Black No More

Introduction

Black No More: Being an Account of the Strange and Wonderful Workings of Science in the Land of the Free, AD 1933-1940 is a 1931 Harlem Renaissance era satire on American race relations by George S. Schuyler (pronounced /ˈskaɪlər/ Sky-ler). He targets both the KKK and NAACP in condemning the ways in which race functions as both an obsession and a commodity in early twentieth-century America. The central premise of the novel is that an African American scientist invents a process that can transform blacks into whites. Those who have internalized white racism, those who are tired of inferior opportunities socially and economically, and those who simply want to expand their sexual horizons, line up to be transformed. As the country "whitens", the economic importance of racial segregation in the South as a means of maintaining elite white economic and social status becomes increasingly apparent.

The novel is known not only for its satiric bite and inventive plot machinations, but also for the caricatures of prominent figures of the American 1920s including W. E. B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, James Weldon Johnson, C. J. Walker and others. It is included in the 2012 collection: "Harlem Renaissance Novels".

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.

Plot Summary

The novel begins at a speakeasy in Harlem on New Years Eve, where protagonist Max Disher’s romantic advances are rejected by a white woman solely because he is black. The following morning, he reads about a new scientific procedure for turning black skin white called “Black-No-More,” and he decides to go through with the procedure.

As the Black-No-More procedure grows increasingly popular, it wreaks havoc on the social and economic institutions of Harlem, drawing resistance from leaders in the African American community. It also draws fierce resistance from Southern segregationist organizations. Meanwhile, Max—who has now changed his name to Matthew Fisher—discovers that life as a white man is not as great as he imagined. In order to earn some money, he joins Reverend Harry Givens’s white supremacist organization, The Knights of Nordica, claiming that he has the expertise necessary to help them end Black-No-More.

Incidentally, the woman who rejected Matthew at the beginning of the novel is Rev. Givens’s daughter, Helen. Now that he is white and a prominent member of a white supremacist organization, Matthew wins Helen’s affection and, eventually, her hand in marriage. This becomes dangerous for Matthew, however, when Helen becomes pregnant, raising the specter—faced by an increasing number of newly-whitened individuals—of a non-white child betraying his true identity.

The Knights of Nordica break into politics, teaming up with the well-funded Anglo-Saxon Association, whose leader, Arthur Snobbcraft, shares the Democratic presidential ticket with Rev. Givens. With fewer and fewer black individuals left for Snobbcraft and Givens to stake their racist positions against, they hire a statistician, Dr. Samuel Buggerie, to conduct a massive inquiry into the genealogy of American citizens and thereby taint their opponents as genealogically, if not epidermically, “black.”

After a miscarriage, Helen becomes pregnant again, prompting Matthew to keep an airplane and spare cash on hand for a quick escape whenever she happens to go into labor. He decides that, when she gives birth to what will inevitably be their black child, he will ask her either to reject him outright, or to accept him for who he is and leave the country with him. However, with the genealogy project nearing completion on the eve of election day, the results indicate that almost all Americans have at least some African ancestry, including Snobbcraft, Buggerie, Givens, and Helen. These results are stolen by the Republicans and then leaked to the media. When Helen’s child is born black, she blames herself for her undisclosed African-American heritage. Matthew then admits his own heritage, and she accepts him for who he is.

A violent mob forms when word spreads of Givens’s and Snobbcraft’s “impure” ancestry. Snobbcraft and Buggerie flee together on Matthew’s airplane, but they are forced to land in Mississippi when they run out of fuel. Afraid of revealing their true identities, they blacken their faces with shoe-polish, which proves to be an unfortunate decision, as they encounter a group of local zealots who have been eagerly waiting for a black person—any black person—to kill. Givens and Snobbcraft remove their disguises and convince the zealots that they are, in fact, white, but just at this moment a newspaper arrives, divulging their true ancestry. Snobbcraft and Buggerie are mutilated and then burned alive.

Critical Reception

Jane Kuenz

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…[2]

Treva D. Lindsey, PhD

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.[3]

Sonnet H. Retman

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.[4]

Black No More and Schuyler's Legacy

Black No More aligns with Schuyler's long held sentiments towards race in America. He has argued that races behave the same when in similar socioeconomic standings, attributing ways of life to regional differences as opposed to racial differences. In doing this, Schuyler is rejecting any fundamental difference in race, a perspective that is present in Black No More. This viewpoint can be found in the overall plot of the story. If a black person can undergo a change of skin color and hair color and be white, no internal changes required, than there are no inherent differences between the two. In the text, Schuyler explicitly writes that differences found in facial features, voice, and language are all grossly exaggerated, arguing racial distinctions hold no ground. While these views have been subject to much debate, it is what makes Black No More possible for Schuyler as well as the reader.

Publication history
  • 1931 1st ed
  • 1969 reprint OCLC 000014802
  • 1971 reprint
  • 1989 reprint ISBN 1-55553-063-X [1]
  • 1999 reprint ISBN 0-375-75380-X
References
  1. ^ Mark Dery. Black To The Future. 1995
  2. ^ Lindsey, Treva B. Black no more: Skin Bleaching and The Emergence of New Negro Womanhood Beauty Culture. Journal of Pan African Studies 4, no. 4: 97-112. 2011.
  3. ^ Retman, Sonnet H. Black No More: George Schuyler and Racial Capitalism. Pmla: 1448-1464. 2008.
  4. ^ Kuenz, Jane. American Racial Discourse, 1900-1930: Schuyler's "Black No More". NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 30, no. 2: 170-192. 1997

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