Mr. Max Disher, an African American man living in Harlem on the eve of the new year of 1933, walks into a predominantly Black neighborhood bar/club to celebrate with his close friends. There he sees a beautiful young woman of fair skin strutting into the bar with a couple other White men and women, taking a seat across the room. His friend advises him to stay away from the White women, but Max pays no mind. He has his heart set on this girl. “‘Would you care to dance?’ he asked, after a moment’s hesitation. She looked up at him haughtily with cool green eyes… ‘No,’ she said icily, ‘I never dance with niggers!’ Then turning to her friend, she remarked: ‘Can you beat the nerve of these darkies?’” (Schuyler 5). From that moment, Max knew he wanted to find a way to become a respected human being, not having to worry about where he’s allowed to sit, who he can talk to, or what he can possess. Convenient for his predicament, an African American doctor by the name of Dr. Junius Crookman, announced his discovery of how to successfully turn black skin white; his company name being Black No More. Max immediately jumped on the opportunity, only hesitating for a quick moment to analyze the consequences of this procedure. For Max the pros outweighed the cons. The procedure was complete and Max’s complexion couldn’t be confused for a Black man. Continuing with his transformation, he decides to change his name to Matthew Fisher (he believed it was a much more Caucasian name) and move to Atlanta in search of the young lady who had turned him down because of his skin color (Schuyler).
Black No More by George S. Schuyler is a novel describing the absurd notion and possibility of turning Black and Colored people into a white skinned person. Although this was brought to my attention by a class I was taking at the time, the story itself was enjoyable. After finishing Black No More, I realized it would have been a novel worth reading on my own time, instead of as homework. I mentioned the absurdity of this situation ever occurring because as Matt’s journey continues after finding Helen Givens, the woman from the bar who happens to be the daughter of a white supremacy leader, he joins a group branched off of the Ku Klux Klan called the Knights of Nordica. Matt’s decisions in the group eventually promote his title to be one of the assistant leaders. This group becomes a type of capitalist business, deconstructing Dr. Crookman’s company and finding a profit in keeping the working class focused on white supremacy. Several years later, Matt and Helen are married with a child on the way. Remembering one of the untouched effects of the Black No More procedure, appearances of a transformed person will not transfer to their offspring. This means that a Black person turned White will most likely have a mulatto baby if they conceive with another White person. Before Matt confesses his secret to his wife, a newspaper article is released with the headlines: “Democratic Leaders Proved of Negro Descent. Givens…and Others of Negro Ancestry, According to Old Records Unearthed by Them,” (Schuyler 127). This announcement, all of a sudden, lifts all racist thought in the minds of the (white supremacy supporting) Givens family. The moment they realize that they have a drop of African American blood in their veins, they become accepting of all Black people which is a perfect time for Matt to tell the Givens family that he was, in fact, once a Black man.
George S. Schuyler (1895-1977) is an African American author who introduced this novel idea as an expansion of concepts that were created in his lifetime. The first “Black to White” procedure focused on the straightening of African American curly hair. This was called “Kink No More” and said to be “unfailing straightening of the most stubborn Negro hair,” (Schuyler v). Unfortunately, the client would have to repeat the process every two weeks or so, contradictory of the procedure name. The second inspiration Schuyler used in writing Black No More was the announcement made in 1929 of Japanese Scientist, Dr. Yusaburo Noguchi, successfully finding a way to turn Black skin into White skin (Washington). Schuyler combined these two concepts into a fully developed story in Black No More.
In the late 1920s, early 1930s, the Jim Crow laws were in full effect. Segregation between Black and White neighborhoods was common by de jure (Pittaman, 2015). Black No More took place in Harlem, a city with predominantly African American people in the 1920s (Wikipedia). The club where Max first saw Helen was also predominantly African American. White people had the freedom to attend any bar or club of their choosing, while Blacks were limited to the “Colored” venues. There was little talk of Max’s job before the procedure but the feeling of restriction was lifted after the transformation. As a White male, Matt was able to move freely, entering into job positions that he couldn’t have held as a Black man because of the employment discrimination (Pittman, 2015).
During the first Great Migration, 1.5 million Blacks left the South in search of a better living environment in the North (Pittman, 2015). Schuyler implemented the fact by creating characters that were born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. Max was one of 1.5 million people that left the South during the migration. He, like many others, happened to find refuge in Harlem, New York. Whitecapping and other forms of white violence were a push factor for Blacks leaving the South (Pittman, 2015). Schuyler implied that because many Whites in the South were still gung ho about white supremacy, the only way to live comfortably in Atlanta was to “either get out, get white, or get along,” (Schuyler 8). The latter would be nearly impossible because of the mass support for White power in the South during the 1920s/1930s, not only in the novel but in reality, too. Schuyler made sure the background information and setting was relevant to the current affairs in his time. Max already accomplished getting out, but now to get the girl, he needed to get white, and so he did.
A man, formerly of dark skin, joins a white supremacy group in search of a better life. I hope you find this to be as bizarre as I do. What made it an enjoyable novel are the many sarcastic “ha-ha” moments. One of those moments, for example, is the creator of the Black No More, Junius Crookman, has a name ironically similar to “genius crook man”. It was a kind of hint at what his character is portraying. This novel was originally published in 1930 but set in 1933, Schuyler somewhat hinting at the consequences of the future if such a procedure ever existed. On a personal level, there were times when I wondered what the world would be like if every human was the same shade of blue skin. It doesn’t have to be blue, it could be green or red or purple. The point is to have a place where race is not an issue. What problems would the world have then? What if the Black No More procedure was reality but children of transformed persons would also have the transferred appearance? It is questions like those that make me realize the United States’ history is extremely slow at progressing or deconstructing racial boundaries.
By: Alina Chuong
Schuyler, George S. Black No More. 1931. Mineola: Dover Publications, Inc., 2011. Print.
Pittman, LaShawnDa (2015). The Great Migration [PowerPoint Presentation].
Pittman, LaShawnDa (2015). The Great Migration 2 [PowerPoint Presentation].
Pittman, LaShawnDa (2015). How They Got Over It [PowerPoint Presentation].
Washington. “Glands Govern Racial Colors, Says Scientist.” The Afro American. 2 November 1929. Print.
“Harlem.” Wikipedia. Web. 10 December 2015. < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harlem>.