Black Like Me: Nov 10 - Nov 12, 1959

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Summary of Deep South Journey, November 10–12, 1959

 

November 10–12

Griffin spends two days walking around New Orleans looking for jobs. He wants to discover what kind of jobs a well-dressed, well-educated black man can find. Each time he applies, he is politely turned down. Meanwhile, Griffin continues shining shoes. The widow woman returns to the shoeshine stand to see him. She wants to invite Griffin to her home for Sunday dinner, but Griffin gently tells her he is married.

In all his relations with black people, Griffin notes that he is frequently treated with incredible courtesies, even from strangers. One night, a young black university student walks several miles out of his way to help Griffin find a movie house.

 

The next morning, Griffin talks with the Y café owner and other men over breakfast. He confesses his difficulty with finding jobs, and the café owner calls it “economic injustice.” He explains that many young black men do not try to pursue a university education because they know even if they do have one, they cannot be hired anywhere. The very best and brightest of them can only find work as a postal worker, a preacher, or a teacher. And since so many cannot earn enough to support a family, they give up, and many turn to violence and crime. “It’s a vicious circle…. They put us low, and then blame us for being down there and say that since we are low, we can’t deserve our rights,” the café owner laments.

 

Griffin notes that according to racist propaganda, even if blacks are given equal opportunities for education and jobs, they could never live up to white standards. He wonders how this propaganda can be combated. An elderly man points out that if anyone speaks out for racial justice, that person is labeled a communist. There are so many obstacles to overcoming racism that the café owner thinks that a “conversion of morals” is needed—they need the help of some great saint.

 

Griffin leaves the café in deep thought. There is a double problem for black people, he reflects. On the one hand, there is the discrimination against blacks by whites. On the other hand, there is black-on-black discrimination. While he ponders, Griffin stops at a café and looks at the menu posted in the window. He gets looks of disapproval in response. A few days earlier, he could go inside an order anything he wants. But as a black man, he’s not allowed.

 

He continues on his unsuccessful job search for the rest of the day. Finally, exhausted, he sits down on a park bench, but a racist white man tells him he’d better go find someplace else to rest. Finding a place to rest is a real problem for another reason, Griffin realizes. His friends have warned him that the police will question any black man who sits idle, especially one they don’t recognize. He must keep on the move.

 

Griffin takes a bus out to Dillard University. On his return to town, he buzzes for his stop. The bus driver stops, but then slams the door just as he is trying to exit. He then makes Griffin wait another eight blocks before stopping and giving up his cruel game. Griffin feels sick and outraged, realizing that the bus driver has behaved this way only because of Griffin’s skin color. Thankfully, he notes, the driver’s behavior was not typical.

 

Analysis of Deep South Journey, November 10–12, 1959

Having already presented the difficulties and humiliation black people faced with segregation—being unable to use the same restrooms, sit next to whites on buses, or frequent the same restaurants—Griffin moves on to show the bigger picture of economic injustice. Griffin experiences it himself as, dressed nicely and with an education, he is unable to find any jobs in New Orleans. The black YMCA café owner speaks at length about the “economic injustice,” calling it a “vicious circle.” The discussion between Griffin and the men at the YMCA is like an expository essay about the problems faced by blacks in the 1950s. As we can see in this part of the journal, Griffin’s entry into the black world has enabled him to learn more about what black people really think. The black community leaders speak honestly to him, sharing things they likely would never say if they realized he was really white.

 

A striking contrast is drawn between the black and white worlds, especially as Griffin pauses in front of an elegant restaurant to read the menu. A few days ago, Griffin would have been welcomed inside; now, he receives stares of disapproval. The only way a black man can get inside a restaurant like this, he realizes, is to be hired as a kitchen boy.

 

A mood of weariness grows greater as Griffin tells how he is unable to even find a place to rest his weary feet in the park, and how he is treated cruelly by a bus driver.

 

 

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