This week I would like to focus on “Black Like Me” by John Howard Griffin. During English class this week, we discussed profusely the illegitimacy of John Howard Griffin’s experience as an African American. The reasoning behind these arguments revolved around the gross oversimplification of “race.” John Howard Griffin, throughout the novel, incessantly oversimplifies the concept of race to merely skin “pigment.” Describing race as merely a function of one’s skin color, however, is superficial. In reality, race implies culture, tradition, and history. Because John Howard Griffin wrote about his experiences of passing into the black community, I decided to explore Rachel Dolezal the similarity she shares with John Howard Griffin’s character.
A modern day example of passing that Aliyah touched upon is Rachel Dolezal. Head of a chapter of the NAACP, she claimed that she possessed African-American descent. Nevertheless, her parents identified her ethnicity as Czech, Swedish, and German, with an inkling of “Native American ancestry” (Sharfstein). Despite Rachel Dolezal’s disregard for culture and history, she brings up a controversial question: what defines racism? Racism, in American history, has always been a product of the social construct. Since society is always changing, it implies the definition for racism is changing. More importantly, I believe definitions reflect our perception of other cultures, and more fundamentally, other individuals. Tying this back to John Howard Griffin’s “Black Like Me,” the significance of the memoir is that it portrays the inherent similarity we all share, for after all, we are humans. By doing so, John Howard Griffin attempts to unify the white and black communities by this inconspicuous, yet profound strand of connection. Racism, more than often, overlooks the tradition and culture attached to race. Racism is not as profound as we perceive it to be; it is oftentimes a contempt that arouses from superficial and external features. Thus, the subsequent dehumanization ensues. Perhaps, the trivialization of racial boundaries is necessary to fully eliminate racism. Perhaps Rachel Dolezal is taking us a step towards the future, rather than inflicting a slight upon the black community. On a similar note, John Howard Griffin endeavors to remind the white community that African Americans are, fundamentally, human. Ultimately, that thin, yet infinitely potent strand of connection connects us all.
Sharfstein, Daniel J. “Rachel Dolezal’s ‘Passing’ Isn’t So Unusual.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 24 June 2015. Web. 25 Feb. 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/25/magazine/rachel-dolezals-passing-isnt-so-unusual.html?_r=0>.