70 Black Like Me
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70 Black Like Me JOHN HOWARD GRIFFIN [In 1959 award-winning journalist John Howard Griffin decided to investigate race relations in the South. Taking medications to darken his skin, he assumed a black physical identity and recorded his experiences traveling in that region. Ed.] November 6 For the past four days, I had spent my time at the doctor's or closed up in my room with cotton pads over my eyes and the sun lamp turned on me. They had made blood tests twice and found no indication of damage to the liver. But the medication produced lassitude and I felt constantly on the verge of nausea. The doctor, well-disposed, gave me many warnings about the dangers of this project in so far as my contact with Negroes was concerned. Now that he had had time to think, he was beginning to doubt the wisdom of this course, or perhaps he felt strongly his responsibility . In any event, he warned me that I must have some contact in each major city so my family could check on my safety from time to time. "I believe in the brotherhood of man," he said. "I respect the race. But I can never forget when I was an intern and had to go down on South Rampart Street to patch them up. Three or four would be sitting in a bar or at a friend's house. They were apparently friends one minute and then something would come up and one would get slashed up with a knife. We're willing enough to go all the way for them, but we've got this problem-how can you render the duties of justice to men when you're afraid they'd be so unaware of justice they may destroy you ?-especially since their attitude toward their own race is a destructive one." He said this with Teal sadness. I told him my contacts indicated that Negroes themselves were aware of this dilemma and they were making strong efforts to unify the race, to condemn among themselves any tactic or any violence or injustice that would reflect against the race as a whole. ''I'm glad to hear that," he said, obviously unconvinced. He also told me things that Negroes had told him-that the lighter the skin the more trustworthy the Negro. I was astonished to see an intelligent man fall for this cliche, and equally astonished that Negroes would advance it, for in effect it placed the dark Negro in an inferior position and fed the racist idea of judging a man by his color. When not lying under the lamp, I walked the streets of New Orleans to orient myself. Copyright © 1960, 1961, 1977 by John Howard Griffin. Copyright renewal 1989 by Elizabeth Griffin-Bonazzi and The Estate of John Howard Griffin. Reprinted by permission. Copyrighted Material Black Like Me 433 Each day I stopped at a sidewalk shoeshine stand near the French Market. The shine boy was an elderly man, large, keenly intelligent and a good talker. He had lost a leg during World War I. He showed none of the obsequiousness of the Southern Negro, but was polite and easy to know. (Not that I had any illusions that I knew him, for he was too astute to allow any white man that privilege.) I told him I was a writer, touring the Deep South to study living conditions, civil rights, etc., but I did not tell him I would do this as a Negro . Finally, we exchanged names. He was called Sterling Williams. I decided he might be the contact for my entry into the Negro community. November 10-12 On Chartres Street in the French Quarter I walked toward Brennan's, one of New Orleans' famed restaurants. Forgetting myself for a moment, I stopped to study the menu that was elegantly exposed in a show window. I read, realizing that a few days earlier I could have gone in and ordered anything on the menu. But now, though I was the same person with the same appetite, the same appreciation and even the same wallet, no power on earth could get me inside this place for a meal. I recalled hearing some Negro say, "You can live here all your life, but you'll never get inside one of the great restaurants except as kitchen boy." The Negro often dreams of things separated from him only by a door, knowing that he is forever cut...