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Black Like Me: A Lesson in Empathy

In 2017, empathy is something every American should strive for. If you ever find yourself sitting silent, being indifferent, or unable to see why people are protesting – go get informed. See what is happening. Instead of strolling through Twitter or Facebook, check out what happened in the world since you last went online. You are responsible for checking your privilege.

A story of the utmost empathy is Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. It took me all of last summer to finish this book because it is emotionally exhausting. This book is the non-fiction account of a white, World War II veteran and journalist named John Howard Griffin who goes across the Jim Crow South as a black man. He pigments his skin with the help of a dermatologist and struggles as a black man. At times, he finds himself weeping for his family and other times, he weeps for himself.

On his journey, he encounters the poorest blacks who are willing to give him a hand, racist whites with ignorant stereotypes towards blacks, and people who encourage his methods of walking a mile (sometimes many miles since no car or bus will stop for him) in another race’s shoes. Being a black man is taxing to his mental welfare. There are times when he just wants a drink of water, to use the bathroom, or cash a check but must walk to the other side of town to find a facility that will serve him.

After Griffin finishes his journey and publishes his book, America responds. His town rejects him and bullies his family. He receives death threats from white citizens across America. He is invited to be a guest on a national television show and his intentions of his experiment are misunderstood. Strides toward empathy are not always met with open arms and applause. As a result, Howard had to take his family and flee to Mexico.

This book is only 180 pages and one that I definitely recommend, not only for the story, but for what everyone can take from this real-life story: you’d be surprised how easily someone else’s shoe fits on your foot. You’d also be surprised how badly you’d want to take that shoe off and burn it. Now imagine you couldn’t burn it. It’s only then that you find empathy.

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Senior at Montclair State University. Storyteller. Artist. Cinephile. Writer. Twitter/Instagram: @ChristlStringer
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