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I can vividly recall the impact it made on me: as an Asian teenager growing up in the s I felt like a second-class citizen. There wasn't any literature that I had come across that spoke directly to my experience and so I embraced the literature of black America. In my own case, Black Like Me was not prophetic. Does it have any relevance 50 years after it was published? Today the idea of a white man darkening his skin to speak on behalf of black people might appear patronising, offensive and even a little comical.

Griffin felt that by blacking up he had "tampered with the mystery of existence", which sounded profound when I read it at 16, but now seems typical of Griffin's rather portentous prose, which occasionally makes one doubt the credibility of what he is describing.

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Would the doctor who administered the medication really have told him, on shaking his hand and waving him goodbye, "now you go into oblivion"? Later Griffin notes that when he sits down to write to his wife, he finds he is unable to do so: "The observing self," he recalled, "saw the Negro write 'Darling' to a white woman.


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The chains of my blackness would not allow me to go on. Other questions emerge in the rereading: how is it that a year-old white man can pass himself as black simply by darkening his skin and shaving his hair? Did no one notice his Caucasian features and become sceptical of the white man with weirdly dark skin?

It is also striking how confidently Griffin seems able to inhabit the black mindset and speak for all black men, within, it seems, only days of starting his journey. Despite these misgivings, Black Like Me remains for me a brutal record of the indignities suffered by blacks in segregated America; it is also a reminder of how, in some respects, things have progressed. Three months before its publication, Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. It is fascinating to speculate on Griffin's response had he been told, while on his odyssey through the segregated south, that a baby boy born to a Kenyan man would within 50 years be president of the United States.

Obama's occupancy of the White House is, one could argue, emphatic proof that the world depicted in Black Like Me is history. Obama's mother was white — but he made an explicit decision, which he describes in his memoir Dreams From My Father , to embrace a black identity. This self-conscious immersion into blackness led him to move to Chicago, to become active in the church, to familiarise himself with the canon of black literature and the civil rights movement so that he could claim his presidential hopes represented the fulfilment of the civil rights dream.

Obama's case is of course different to Griffin's, but in one sense he, too, was not born black — he became black. The similarities between Obama and Griffin are not, however, the primary reason why Black Like Me still speaks to us from a distance of 50 years; it resonates because its true topic is not race but humanity.

Today in the US and elsewhere, Muslims have replaced blacks as the minority who are demonised, stereotyped and dehumanised. Look at the footage of the protests against the inaccurately dubbed "Ground Zero mosque" — the expressions on the faces of the protesters seem eerily familiar. The footage may be in colour, but it brings to mind grainy black and white archive film of protests against integration.

The hate stare, described so starkly by Griffin, scarred the faces of these protesters.

There is a man with a black father in the White House, but there is also another black man, Herman Cain , who is seeking the Republican nomination to become the next president, who has said that any Muslim serving in his administration would be forced to take a loyalty test. The South. It is the story of the persecuted, the defrauded, the feared and detested. Topics Society books Rereading. History books Politics books Barack Obama features.

Reuse this content. The Library of Congress. Negroes know far more about white Americans than that; it can almost be said, in fact, that they know about white Americans what parents—or, anyway, mothers—know about their children, and that they very often regard white Americans that way. And perhaps this attitude, held in spite of what they know and have endured, helps to explain why Negroes, on the whole, and until lately, have allowed themselves to feel so little hatred. The tendency has really been, insofar as this was possible, to dismiss white people as the slightly mad victims of their own brainwashing.

Toni Morrison has described this debut book from Ta-Nehisi Coates as a "required reading.

You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body. Grand Central Publishing. Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.

South End Press. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Margo Jefferson shares a bold and thought-provoking memoir on her upbringing as the daughter of black socialites in s Chicago.


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Privilege can be denied, withheld, offered grudgingly and summarily withdrawn. Entitlement is impervious to the kinds of verbs that modify privilege. Keep a close watch. Geronimo Johnson. William Morrow. This darkly comic debut novel is about four University of California, Berkeley students from different backgrounds who decide to protest a Civil War reenactment.

The entire class in fact.

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The War Between the States was another time and another country. As was the South. Are barbers still surgeons? Is there still sharecropping? What about indoor plumbing? Toni Morrison's first novel perfectly captures the effects of racism and colorism, telling the story of an year-old black girl with low self-esteem who prays desperately for her eyes to become blue. Then you realized that it came from conviction, their conviction. It was as though some mysterious all-knowing master had given each one a cloak of ugliness to wear, and they had each accepted it without question.

The mast had said, 'You are ugly people. By overlooking these circumstances, the new black conservatives fall into the trap of blaming black poor people for their predicament.

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It is imperative to steer a course between the Scylla of environmental determinism and the Charybdis of a blaming-the-victims perspective. In this seminal novel, an unnamed narrator recounts his epic life-story, from his coming-of-age in a rural Southern town, to his migration to the violent streets of Harlem. I am invisible, simply because people refuse to see me. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Beatty infuses comic humor and biting political commentary into this racial satire about a modern-day slave owner.

Crown Publishing Group.

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Basic Books. Through research and case studies psychologist Beverly Daniel Tatum confronts the subtle ways in which racism dictates the ways both white and non-white people navigate the world. Random House. Blackmon exposes the horrific aftermath of the Civil War and the abolishment of slavery, when thousands of black people were unfairly arrested and then illegally "sold" into forced labor as punishment.

Whether a company or an individual, we are marred either by our connections to the specific crimes and injuries of our fathers and their fathers. Or we are tainted by the failures of our fathers to fulfill our national credos when their courage was most needed. We are formed in molds twisted by the gifts we received at the expense of others.

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