October 30, 2008
Black No More: A story of irony
Black No More a novel is a parody about race that is set in the 1930s. In the fictional novel by George S. Schuyler discrimination and segregation is at its worse and the characters believe their lives would be better if they were all one race. During the story many people change their race to see if it would make their lives better but with that came more problems. With race being a tough subject for most people to talk about the author discusses the situation using different appeals to lighten up the topic. In Black No More Schuyler demonstrates irony, a humorous tone, and emotional appeals that beg the question would it be better if everyone was the same race?
The story takes place in Atlanta, Georgia where the main character Max Disher later known as Matthew Fisher and his friend, Bunny Brown, are in a club when they see a beautiful woman. Matthew (Max) is eager to approach the woman for a dance she rejects his offer because he was black. The men return to Harlem, New York and read about a doctor who has found a way to change ones race. Dr. Crookman is a black man who has discovered a way to lighten the skin of African-Americans to make them appear Caucasian he creates Black-No-More Incorporated. Matthew is one of the first people to try out the treatment and selling his story to a magazine earned him enough money to return to Atlanta. Black-No-More Incorporated soon started expanding around America to the point where there were few African Americans to be seen. One flaw with the “treatment” is that the offspring of the “whitened” African Americans will still come out as black children. Dr. Crookman had created “lying-in” hospitals to have children whitened as well to protect the identities of the whitened blacks. In Atlanta, Matthew created a new identity and became acquainted with Rev. Givens a former KKK leader who was now the leader of “Knights of Nordica” a democratic group that promotes white supremacy and “racial integrity” and is against Black-No-More. Matthew fools Rev. Givens into believing that he is a famous anthropologist from New York. At Matthew’s first meeting he saw the woman from the club. He asks Givens who she is. Coincidently the woman, Helen, is Givens’ daughter. Helen and Matthew soon got married with his secret being left untold. He is nervous that his secret may be unveiled when his wife becomes pregnant. Bunny Brown paid two men to burn down the Givens’ home which brought stress to Helen and she had a miscarriage.
The Knights of Nordica joined with the Anglo-Saxon Association to run for office their main goal was to expose every white person with “negro ancestry”. The vice-president Arthur Snobbcraft hires a statistician to find out the information, it turns out that most people, including the leader of the Anglo-Saxon group and Givens had at least one black ancestor. With the new information being exposed Helen gets pregnant again and has a child with a dark complexion she believes that it is because she has black ancestors. Matthew tells her the truth and she still loves him regardless. Matthew, the Givens family, and Bunny all run out of the country to escape mobs that had begun chasing them. The Statistician and Snobbcraft are lynched by a mob in a small town “Happy Hill”. In the end Dr. Crookman notices that the treatment made people whiter than actual Caucasians. After this was noticed many people started tanning to become darker.
George Schuyler uses different techniques to argue that changing ones race will not stop discrimination nor will it better ones life. The book was originally written in the 1930s a time where racism and depression was at its worse which may be the reason Schuyler wrote this book. His target audience seems to be others who may believe that changing ones race will bring them more success and a better lifestyle. In the book Matthew Fisher has a hard time finding a job as a black man as well as a white man until he meets Givens which shows a parody of how people think. I think the audience would be persuaded by Schuyler’s argument because he presents a humorous tone to a sensitive subject. His emotional appeals and the ironic situations in Black-No-More show that he is for a modern idea but probably not an idea that was popular in the thirties.
Throughout Black-No-More, Schuyler expresses irony through his characters and their situations to make fun of his argument. One ironic character is Matthew who only prefers light or white women even though he is dark. “Both swore there were three things essential to the happiness of a colored gentleman: yellow money, yellow women and yellow taxis” (Schuyler 19). Throughout most of the novel Matthew is trying to hide his identity from the people around him. He joins a group dedicated to shutting down Black-No-More and “racial integrity” although he is a product of Black-No-More and not being honest about his true race. “Unlike Givens, he had no belief in the racial integrity nonsense nor any confidence in the white masses whom he thought were destined to flock to the Knights of Nordica” (70). Yet Matthew was still member of the group and was also the editor of their newspaper “The Warning”. In the newspaper he “Very cleverly linked up the Pope, the Yellow Peril, the Alien Invasion and Foreign Entanglements with Black-No-More as devices of the Devil” (106). Matthew was a constant contradiction throughout the novel.
Matthew was not the only ironic character but many characters in the novel demonstrate similar contradictions. Givens and his wife are “sincere” Christians yet they were constantly the opposite of what most people would consider to be holy. In the book Mrs. Givens is known for her religious ways of life yet she uses the name of God in vain, she never stated the exact truth, she hated black people, and her husband was sure that when they married she was not a virgin (73). Rev. Givens believes that black people have inferior intellectual qualities even though Matthew, a black man, tricks him into thinking he was an anthropologist. Another ironic character in an ironic situation is Dr. Crookman. The founder of Black-No-More is a “proud” African American and only wants for his people to be uplifted (94). However Dr. Crookman created a treatment to change his people not help them and he never uses his treatment for his own self. Another ironic character, in the beginning of the novel, Bunny Brown is also like Matthew only preferring lighter women and in the end he falls for a woman with a dark complexion after he’s no longer black.
The irony of the novel gives off a humorous tone. Matthew finds out that the woman he had been in pursuit of is Givens’ daughter. He believes that because she is so pretty that she would surely be intellectual but it turns out that she is the exact opposite. With Matthew in constant fear of being found out him and Bunny come up with different schemes to hide their identity. Helen is apologetic and ashamed when her child comes out black little did she know Matthew was a black man.
Black-No-More was established to erase the color lines in America “Day by day we see the color line which we have so laboriously established being rapidly destroyed” (50). The treatment was known as a science to succeed where the Civil War had failed (25). Black-No-More had actually created more problems in the society and brought along more prejudices within a race. The whitened African-Americans are paler than the original Caucasians which causes everyone to be suspicious.
Characters such as Dr. Shakespeare Agamemnon Beard and Arthur Snobbcraft display Schuyler’s humorous tone. When Dr. Beard and other members of the Republican Party steal the summary of whites with black ancestry they leave a note for Snobbcraft and the statistician. The note read “Thanks very much for leaving that report where I could get hold of it. I am leaving this paper so you’ll have something on which to write another summary. Happy Dreams, Little One” (184). It is a coincidence that Dr. Beard a whitened black man who once worked for the “Negro Racial Integrity League” is in contact with a man who is responsible for the statistics found by Snobbcraft.
Snobbcraft and the statistician flee their hometown after the newspaper exposes them too having black ancestors. Their plane starts to act up and they land in a small and depressed town called “Happy Hill.” The two men covered themselves in black shoe polish thinking that it would hide their identities in case the citizens recognized them. Coincidently, the citizens of Happy Hill are racist labor workers who believed that God would send them a black man to lynch. So they lynch the two men after reading about their black ancestry. Two men where watching in the crowd who felt sympathy for the men because they once had seen their own family members in the same situations. To avoid looking suspicious the two whitened audience members spat and togged on the hanging burning bodies.
Schuyler uses emotional appeals such as fear, pain, anxiety, and happiness to pursue his audience’s attention so that they can connect with the characters. Fear is displayed throughout most of the novel with the main character in constant panic of being found out for who he really is. Pain and anxiety are expressed in different instances. Matthew experiences both emotions when he is first whitened. He was thankful but for a moment he wanted to engage in the activities with the black people surrounding him who seemed a lot more happy and satisfied with their not so great lives. “He felt a momentary pang of mingled disgust, disillusionment and nostalgia”(40). Matthew is also saddened by his wife’s miscarriage yet joyful because of the miscarriage she does not find out about his true identity.
Black-No-More is a clever parody of race in the 1930s. The post-Civil War times were when depression and racism was at its worse. Schuyler wrote this book to make fun of the individuals who thought that if they were able to change their race to white that they would have better lives and that it would solve all of life’s problems. His persuasion techniques were humor, irony, and emotional appeals expressed through the characters and their situations. The fictional novel showed a different idea from what most people in that time might have believed.
Schuyler, George S. Black-No-More. New York, NY: The Macmillan Company, 1971. 27-222.