RACISM

Why White Man Disguised Himself to Learn What Black People Experience

When walking a mile in someone’s shoes goes wrong

Allison Wiltz
Momentum
Published in
6 min readMay 29, 2024

--

Photo of people reaching for each other's hands | Photo by Anna Shvets via Pexels

Two summers ago, writer Sam Forster embarked on a journey across the country, disguising himself as a Black man to “document how racism persists in American society.” However, the announcement of his upcoming memoir, “Seven Shoulders” which details this experience, has courted controversy for its offensive premise. While some may admire Forster’s desire to know what it’s like to walk a mile in a Black man’s shoes, this strategy treats blackness as a costume one can wear and take off at leisure rather than a racial identity that is rigidly fixed at the bottom of the racial hierarchy. Not only is this method offensive, but it’s also an ineffective path to learning about the Black experience in this country.

Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest, “What’s past is prologue,” and that wisdom rings true in this case, as Sam Forster’s social experiment mirrors the 1961 investigation by John Howard Griffin in “Black Like Me.” Traveling throughout the southern states during Jim Crow disguised as a Black man, Griffin documented his experiences, highlighting the cruel realities of this segregated society. Griffin darkened his skin and presented himself as Black, even though he wasn’t. “We could only…

--

--

Allison Wiltz
Momentum

Black womanist Scholar bylines @ Momentum, Oprah Daily, ZORA, GEN, EIC of Cultured #WEOC Founder allisonthedailywriter.com https://ko-fi.com/allyfromnola