Black Like Me (Anglais) Broché – 20 octobre 2010
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"A stinging indictment of thoughtless, needless inhumanity. No one can read it without suffering." -Dallas Morning News
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Griffin spent a little over a month--parts of November and December, 1959--with his skin artificially darkened by medication. In that time he traveled through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, finding out at first hand what it is like to be treated as a second-class citizen--or, as he says, as a tenth-class citizen. Everyone now know the story of the big injustices, the lynchings, the civil rights cases, and for most people those are now just another page in the history text book. Griffin's experiences take the daily evils of racism and thrust them in your face, just as they were thrust in his--the rudeness of the clerk when he tried to pay for a train ticket with a big bill; the difficulty he had in finding someone who would cash a traveler's check for a Negro; the bus-driver who wouldn't let any blacks off the bus to use the restrooms; the white man who followed him at night and threatened to mug him.
I've heard people worry that this is the white experience of racism: that whites can read this book and feel good because a white person felt the pain too. I'm white, so I don't know that I can judge that argument completely impartially, but I can tell you that this book profoundly shaped my views on racism, and that any book that can do what this book did for me is a book that is good to have around.
One more thing. I've said a lot about how powerful, and how influential the book is. I should add that it is also a gripping story. Though Griffin only spends a month with dark skin, by the time you finish the book it feels like an eternity.
A wonderful read, and a truly amazing story.
Griffin had a deep understanding of discrimination even before he began this ambitious project. As a medic in the French Resistance Army, Griffin helped evacuate Austrian Jews away from the advancing Nazis. During the Second World War, Griffin lost his sight and was forced to live with this disability for over ten years. By 1959, Griffin was a published author and a specialist on race relations. Despite such credentials Griffin "really knew nothing of the Negro's real problem." Only by becoming black did Griffin understand what it was like to live as a second class citizen in "the land of the free."
As a black man, Griffin described the variations and similarities of race relations in different areas of the South. Although some states were more "enlightened" than others, blatant acts of racism were found almost everywhere Griffin went.
In Alabama, where Martin Luther King first introduced passive resistance, Griffin endured the hate stares from whites and observed that even graduates from Tuskegee Institute would not be allowed to climb the social ladder in the South because, "whites cannot lose to a traditionally servant class." Finally, while traveling to the otherwise enlightened city of Atlanta, the simple act of a bus driver saying "Watch your step" as his passengers filed out was only reserved for whites.
Even more interesting than these experiences was the way in which Griffin was allowed to converse with blacks and whites on racial matters. Understandably, blacks were highly suspicious of whites and were often inclined to play "the stereo-typed role of the 'good Negro'" when around whites to survive in white southern society. As a "black" man, Griffin enjoyed a rare glimpse of how blacks really regarded segregation beyond the white propaganda. He also discovered the ways in which blacks assisted and supported each other against the perils of racism. In other cases, Griffin observed blacks who were ashamed of their race and who would denounce other blacks for their darker skin or shabby clothes. As a "black" man, Griffin also saw a side of whites that would otherwise be hidden if he had met them as a fellow white man. His experiences with whites while hitchhiking through Mississippi are particularly intriguing.
Despite his experiences, Griffin was surprisingly fair in his analysis. While the reader may despise the hate-filled whites in his story, Griffin did not stoop to the racist's level by denying them their humanity. Instead, Griffin made it a point to see the whites in other roles-as a parent, grandparent, church leader, and loyal neighbor. He also realized that whites who may have been sympathetic towards their African American neighbors, were pressured by southern society to continue segregation. In his epilogue, Griffin was even critical of fellow white freedom fighters who often failed to consult with black community leaders on the race issue.
Griffin's work was a landmark for his time, but weaknesses in his study were present. Griffin visited the larger cities of the South; however, a comparison of race relations between the major cities and the countryside may have created a more complete study as would a visit to other states in the South. A better explanation was needed regarding Griffin's practice of alternating his role as a black man and a white man by scrubbing the stain off his skin. At first, the reader may assume that the author could no longer handle the discrimination and longed to enter the South as a first class citizen again. Later, Griffin maintained that he was studying how the reactions of blacks and whites reversed themselves as he changed his skin color. Both reasons are valid; however, if a need to be white again was the primary explanation than an important point was made: An educated and worldly white man could barely survive in six weeks what a black person must endure every moment of his life.
Black Like Me is a concise, fast and engaging read. The reader is often able to see things through Griffin's eyes, even as Griffin tries to see things through the eyes of others. He does an excellent job communicating the cultures of fear and despair he encountered. The entire account of his travels as a black man is riveting.
If there is any nit-picking to be done, let it be for this: at times, particularly early on, Griffin's descriptions of mundane, everyday objects and details seem forced and do not aid the narrative.
While today's racial tensions are much less overt (and much less publicized), Black Like Me still has quite a bit to say about the universal elements of human nature and the culture of racism.
John Howard Griffin penetrates into a world that seems almost beyond belief and yet is undeniably and startlingly real. Realizations await on every page to show that the generally sheltered cultural perspective of the typical white (like myself) could not conceive the situation which confronted blacks in the south every day just a very few years ago -- as experienced by a white man who changed his skin color and dealt with the consequences.
The book is made even better by a series of stories about his experiences after returning to the world of caucausions and going on the lecture circuit about the plight of blacks in the south. He demonstrates the rationalization and close mindedness that characterizes even those who consider themselves "good people".
This book would probably be too much to accept if not for the authors remarkably unassuming and explanatory style. Rarely has such a sore subject been confronted so directly and yet so plainly.
Highly recommended. I keep having to buy new copies because people will read a few pages and want a copy.
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