Study Guide

Black Like Me Chapter 8

By John Howard Griffin

Chapter 8

November 8, 1959

  • It's time for Griffin's first day as a black person.
  • He leaves the hotel, and no one notices him. Then he finally realizes that he's in the ghetto. Before he just pitied the people who lived there, and now he sees that it's different.
  • He starts talking to a guy who tells him about staying at the YMCA. If you're like us, you probably expected a lot of the problems that Griffin has to face when he turns black… but you weren't expecting one of the problems to be finding a place to pee.
  • We didn't realize that one byproduct of segregated bathrooms was having to hold your pee for miles while you walk around looking for a bathroom for "people like you."
  • At the end of that conversation Griffin hops on a bus. If you remember anything about Rosa Parks, you probably know that there's trouble coming.
  • After Griffin and the other black people are seated, white people start getting on the bus but they don't want to sit next to them so they stand. Griffin is about to give up his seat to an old white lady when he realizes that that would be a gallant action if he were white, but he would be betraying the race as a black man.
  • Anyway, when she realizes that he's looking at her the old lady starts showing her racism, so we don't feel so sorry that she doesn't get a seat.
  • When he gets off the bus, Griffin goes to find Sterling Williams again. He doesn't recognize him until Griffin tells him that he's the same guy whose shoes he used to shine.
  • When he gets it, he's totally bowled over. Lucky for Griffin, Williams takes him under his wing and shows him how to be a black guy. It starts with him shaving the blonde hair off the back of his hands.
  • Now he's in. And even Williams forgets that Griffin was ever white. He even gets hit on by a widow!
  • They get down to work shining their customer's shoes, and Griffin notices that the white customers constantly asked them where they could find black women to have sex with. Classy.
  • Then he meets Sterling's partner, Joe, who'd been looking for peanuts all this time. He didn't find any, but at least he cooks them some lunch.
  • This part is a little weird because he kind of taunts and berates a homeless man across the street that he gives their scraps to. It's a pretty unsettling section.
  • After work is done, Griffin decides to head over to the YMCA to spend the night. It's full, but he gets a room with a lady named Ms. Davis. So, he pays his money and heads back to the YMCA where he finds a group of black intellectuals having some conversations.
  • He tells them that he's a writer, and that starts the conversation rolling.
  • They talk about the state of black people in the South, their lack of unity, and self-hatred. What—aren't those the kinds of conversations that you guys strike up with total strangers?
  • Before he leaves the coffee shop, Griffin reveals his true identity to a black insurance agent, who is so shocked that he's speechless.
  • Griffin falls asleep and wakes up around 7:30, so he decides to go out and get something to eat.
  • But while he's walking to a café, a white guy starts harassing him, saying that he's going to beat him up.
  • Griffin asks for help, even from a police officer, but everyone ignores him. He finally gets rid of the hooligan by pretending that he's going to give him the beat down of his life.
  • Of course, Griffin doesn't know the first thing about fighting, but he's a smart and resourceful guy.
  • He goes to the local church to calm his nerves, but he can't even do that without looking suspicious, so he heads down to the local black café and eats some beans and rice.