“Black No More” Essay
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George Schuyler’s “Black No More” Essay
Appeared early in 1931 and accompanied with contradictory public debate on the subject of racial essences and their relation to national character, George Schuyler’s “Black No More” immediately entered the culture and occupied distinguishable place in contemporary classic literature. Simultaneously, the plot of “Black No More” can be characterized as relatively simple and even obvious in the context of 1931. The story itself follows the ups and downs of Max Disher in profiting from the work of Dr. Junius Crookman. Crookman’s efforts have resulted in a treatment, which lightens dark skin permanently: no bleaches or creams, and the process is “glandular” and “electrical” (Schuyler, 27).
Crookman’s treatment results in effective transformation of Negro into Caucasian. However, expected amalgamation of the country’s different peoples never happens. To a black public wild to have it, Crookman’s “Black-No-More” makes them not just white, but even whiter than white, too white apparently for regular white folks determined to be distinguished as such. As Crookman later naively reports, “Black-No-More” makes one a shade paler than garden – variety whites who reason with consequent enlightenment that “if it were true that extreme whiteness was evidence of the possession of Negro blood … then surely it were well not to be so white” (Schuyler, 219). Even though a secret research project reveals against the hopes of its sponsors that over 50% of the “white” American population has “tainted blood” – leading one “Nordic” to admit that “we’re all niggers now” (Schuyler, 193) – a subsequent reversal and redrawing of racial boundaries ensues, made complete and authoritative with the help of churches, courts, schools, labor unions, newspapers and magazines, social and biological sciences, political and cultural organs, and all the other ideological state apparatuses integral in the erection and maintenance of a really effective oppressive system. From the critical point of view, the story represents Schuyler’s peculiar satire and the book’s popularity among an African-American audience at the time of its publication points the extent to which he and they were attuned to the contradictory claims made about race, class and culture in the U.S.
In her work called “George Schuyler: Paradox Among ‘Assimilationist’ Writers” Ann Rayson argues creatively that Schuyler cannot even be called an assimilationist because by the late 1960s the world he wants to be a part of is farther to the right than the majority culture in the U.S. Rayson dates Schuyler’s turn to the right a decade earlier with the Scottsboro trial and what he and many others thought was the International Labor Defense’s mishandling of the defense.
Simultaneously, Rayson cites Schuler’s expression posted in “Views and Reviews” column for The Pittsburgh Courier in April, 1933, Schuyler derided the defense’s “faulty tactics,” chief among which was its attempt to present the issues of the case in class rather than racial terms. According to Schuyler, “Anybody who is at all familiar with the Southern psychology knows that no class issues are involved save of the most remote and inconsequential kind. It is a race issue pure and simple” (Rayson, 105).
Simultaneously, in his article “A Fragmented Man…,” famous literary critic Henry Gates asserts that “Schuyler’s depiction of the U.S., black and white, is uniformly bleak: a world in which everyone is subject to and motivated by the same ruthless social and economic forces and out of which select winners emerge by dint of their own corresponding ruthlessness” (Gates, 42). Thus, according to Gates, regardless of whatever Schuyler advocated later in life, it underestimates Schuyler’s argument in “Black No More” to call it assimilationist, because making assimilationist arguments already presumes distinct categories of color and culture, “but this would be difficult for Schuyler to do since he believed that at best, race is a superstition” (Gates, 43).
From the critical and personal point of view, in “Black No More” Schuyler translates the categories of racial difference and white racist discourse into economic categories where they are no longer signs of racial essences but of whether an individual has been hired at the service of U.S. capitalism.
Practically, Schuyler surely understood and consequently feared that in the U.S. more than anywhere, “wanting to be white” was all about wanting to secure this life and the national and cultural borders on which its maintenance depends.
Therefore, I disagree with both Gates and Rayson, which comprehended “Black No More” in the trajectories of race and class, because Schuyler specifically emptied the story from racial and class meaning, emphasizing the development of the particular culture and highlighting the similarities between “European” and “Negro.” It is about cultural, not racial or class differences.