Monday, July 13, 2009

Banned, Censored, Challenged: Black Like Me

In 1959, John Howard Griffin underwent a thought-provoking experiment. He darkened his skin and posed as a black man in the South.

In this 1961 book, Griffin recounts his experiences. The men he hitches rides with ask him bizarre, racist questions about his sexual experiences. One white man tells him about his conquests of black women and threatens him with death if he causes any trouble. Griffin had to plan carefully because there may not have been anywhere nearby to get water or use a bathroom.

For exposing the truth, John Howard Griffin recieved death threats.

Challenges to this book name "vulgarity" and "obscenity" as justification for banning. In 1967, an Arizona school removed the book because of "four-letter words". A 1977 challenge was denied in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. In 1982, a Missouri school put the book on a closed shelf when a parent complained that the book was obscene, vulgar and "because of black people being in the book."

There is nothing like showing people their hypocrisy. Griffin held up a mirror to American society of the time and it is a shame that high schoolers would be kept from seeing this historical experiment because of the true-to-life conversation in the book. Hiding the truth because it might offend our delicate sensibilities is wrong.

But then again, I guess the complaints about profanity were just a cover.


YogaforCynics said...

Complaints about profanity are usually a cover. Remember the big brouhaha caused by Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction"? Think it would've been such a big deal (obviously an accident, and you really had to be looking to see anything) if she hadn't been dancing with a white guy when it happened?

Anyway, gotta admit, I've never actually read Griffin's book, though I saw Eddie Murphy's hilarious parody "White Like Me" on SNL...yeah, I know, that's even worse than saying "I saw the movie..."

Michelloui said...

I read this in high school in the 80s and was amazed by the whole concept--including all that he experienced. I didn't even remember that there was any 'obscenity' in it. You're right, that was just a cover!

k9kutter64 said...

Wow...I have to read this.

C said...

Cool I found your site just now through stumble and I was just talking about that book at the end of one of my post! Cool, here is the link to that post

Jules said...

It amazes me the types of books and reasons behind it, to why a particular book is banned. Or at least have people who try to ban it.

Also came by to thank you for your blog, I love reading it. And wanted to give you and award for your hard work. Here's a link.

readinginwinter said...

I just finished reading this today and I don't recall any obscenities. It's definitely an eye opener of a book, even if you didn't grow up in that time.


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