Black face

Posted on September 26, 2011
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By Jonathan Yardley from The Washington Post

In the fall of 1959 an obscure white journalist and novelist named John Howard Griffin, a native of Texas, went to a dermatologist in New Orleans with what can only be called an astonishing request: He wanted “to become a Negro.” A man of conscience and religious conviction, he was deeply troubled by the racial situation in his native South. He was “haunted” by these questions: “If a white man became a Negro in the Deep South, what adjustments would he have to make? What is it like to experience discrimination based on skin color, something over which one has no control?”

The dermatologist agreed to cooperate with Griffin’s project, darkening his skin “with a medication taken orally, followed by exposure to ultraviolet rays.” Griffin, who had arranged with the editors of Sepia, the prominent black magazine, to write about his experiences, was in a hurry to get started and asked for “accelerated treatments,” which he soon supplemented with stain. He also shaved his head, “since I had no curl.” He did not look in the mirror until the process was complete, and when he did, he saw “the face and shoulders of a stranger — a fierce, bald, very dark Negro.” He was stunned:

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