Body and Race

Topic: ArtBooks
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Last updated: March 30, 2019

Present essay provides with the comparative analysis of two books, which made important contribution to antiracist movement and struggle for civil rights in the mid- and late-20 century in the United States. Moreover, they should be regarded as interesting personal insights into objective/social and subjective/individual dimensions of race, gender and culture. These books are Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin and White Like Me: Reflections on Race From a Privileged Son  by Tim Wise. Current comparative analysis of these works seeks to defend the following thesis: both books provide with deeply personal and descriptive narrative of race problems, existing in certain states of the American society and deep social background of race segregation, having negative implications on relations between people and their perception of white and black cultures as alien. Notwithstanding these evident similarities, which would be discussed in detail, drawing on the issues of race, equality and privilege, the abovementioned books have significant differences, which result from essentially specific perspectives on these problems, taken by each of the authors.One of the most striking peculiarities of Griffin’s research and diary, which became the source of his book Black Like Me, was his decision to change the color of his skin from white to black in order to experience living conditions of black people. Hence, the interrelation between changing identity and real psychological perception of this change constitutes the major subjective perspective of Griffin’s book.

To experience real racial discrimination and segregation Griffin began living in ‘black world’. To adapt to new conditions and to gain confidence and trust of black people, as Griffin says: “I had made it a rule to talk as little as possible at first’. (Griffin 23). Almost immediately Griffin noticed and researched personal perceptions of these people ,based on the color of their skin and racial discrimination, as well as experiencing negative attitude of white people to him in various social conditions.Griffin found out that black people experienced profound alienation from those, who do not belong to their community and white people in the first place. Personal consequences from discrimination based on the color of skin ranged from depression, lack of confidence, intimidation and faintheartedness to aggressive protest and social anomy resulting in socially dangerous behavior like drinking, killing, drugs. In both cases negative perception of whites became universal and even those white people, who were trying to help, were regarded as those who humiliate black people’s dignity.

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Hence, as Griffin found by his personal experience of communication with and life among black people, race discrimination results in personal suffering and social deprivation. In their turn, racists continue oppression, as Griffin notes, because they are sure that black people’s criminal behavior and hate for them is natural, and hence, should be prevented by stricter measures (Griffin 46-48).In a similar vein, Wise’s book focuses on the issues of racial discrimination; however, his memoirs and research are more related to the modern phenomena of racism in the American society. As Griffin, Wise claims that black color of skin is still the source of personal tragedy for many black people, especially those that are socially deprived. From his personal experience, Wise claims that many white people continue keeping their ideology of supremacy over black people and preach various kinds of prejudices such as black people’s criminal character, roughness, low level of knowledge and primitiveness (Wise 67).Wise also tells various stories of how his antiracist activities were perceived by the white people he communicated with. As he states, he was constantly challenged and insulted by white people at various events, and that his activities were negatively welcomed by his family members (Wise 78-89).

However, it should be noted that Wise’s book has significantly different personal perspective, if compared with Griffin’s narrative. Wise speaks from the standpoint of the ‘privileged son’ (that is, outside position), but Griffin to understand the nature of racism had to sink into the social milieu of black world. Another difference in the narration, which directly results from the first, refers to the fact that Griffin is more focused on the response and viewpoints of black people, while Wise presents his own personal reflections, which have significant social and scientific component.

This is especially evident in Griffin’s description of the situation in the bus, when he decided to give his own seat to a white woman. However, other black passengers, who were in the bus, disapproved of his decision and that made Griffin change his mind. Instead of thanks from a white woman, she insulted Griffin and said to her white friend, that black people are ‘becoming more and more sassy’ (Griffin 67). As we can see from this example, the Wise’s perspective which centers on the white people’s attitudes to black color and his own activism essentially differs from Griffin’s black perspective.EqualityBoth Griffin and Wise claim that sufficient inequality between white and black people exists.Griffin shows us the inequality is exemplified in various ways. For instance, black people’s personal dignity is not defended by the authorities and they are insulted by whites with impunity. As Griffin puts it, ‘nigger’ is the ‘normal’ way of addressing black people by bully white teenagers (Griffin 68).

The job is very difficult to find for blacks and there are virtually no restrooms, which blacks may use. For instance, Griffin describes his conversation with a black man about difficulty to find a bathroom to go. This man turned this conversation into a gloomy joke about ‘spending much of your time praying for a rest room’ (Griffin 47).Besides this, as both Griffin and Wise note, black people continue suffering lawlessness, when white criminals are not even indicted for the murder of black people (this is especially true of Griffin’s times).Unlike Griffin, Wise, however, puts emphasis on the modern conditions of racism in theUnited States, which transforms it in subtler forms. Some of Griffin’s observations are no longer relevant for Wise, because what he reflects on is the consequences of the past racism on the modern racial inequality. According to Wise, racial inequality becomes apparent in income inequality, personal racial prejudices, and poor access of black people to education and high-income jobs.Race privilegesBoth Griffin and Wise reflect on race privileges in favor of white people that still exist in the American society.

Wise claims that racism in the United States took institutionalized form and various social institutions ‘privilege those people who are white’ (Wise 25). This is exemplified by the fact that some clauses of law protect white people more openly, than black (however, in a subtler form of protecting wealthy people’s rights. Taking into the consideration, that the majority of American poor are blacks and Latin immigrants, the abovementioned fact results in the institutionalized form of race discrimination). Besides this, Wise argues that the majority of white people take their own social privileges for granted and states that, “Being a member of the majority, the dominant group, allows one to ignore how race shapes one’s life” (Wise 2).Wise also tells us story about his childhood and teenage years, when he often drank alcohol with his friends, but was never arrested by the police, because the quarter he lived in was exclusively white. The same related to his fake business, for which he never was fined or even arrested (Wise 35-37). Both Griffin and Wise are honest in their diagnosis of social privilege in favor of black people.

Griffin openly states that his research into Southern legal codes, shows that it contains different institutional barriers to black people normal social adaptation, including education, employment, civil and political rights.Notwithstanding these evident similarities in portraying racial privileges, the historical periods described result in different vision of the existing problems in the United States. The racism narrated by Griffin is not the same racism in its scope and nature as modern forms of racism vividly described by Wise. Authors differ also in the ways they perceive possible resolution of the problem. Wise is not sure, whether the problem of racism could ever be resolved and calls upon “redemption in struggle’.

Moreover, he states that white people should fight against racism for themselves, but not because of compassion for blacks’ sufferings (Wise 98).Instead, Griffin takes more pragmatic stance, claiming that the problem of racism should be resolved by the concerted activism antiracists and liberal politicians.


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