till the author changes his bus at Auburn. The white bus driver asks a Negro youth and a middle-aged Negro woman who are sitting separately in the Negro section at the rear of the bus, to sit together so that two white women can occupy one of their seats. They quietly refuse and a white bully is about to slap them when the driver and one of the white women intervene for peace. After reaching his destination, the author enters a colored rest room and again shifts back to his white status. He asks a white man for a place to stay and the man directs him to an inexpensive lodging. This is because the author’s appearance is shabby according to the standards of the white man.

Notes

The author describes his experiences as he follows his dramatic, yet dangerous, technique of going back and forth between being black and white. He painstakingly describes this painful process whereby he would go through an area as a Negro by day and then usually at night, remove the dyes with cleansing cream and pass through the same area as a white man. He describes the dramatic contrasts when he is white and receives brotherly-love smiles and privileges from the whites, but hate stares or docile servility from the Negroes. And when he is a Negro, the whites think him fit only for the junk heap, while the Negroes treat him with great warmth.


The next part of the day’s entry is about the striking contrasts between the educated intelligentsia of both races, whom the author encounters when he visits the famed Negro center of higher education, the Tuskegee Institute. The Negro students see education as the only possible way out of the morass in which they find themselves and yet are sensitive and sensible to one another. The whites are the opposite. The author highlights this by describing his encounter with the Northern white Ph.D. The white Northerner has taken on the role of an observer and tries to be ‘nice’ to the blacks. He wants to have a drink with the author, which can create an embarrassing situation for a Negro. When a Negro turkey seller approaches the author to buy a turkey, the white scholar offers to buy up all the turkeys in an attempt to make up for the abuses he had seen practiced against the Negro. The Negro seller does not appreciate this "paternalistic" act and refuses his offer. The white man here tries to show that he wants to understand the problems of the Negroes but in reality the only thing that he is bothered about is gaining appreciation for his efforts. He is not sensitive enough to understand that this offer can offend the Negro.

This author narrates one more incident of brute white racism towards the Negroes. This happens when the author is on his way to Alabama. The driver asks a Negro to vacate his seat for two white women and he refuses to do so. This makes a white man very angry and he gets up to strike the Negro. Fortunately, this time good sense prevails in the white driver and one of the white woman passengers and so an ugly and violent scene is averted.

The next part of the entry is about the author’s confusion shifting back to white status. Now he cannot use the same easy, semi obscene language Negroes use amongst themselves, because coming from a white man it is insulting. He has to watch his every step.

When he checks into a hotel as a white man, he is again in a dilemma. He is well dressed for a Negro, but shabby for a white. A most complicated Jekyll and Hyde situation for the author, being both white and Negro, during the same day.

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