"The Comparison of Poll Tax Country” to Black like Me John Griffin was a normal white man living an average life. He like many other whites knew that people of color were discriminated against, but he never really knew how much the color of one’s skin made a difference in the way people act. If Griffin had seen “poll tax country” he would have seen racism in a new light. Griffin’s experiment was to go down south as a colored man to learn the truth of how life was a black man. By look at the painting “Poll Tax Country,” one can see who had the power in early-1900s Southern society.
After slavery blacks were still discriminated against and had to travel miles just to find a bathroom for blacks. “Poll Tax Country” shows a new perspective on how blacks were treated as people and how was each others back was the only thing that kept them going. In “Poll Tax Country,” a detail that stood out was the columns that held up the roof of the platform. One of the columns matches those of the Supreme Court and the White House. The different columns symbolize different branches and groups of people that came together to makes laws to keep blacks in debt in certain areas.
The column have historical significance: columns have been used since the times of the ancient Egyptians and Romans. Both civilizations had slaves to build monuments that would withstand the test of time. Similarly, the people who built the New World were indentured servants who came to the New World with the hope of starting a new life. Slaves have played a big role in society as far back as the ancient Egyptians, building towns and monuments that still stand today. The columns connect to slavery – without slaves, many of today’s wonders might not exist.
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Slavery is a dark time in every society’s history. However, slaves had a major contribution to the forming of nations. The first slaves of this nation came with the settlers that came from England. As time when on, Africans were packed on ships and brought here to be sold into slavery. Many whites like John Griffin, knew about slavery and heard many stories about it. However, in the 1940’s they never understood the extent of racism down south. When John Griffin went down south as a black man the way he was treated was very different from how he was treated as a white man.
As a white man masked in black he was able to see how black people really interacted with each other. Also, he was able to see how whites really saw blacks and how they interacted with them. As one white hunter who gave Griffin a ride in Alabama said, “I’ll tell you how it is here. We’ll do business with you people. We’ll sure as hell screw your women. Other than that, you’re just completely off the record as far as we’re concerned. ”(Griffin111). Griffin described this man as an ordinary, respectable family man. It is only to black people that he revealed his ugly, racist sickness.
Sadly, his words reflect the attitude of many white racists in the South. What John Griffin learned that day was very important because although slaves did the work, they are not glorified in textbooks and were mostly forgotten. John Griffin talked about how an educated black that could afford to vote, answered many questions that many people would not know how to answer; he did not get to vote because the government work would give him a poll test he could not pass. The court system was not always fair and laws were made to keep African Americans from voting so whites could keep control.
In “poll tax country,” in the middle of the gazebo among all the different people is a priest. A man of god that should fair to all people is on the side of the men trying to keep you down. They had no god or person to turn to in their darkest hour African American were being squeezing down on to feel pressured. As slaves, they cannot not trust outsiders; they had to live in packs and work back to back. In the picture the works were almost on top of each working an area that could be manned by two to three people at the max. doesn’t make sense. This was a gang – they worked together and protected each other to survive.
John Griffin saw many things in his experiment that put things into perspective. As a black man he was degraded by whites who felt that they were superior to him. Society strived to keep African Americans controlled so whites would remain dominant. Down south that made it hard for blacks to vote, get good jobs, or even use public bathroom. The whites that cashed their cash always seemed to need more that what was on the check. Doesn’t make sense the poor working black was always in debt. Griffin brought up a story about a well educated black man who wanted to vote but was never able o because the official gave him a test that was unfair and they both knew that he would not pass it. “I can read the headline… It says this one negro in Mississippi who’s not going to get to vote this year. ” (Griffin, 81). In this joke by P. D. East about the voting rights for blacks in the South, a black man who wants to vote is given a newspaper in Chinese in order to test his literacy. East tells the joke to shine a light on the problem facing blacks being prohibited from voting in the South. By preventing blacks from voting, whites removed their voice in matters.
This way the law stayed on the side of the whites, and blacks never had a chance to make changes. In the painting, a congressman stands in front preaching to the people and filling their heads with empty words. However, shadowing the congress man is a KKK member that looks as if he is in control of what the congressman says. The audience has stopped listening to the words they have heard many times before. They have lost hope in their government that represents only the white people, knowing that the people who lynch them are the same ones who hold public offices.
Many have lost hope in seeing the change that they were promised, still working like slaves 90 years after the Civil War. John Griffin had never known how blacks felt about politicians because he had never faced laws that made it harder to get by everyday as a white man. To him the government was a government by the people for the people, but in fact government was mostly run by white, racists and even members of the KKK. Being black showed Griffin the double standards of this government of, for, and by the people.
As a white man he could go to white facilities or black facilities if he chose, and he could enter, do, and say as he pleases. However, as a black man he could only go to black facilities and he had to respect whites. A white man when into a black facility on day and put up a file stating that any black man willing to bring young black female to them will get paid. The fact that white men had the power to do such things is degrading both to a man as well as to the entire African- race. While whites were promoting pimping and prostitution, the government was simply looking the other way.
However, the government imposed a steep fine on hunting alligators. The fact that a poor sawmill worker who lived on the swamp with his wife and six children could not hunt the alligators endangered his family every day: “I’ll tell you—if we don’t have meat to cook with the beans, why she just goes ahead and cooks the beans anyhow. ” (Griffin111). When Griffin traveled through the rural swamp country in Alabama, he met a poor black sawmill worker who offered him a place to stay on the floor of his shack. Griffin is touched by the man’s generosity.
The man and his wife are thankful for what they have. If there is no meat to cook, the man notes, his wife doesn’t complain; she just serves beans. Realistically, the man has enough meat around his home to feed his family for many years to come. However, because governments know that most blacks would benefit from alligator meat, they impose fines that whites could afford to pay off but not blacks. That night John Griffin thought of his kids and how they were living right now, and how if he and his family were not white they too might be reduced to this squalid standard of living.
Griffin had been black for a couple of weeks and was sick to his stomach from his experience he couldn’t handle it anymore. Blacks had to handle much abuse from whites that want to keep controlling them on a daily basis but yet they stood strong to the end. “Black like me” and “Poll Tax Country” share many ideas of what racism was really like down south. John Griffins experiment showed how a normal, kind-looking family man could become so cruel to another human due to the color of the skin. He showed how the government squeezed down on anyone that was not white by any means available.
Blacks could not turn for help from the government, or the even the men of god. They were made into second class citizens that had little to no rights and every apportioned was give to white society. Courts were run by whites who were prejudice, the government was filled with racists and the rest was manipulated by the very men that felt they were the only one’s fit to roam the lands. Blacks were being degraded to keep their hopes down and to control them. Keeping control by making them second class citizens and in debt there whole life makes them less likely to rebel because they would feel less likely to win.
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