Rest at pale evening…
A tall slim tree…
Night coming tenderly
Black like me.
This passage from Langston Hughes’ poem “Dream Variations” inspired the title of John Howard Griffin’s 1961 book Black Like Me in which, Griffin, a white writer from Texas, deeply concerned with American racial issues, uses a combination of dermatology medication and ample exposure to a heat lamp to take on the convincing appearance of a black man. Effectively disguised, Griffin tours the American south for six weeks, from New Orleans east to Georgia, wholly immersed in the day to day existence of being black in America in 1959.
And it is through this 1st Person narrative, an exercise in empathy writ large, that Griffin encounters the everyday racism that African Americans experience every day. It is a steady barrage of minor slights and major offenses, of psychological torment and physical threat, of second-class status and the constant degradation of dignity, of life lived in a lesser context.
This reality has context historically, but being black in America has an inherent disadvantage that can’t effectively be denied any more today than it was when Griffin wrote his book in the morning of the Civil Rights movement nor a century earlier when the onerous “blackface” practice began.
And in 2019 we still wonder how the f#ck Gucci thinks fashion is a blackface sweater with big red lips (and a price tag of $890!) or we discover the governor of a great state (and many of his peers) thought blackface was cool back in the day or the contemporary college students who still think it’s just a joke.
Maybe Black Like Me can be required reading for anyone who’s considering going blackface or has done so in the past. Too much to ask? Fine…
Watch the movie on YouTube.
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