There’s a long history in America of white people imagining black people’s lives - in novels, in movies, and sometimes in journalism. In 1969, Grace Halsell, a white journalist, published a book called Soul Sister.
It was her account of living as a “black woman” in the United States. Lyndon Johnson provided a blurb for the book, and it sold over a million copies.
Halsell was inspired by John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me, which came out in 1961. That was inspired by an even earlier book in the 1940’s.
It’s hard to imagine any of these projects happening now. It seems like a kind of journalistic blackface. But Halsell’s book raises a lot of questions that are still relevant today - about race, and the limits of empathy.
This episode is a collaboration with NPR’s Code Switch.