In 1959, he darkened his skin tone in order to experience life as a black man. Segregation marked the streets of the South. It was dangerous to be a person of color. Under the care of a dermatologist, John Howard Griffin took large doses of a drug that darkened his pigment and spent fifteen hours a day under an ultraviolet lamp. As soon as his skin was dark enough, he began to travel. Griffin, a journalist, daily documented his experience for the magazine Sepia. Basic needs like for food, shelter and bathrooms were difficult enough to meet in the segregated South. The thing that was most disturbing to Griffin was the hatred he encountered from the white world. He repeatedly referenced the “hate stare.” One passage that sums up his experience:
Nothing can describe the withering horror of this. You feel lost, sick at heart before such unmasked hatred, not so much because it threatens you as because it shows humans in such an inhuman light. You see a kind of insanity, something so obscene the very obscenity of it (rather than its threat) terrifies you.
Over 30 years ago, I read the book Black Like Me that was published as a result of Griffin’s travel as a black man. All I knew about John Howard Griffin was these six weeks of his life. Last week, I was exposed to his larger story. Griffin developed blindness as a young solider after a near miss with a bomb. Eleven years later, much to Griffin’s shock, his sight began to return. Griffin had lived eleven years making decisions and judgements based on his intuition, not on his sight. When he begin to see the state of the world, he was appalled at what he saw. He could not understand why people would judge anyone based on what they looked like.
Griffin had a completely different perspective because he’d been forced to live without sight.
Perspective is everything. When all you can see is the view from your own front porch, your perspective is very narrow. When you get beyond your comfortable spaces and begin to see things through other’s eyes your outlook shifts and all of society benefits.
What can you do today to get a broader view?