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Black Like Me
In John Howard Griffin's novel Black Like Me, Griffin travels through many Southern American states, including Mississippi. While in Mississippi Griffin experiences racial tension to a degree that he did not expect. It is in Mississippi that he encounters racial stereotypical views directed towards him, which causes him to realize the extent of the racial prejudices that exist. Mississippi is where he is finally able to understand the fellowship shared by many of the Negroes of the 50's, because of their shared experiences. Although Griffin travels throughout the Southern States, the state of Mississippi serves as a catalyst for the realization of what it is truly like to be a Negro in 1959. Once in the state of Mississippi, Griffin witnesses extreme racial tension, that he does not fully expect. It is on the bus ride into Mississippi that Griffin first experiences true racial cruelty from a resident of Mississippi. It was late dusk when the bus pulled into some little town outside of Hatteisburg for a stop. "We get about ten minutes here," Bill said "let's get off here and stretch our legs" The driver stood up and announced "Ten minute rest stop,". The whites rose and ambled off. Bill and I led the Negroes toward the door. As soon as he saw us, the driver blocked our way. Bill slipped under his arm and walked away. "Hey boy where are you going?" the driver shouted at Bill while he stretched his arms across the opening to prevent myself from stepping down. I stood waiting. "Where do you think your going?" he asked, his heavy cheeks quivering with each word. "I'd like to go to the rest room." I smiled and moved to step down. He tightened his grip on the door. "Does your ticket say for you to get off here?" he asked. "No sir, but the others..." "Then you just sit your ass down." We turned like a small herd of cattle and drifted back to our seats. The large woman was apologetic, as though it embarrassed her for a stranger to see Mississippi's dirty linen.1(pg 63) Up to this point in the novel Griffin experiences exactly what he expects to experience. He is taunted with typical racial slurs, and other forms of hostility, which he is able to brush off as meaningless ignorance. This bus driver is denying the black customers the most basic of human needs. The bus driver attempts to not only humiliate them by forcing them to defecate and urinate in public on the bus, but the bus driver is also attempting to show all of the white customers what savages that the blacks are. Griffin never expects to receive anger and hate to this degree. Everywhere that he goes in Mississippi is full of hatred, and spite. As I walked down Mobile Street, a car full of white men and boys sped past. They yelled obscenities at me. A satsuma flew past my head and broke against a building. The street was loud and raw, with tension as thick as fog. I felt the insane terror of it. When I entered the store of my second contact, we talked in low voices. Another car roared down the street, and the street was suddenly deserted of Negroes, but then we appeared shortly.2(Page 67) For the first time while in Mississippi Griffin realizes that there are many individuals, who, if given the chance, would kill him simply because he is black. It is in Mississippi that he begins to identify with the blacks and begins to fully see himself as a black. Had he stayed in the more Northern states he probably would never have progressed to this state of mind. Griffin begins to understand that part of the reason for the hatred of blacks by many whites is because of the stereotypical image of the Negro in the 50's. In Mississippi he confronts racial stereotypes directed towards him that prompt him to realize how deeply rooted society's prejudices are. While trying to hitchhike through Mississippi he encounters white men willing to pick him up only because of their preconceived notions of Negroes. I must have had a dozen rides that evening. They blear into a nightmare, the one scarcely distinguishable from the other. It quickly became obvious why they picked me up. All but two picked me up the way they would pick up a pornographic photograph or book-except that this was verbal pornography. With a Negro, they assumed they need give no semblance of self respect or respectability. The visual element entered into it. All of the men showed morbid curiosity about the sexual life of the Negro, and all had, at base, the same stereotyped image of the Negro as an inexhaustible sex-machine with over-sized genitals and vast store of experiences, immensely varied. They appeared to think that the Negro has done all of those "special" things they themselves have never dared to do.3(pg.85) Griffin finds that hitchhiking at night through Mississippi is the best way to experience the underlying stereotypes found throughout Mississippi. A man will open up at night because it gives him an illusion of anonymity. Griffin can't conceive of how these men can have such distorted concepts of another human being. It becomes obvious that the reason these men have such little respect for the Negroes is because they have absolutely no understanding of them. Griffin realizes that before his travels as a Negro in Mississippi he too knew very little about them. The Negroes cope with this hate based upon ignorance by relying on each other. Griffin is able to conceive the strong bond between many Negroes, because of experiences that some Negroes share, while he is in Mississippi. While on the bus heading for Mississippi he notices how black strangers become instant friends As we drove more deeply into Mississippi, I noted that the Negro comforted and sought comfort from his own. In Mississippi everyone who boarded the bus at the various little towns had a smile and a greeting for everyone else. We felt strongly the need to establish friendship as a buffer against the invisible threat. Like shipwrecked people, we huddled together in a warmth and courtesy that was pure and pathetic.4(pg.63) Griffin speaks of his experience on the bus as though it is a battle zone because that is exactly what it is. The blacks realize that the key to surviving is unity and finding something positive in their situation. They each try to provide the others with something to be happy about and something to be grateful for. The blacks try to counter the hate and hostility that they encounter with warmth and kindness toward one another. Griffin can not understand this bond until he is in a situation where he is looking for kindness as much as the Negroes around him. Mississippi is where Griffin learns to not only act as a black, but also feel their pain as only a black can do. Griffin travels throughout the Southern States but his experience as a black in Mississippi serves as an awakening for him to the understanding of what being a black man in 1959 entails. While in Mississippi he witnesses extreme racial tension, which he had no idea existed until his visit to Mississippi. It is in Mississippi that he is the victim of racial stereotypes causing him to realize the extent of the racial prejudices towards Negroes. Griffin is finally able to understand the bond shared between many of the Negroes of the time, while traveling through Mississippi. Until the novel Black Like Me, the state of Mississippi adamantly denied that it had any racial problems, after the novel was released Mississippi and the world had to come to the realization that their were serious problems in the way that blacks were being treated. This novel is just as horrific to readers in the 90's as it was in the 50's, but while the 90's audience is convinced that they have escaped the problem of racism, this Bibliography Griffin, John Howard. Black Like Me. Sepia Publishing Company. New York. 1960. *All subsequent entries are from this source* Endnotes 1. John Howard Griffin. Black Like Me. Sepia Publishing Company. New York. 1960. *All subsequent entries are from this source*

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