The Cyclical Nature of Racism

The problem of racism in the USA was very sharp after the period of the Reconstruction when the racial inequality in fact remained in American society as it was before the Civil War. Through the different forms of segregation and oppression, conservative whites humiliated African-Americans and shared their racist ideology. Moreover, in the first decades after World War II, the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King appeared as a power that transformed the social beliefs about racial questions and led the Americans to multicultural society where all people were equal regardless of the color of their skin. In this way, the book Black Like Me written by J. H. Griffin in 1959 and published in 1961 provides an in-depth analysis of the racial problems in American society just before the transformations realized by the Civil Rights Movement. The author colored his skin black and pretended to be an African-American in order to understand how the American blacks lived and what problems they faced in their everyday relations with whites. The main message of the book is that racism has a cyclical nature because it involves both oppressed and oppressing parts into the mutual perverted relationships; thus, the only one way to leave this vicious cycle for both parts is to try to understand those who belong to the other part and accept their differences.


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The author states that the book concerns not only the racial issues in the American South but all the questions of the same nature in the world because racism has the same specifics for all cases (Griffin IX). Thus, he claims that his book concerns all “men who destroy the souls and bodies of other men (and in the process destroy themselves) for reasons neither really understands” (Griffin IX). In this way, in some degree, the book even concerns not only racial issues, but also all aspects of hatred between some groups or individuals when some form of oppression or humiliating takes place. It is extremely important that the author is a white man; thus, the reason for his research is the understanding of the destructive influence of oppression that concerns not only blacks but whites as well. To see how blacks live and realize the situation in its totality, the author pretends that he is a black man and experiences an average Southern African-American’s life. In such a way, the book shows the full scope of changes that appear “when so-called first-class citizen is cast on the junk heap of second-class citizen ship” (Griffin IX). This characteristic of the book that the author himself provides may serve as the best advice how to escape the vicious circle of racism.

The way to escape the racial relationships lays in compassion and attempt to understand other people. Reading the book, it is clear that both blacks and whites do not understand each other. Thus, the perverted relationships between these two racial groups are rooted in their misunderstanding that does not allow them find some common points. For example, Griffin claims: “for the Negro, at least, this fear is ever-present in the South, and the same is doubtlessly true of many decent whites who watch and wait” (68). Thus, as the book shows, there is no difference between blacks and whites one cannot overcome if he or she seeks for multicultural relevant social reorganization. The example of the author who leaves the social group of whites and becomes a member of blacks’ social group is the best illustration that there are no biologically presupposed contradictions between races because the only reason for racism is a social construct. When Griffin becomes a black man, he starts to understand these people’s problems and treats them as equal to him.

The title of the book has a double meaning that illustrates the way the author proposes. The phrase ‘black like me’ can mean both ‘those black people are equal to me’ and also ‘these black people like (or accept) me despite I am a white man’. The author describes how blacks’ and whites’ relation to him has changed when he changed his skin color and passed from the first class to the second one, as he metaphorically noted in the preface (Griffin IX). Thus, the message of the title’s duality is that there are no real differences between any struggling social groups, and all reasons for such struggles are fictional. The understanding of this fact leads to the reinterpretation of the main social issues based on some misunderstanding existing between some groups of people. Certainly, the book provides only the point of view of a white person and much deeper analysis would be achieved through the comparison of the same experience of a black individual who pretended to be white. In addition, even such one-sided position discovers the delusive essence of racism based completely on ignorance.

The book by John Howard Griffin provides a brilliant explanation for the conflicts, struggles, and hatred between people. The reason for any oppression or aggression is ignorance and misunderstanding; thus, the best way to overcome it is the attempt to accept and understand other people regardless of all their differences that are not so important because all people are naturally equal. The cyclical essence of racism makes it destructive for both whites and blacks; thus, both parties must seek for multicultural and tolerant solution of their perverted relationships through the special education and productive communication.

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