Black No More

Black No More and Afrofuturism

Black No More’s aspects of science fiction regarding the sanitarium, and the issues it tackles regarding race relations and depictions of issues people of color face puts the novel under the umbrella of Afrofuturism. Black No More is one of the first novels written under this umbrella before the term was coined by Mark Dery 60 years later.[1] The novel’s use of technology literally through the sanitarium, and more abstractly through its satirical languages to create an alternate social reality are very Afrofuturistic. The novel loosely revolves around the character Max Disher, who is the first person to use Dr. Crookman’s ‘sanitarium’ that turns black people into white people. Dr. Crookman’s name is a play off his crooked nature. He turns almost the whole black population white, even though he is a ‘race man,’ predicting that one day the rareness of the color of his skin will make him somewhat of an anomaly. Furthermore, the book uses other lingual technologies to re-imagine a ‘raceless’ world in which racial connotations are deconstructed by the Black-No-More sanitarium, showing the futility of many socially constructed racial divides.

Chapter Summaries

Chapter 1:

Max Disher is standing outside a speakeasy waiting on his friend Benny. He is upset because he has been having relationship troubles. At the speakeasy they are asked to go find alcohol for a group of white people they meet in the bar. Max agrees to go find some alcohol because he finds one of the white girls attractive. At the end of the night racism prevails and Max goes home alone. He reads in the paper the next morning about a procedure that turns black people white. He decides the next day that he would have this Black-No-More procedure.

Chapter 2:

After having the excruciatingly painful Black-No-More procedure, Max awakens to a whole new world of possibilities. As he starts off for home he is overjoyed with his new appearance, but upon stepping out of his taxi he is quickly surrounded by a mob of reporters wishing to question the life he planned to live now that he had become white. Max quickly realized he could make a profit off of his story and refused to say a word until a taxi rushed around the corner and he jumped in. Disher discovers that a woman from a newspaper company was the source of the impeccably timed taxi, and she offered him a thousand dollars for his story. After Max finished with the report, and unsuccessfully attempted to hit on the reporter he took the taxi back to Harlem to find Bunny.

Chapter 3:

Dr. Crookman, Owner of Black-No-More Incorporated, purchased a place to build a second whitening facility. He is beginning to worry about the anti-whitening newspaper articles from the South and is feeling threatened by the politics surrounding the corporation. Crookman’s helping hands, Chuck Foster and Hank Johnson, are delighted to be a part of this operation due to the large sums of money that were starting to stack up. Meanwhile, in Harlem, the financial institutions were struggling to keep up with the number of black people coming in to empty their savings accounts so they could pay for the procedure, and houses were going on the market throughout the city on account of the decreasing population of black people in town. Madame Sisseretta Blandish, the town hair straightener, is struggling to find business without the hard to manage natural hair black people typically dealt with.

Chapter 4:

Max Disher changed his name to Matthew Fisher in order to hide his old identity from the new white people he was meeting. He spent approximately three months searching around for the girl he met at the bar in chapter one, and he discovered that the life of a white person was not much different than that of a black person. Matthew decides that he can make money scamming a white supremacist organization called The Knights of Nordica, led by a man known as Reverend Henry Givens, by pretending to know what to do to bring down Black-No-More Incorporated.

Chapter 5:

Foster, Johnson, and Dr. Crookman meet together in celebration of opening their fiftieth facility, so that they can discuss the future of Black-No-More. Black people all across the country are saving up money so they can go through the whitening procedure, and it is hurting the negro society because the black organizations are no longer receiving donations. Doctor Shakespeare Agamemnon Beard, founder of the National Social Equity League and graduate of Harvard, Yale, and Copenhagen, held a meeting to discuss the advancement of colored people. The meeting lead to a proposed piece of legislation which, if passed, would make Black-No-More Incorporated an illegal company, but the Attorney General returned a message saying it wasn’t possible to interfere with a business that is acting within the law.

Chapter 6:

The Knights of Nordica meet to celebrate the first anniversary of the K.of N. and the joining of the millionth member. The girl Max (Matthew) met at the bar in the beginning of the book, known now as Helen Givens, is set to get married Matthew. Bunny arrived to see Matthew in his office, and shocked Matthew with his new whitened skin. Matthew agrees to pay Bunny for help in his scam, and lets him in on the details of the K. of N. organization. Dr. Crookman decides that after opening his one hundredth facility it would be wise to start opening hospitals that would turn black babies white in twenty-four hours without anyone ever knowing the babies were black.

Chapter 7:

Matthew and Bunny get on a plane to meet with some business owners who employ approximately 1,000 people. During the meeting they discuss how to handle a strike that is calling for increased wages. Most of the employees are K. of N. members, and the organization is tied in with the company through under the table funding so they can’t fire the employee’s without affecting both the company and the organization. To avoid this mess Matthew calls the bluff of the company, and they admit to having the money to increase their employees wages. He also blackmails them for $15,000 dollars, and uses the faith of the employees to convince them not to strike.

Chapter 8:

The U.S. is struggling to adapt to the lack of black people after two years of the Black-No-More operations. The old segregatory black-only establishments and facilities are being closed up, and the Knight of Nordica are struggling to find black people to advocate against. Matthew finds out that he is having a child with Helen Givens, and he is trying to tell Bunny. Helen is adamant about having the child in her family home. Bunny and Matthew decide that because the baby is going to come out black they have to find some way to prevent Helen from doing the in house birth. Bunny asks for $5,000 to ‘solve’ the problem, and without telling Matthew the plan he hires Santop and Bonds for $2,000 to burn down the home. Bunny pocketed the extra $3,000 and in the end it was all for nothing because Helen had a miscarriage anyway.

Chapter 9:

Matthew is telling Bunny about his two-step plan to break the Knights of Nordica into politics. The first step is to get Givens on a national radio station so that he can preach anti-Black-No-More and call out the Republicans for being connected with the Pope. The second part of Matthew’s scheme is kept a secret and used to antagonize Bunny for a while. When he finally decided the time was right Matthew told Bunny he was planning on incorporating the Anglo-Saxon Association of America into the scheme so they could use their money to get Givens in office. President of the Anglo-Saxon Association of American, Mr. Arthur Snobbcraft, was delighted to meet with Matthew and Givens to discuss the proposed cooperative agreement.

Chapter 10:

A meeting to decide who the Democratic candidate of the election will be. Matthew is fighting hard for Givens to get the presidential spot in the campaign, but the Anglo-Saxon’s wanted Arthur Snobbcraft to fill the spot. After hours of bickering, Matthew threatens to pull the Knights of Nordica out of the alliance and it gives him a dominant position in the meeting. He took advantage of the situation and proposed that Givens be elected president and Snobbcraft would be elected vice president. Dr. Crookman and his crew are meeting with the National Chairman of the Republican National Committee about secretly supporting the Republican campaign with around five million dollars. The end of the chapter reveals that Dr. Beard, now white, has been working on the genealogy project for the Republican candidates. He announces that when they finally release the data from his research nobody will believe the results.

Chapter 11:

In this chapter Matthew calls in Bunny to tell him that Helen is pregnant again, and she is due in three weeks. They decide that the best choice is for Matthew to have a plane and cash ready for him when she goes into labor so that he can ask her to either accept him and come with, or deny him because of his skin color. In the latter case he would leave and never look back. As the election is going on the genealogy project finishes up and the results show that almost everyone in the country has black in their ancestry, including Givens, Buggerie, and Snobbcraft. To prevent people from finding out right before the election they decide to burn the results, but by the time they made their decision and got back to the lab the results had been stolen.

Chapter 12:

Helen has her baby in this chapter and it comes out black. She believes that it is caused by a hint of black that exists somewhere back in her ancestry uncovered by the genealogy project. After trying to apologize to Matthew for the ‘shame’ of a black baby he tells everyone his life story. The mobs get wild in search of the Givens and Helen, Matthew, Bunny, Mr. and Mrs. Givens, and the Doctor decide they have to run. They hastily drive to the plane, and flee from the dangers of the mob.

Chapter 13:

Snobbcraft and Buggerie also chose to use a plane to try and escape the wrath of the mobs, but when they arrived at the aircraft hangar the attended had fallen asleep and forgotten to fill the fuel tank. With the mob on their heels and no other choices they decided to take the plane as far as they could. When it started getting low on fuel they tried to bring it down at a fueling station where they would cover themselves in shoe polish and pretend to be black so that nobody would recognize them while the pilot filled the plane. However, the plane was not able to land before running out of gas so they crashed in Mississippi and had to walk to the nearest town. There they came acrossed a group of people singing and they assumed it to be a Christian meeting, and indeed it was something of the sort. The group was made up of members of a new kind of church, and upon seeing the ‘negroes’ it was evident that they intended to shoot, hang, and/or burn the men. After proving they were white the two men were allowed to wash up in a store, but while they were inside a newspaper boy came by and delivered a paper. The headline revealed the genealogy report about the two ‘white men’ and the church proceeded to take action against them for secretly having black ancestry. Snobbcraft and Buggerie had their genitals and ears cut off and sewn to their backs before being released to ‘run’. As they were running the mob lined up and shot the men before dragging them back to town to be burned alive in the name of Christ. Amen.

From Scholarly Articles

Jane Kuenz[2]

When George Schuyler’s Black No More appeared in early 1931, it entered a culture primed for its reception by more than three decades of apprehensive and contradictory public fulmination, posing as and often passing for a reasoned debate, on the subject of racial essences and their relation to national character. In his spoof on Harlem’s Talented Tenth; of the stock themes, incidents, and characters peopling their work; of W.E.B Du Bois (Dr. Shakespeare Agamemnon Beard, later Dr. Karl von Beerde, editor of the Dilemma) and the NAACP…

Treva D. Lindsey, PhD.[3]

At the core of the New Negro Movement was a desire for a re-creation of self, both individually and collectively. New Negroes acted upon this desire for re-creation through reconfiguring aesthetic and cultural traditions. African Americans engaged in new practices and aesthetic discourses with an unprecedented sense of possibility for self-determination and autonomy. Through the altering, adorning, and maintenance of physical appearance, African Americans could literally reconstruct and refashion themselves and create new models of black aesthetic identity. Aesthetic practices were integral to African Americans in shedding the vestiges of enslavement and for asserting their place within the modern world.

Sonnet H. Retman[4]

The scientific invention of Black-No-More harnesses performance and mechanically reproductive technologies to the making of ace, thereby usurping the racialized function of maternal labor (Mullen 77). Through this invention, Schuyler’s masculine protagonist capitalizes as a highly commercial, free-floating sign: while passing for white, he sells blackness and whiteness for personal gain. Tracking a series of financial transactions in the novel that center on race, I argue the Black No More illuminates new market possibilities for the trade of racial property in commodity form during the Fordist era.

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