The third time I read “Black Like Me”, I read the 35th anniversary edition. It contained some additions that were not in the earlier printing. I was especially struck by John’s observations about racism not being limited to any one race.
“The Negro does not understand the white any more than the white understands the Negro. I was dismayed to see the extent to which this youth exaggerated – how could he do otherwise? – the feelings of the whites toward Negroes. He thought they all hated him.
The most distressing repercussion of this lack of communication has been the rise in racism among Negroes, justified to some extent, but a grave symptom nevertheless. It only strengthens the white racist’s cause. The Negro who turns now, in the moment of near-realization of his liberties, and bares his fangs at a man’s whiteness, makes the same tragic error the white racist has made.
And it is happening on a wider scale. Too many of the more militant leaders are preaching Negro superiority. I pray that the Negro will not miss his chance to rise to greatness, to build from the strength gained through his past suffering and, above all, to rise beyond vengeance.
If some spark does set the keg afire, it will be a senseless tragedy of ignorant against ignorant, injustice answering injustice – a holocaust that will drag down the innocent and right-thinking masses of human beings.”
(from page 159 of the 35th anniversary edition)
John Griffin was right. People of any race can become convinced, sometimes wrongly so, that everyone of a different race hates them. This belief builds walls between groups of people, and keeps them from understanding each other. When hearts are ruled by hate, no one wins.
All week I have been hearing about Rachel Dolezal, the president of the Spokane, Washington NAACP who said she was black but was discovered to be white. In the uproar that followed, she resigned from her position. Rachel says that she has identified as black since about the age of five. She is passionate in her efforts to improve the lives of black people in America.
As I had just done a book review on a similar theme, this was very interesting to me.
In the book “All The Way Home”, Augie – a white girl of Irish/German background, becomes best friends with Sunny, who is Japanese. Augie’s family is very dysfunctional and she spends as little time with them as possible. She considers Sunny’s family to be her own, and wishes she looked Asian. Sunny, on the other hand, experiences a lot of prejudice during World War II, and eventually has plastic surgery to make herself appear white.
Rachel Dolezal is not the first person to feel more at home with a different racial/ethnic group than she was born into. She found a community where she felt like she fit in, and found a purpose in life there. Rachel changed her hair and her skin to reflect how she felt inside. Nothing wrong with that. But when she lied about her parentage, offering a picture of a black man as her father, she crossed the line. Basically she disowned and rejected her parents because they were the “wrong” color. She also betrayed the trust of the black community by not being honest with them.
This is such a sad story to me. I really don’t care how much pigmentation is in the skin of my family members and friends. God created us with great artistic variation, but there is only one race, not three or five or more. I look forward to the day when we get rid of the labels, and just see ourselves as human beings sharing this planet.
(The picture of Rachel is one that appeared in this New York Times article)
Anyone reading “Sycamore Row” will be struck by its connection to earlier novels. Attorney Jake Brigance and Sheriff Ozzie Walls are brought back from the very first Grisham novel – “A Time To Kill”. Judge Atlee is brought in from “The Summons”. Lawyers Harry Rex Vonner and Lucien Wilbanks from “The Last Juror” assist Jake in preparing his case. And the former owner of the Ford County Times, Willie Traynor, has a small part in the story.
Clanton is a town that struggled with racial issues in “A Time To Kill”, and years later, it is still an issue. The story centers around the suicide of Seth Hubbard, who had advanced lung cancer. The day before he hung himself, Seth invalidated his traditional will with a new, handwritten will leaving almost his entire fortune to his black housekeeper, Lettie. Needless to say, this did not sit well with Seth’s children and grandchildren, who took the matter to court. Much of the book is preparation for the trial, but the story easily kept my attention from beginning to end.