John Howard Griffin wrote Black Like Me, the story of his turning his skin dark and living as a black man traveling through the south. It was one of his most dramatic efforts to show radical empathy. According to the brief biography in All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time, he was concerned throughout his life to discover, finally, what it means to be a human being. Blinded for a period of time, the return of his sight allowed him to see how superficial appearances allow us to make our fellow humans "the intrinsic other."
He wrote that he had done nothing but change the color of his skin, and yet that changed everything. He wrote "Future historians will be mystified that generations of us could stand in the midst of this sickness and never see it, never really feel how our System distorted and dwarfed human lives because these lives happened to inhabit bodies encased in a darker skin; and how, in cooperating with this System, it distorted and dwarfed our own lives in a subtle and terrible way." Griffin was born on June 16, 1920 and died "of everything" according to his wife, on September 9, 1980. I read Black Like Me as a young person, and it has always informed my views about race.
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