George S. Schuyler, “Black No More” Fun with the Color Line

“Again, the Aframerican is subject to the same economic and social forces that mold the actions and thoughts of the white Americans. He is not living in a different world as some whites and a few Negroes would have me believe. When the jangling of his Connecticut alarm clock gets him out of his Grand Rapids bed to a breakfast similar to that eaten by his white brother across the street; when he toils at the same or similar work in mills, mines, factories, and commerce alongside the descendants of Spartacus, Robin Hood, and Erik the Red; when he wears similar clothing and speaks the same language with the same degree of perfection; when he reads the same Bible and belongs to the Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal, or Catholic church; when his fraternal affiliations also include the Elks, Masons, and Knights of Pythias; when he gets the same or similar schooling, lives in the same kind of houses, owns the same Hollywood version of life on the screen; when he smokes the same brands of tobacco and avidly peruses the same puerile periodicals; in short, when he responds to the same political, social, moral, and economic stimuli in precisely the same manner as his white neighbor, it is sheer nonsense to talk about “racial differences” as between the American black man and the American white man. Glance over a Negro newspaper (it is printed in good Americanese) and you will find the usual quota or crime news, scandal, personals, and uplift to be found in the average white newspaper—which, by the way, is more widely read by the Negroes than is the Negro press. In order to satisfy the cravings of an inferiority complex engendered by the colorphobia of the mob, the readers of the Negro newspapers are given a slight dash of racialistic seasoning. In the homes of the black and white Americans of the same cultural and economic level one finds similar furniture, literature, and conversation. How, then, can the black American be expected to produce art and literature dissimilar to that of the white American?”

schuyler

This is from George S. Schuyler’s article “The Negro Art-Hokum,” which argues that there is no authentically dissimilar black art in America.  There are certainly American artists – as there are artists from every nature reflecting those the local character.  This was not the majority opinion among black writers of the Harlem Renaissance who were trying to define the distinctive elements of their art and culture.  George S Schuyler is known as a conservative writer.  He was impressive for his life-long attack on the color-line.  He married a white woman.  He critiqued slavery in Liberia (for black nationalists a pan-African island in colonial Africa).  He was an opponent of the racism reflected in the internment of Japanese Americans.  I am not sure the origins of his virulent anti-Communism and his opposition to King but he died a member of the John Birch society.  How far he was to the right when he published Black No More, I do not know, yet the novel does spend much of its time pointing out the common purpose of the KKK and various civil rights groups of the early 20th century.  In short, he argued that they both made money off of racism and the end of racism was a threat to the survival of both the Klan and black churches or black business, etc.  As institutions they wanted to survive even if it meant a betrayal of their stated goals. Ah, I am getting ahead of myself.  Black No More and the article “The Negro Art-Hokum” together show that the color line is artificial and should be broken down but that would require the end of racial thinking on both sides of the color line.  I am certain he would not be supportive of multi-cultural nonsense such as “Black History Month.”

I am reminded of this episode of “The Boondocks,” for no particular reason.

Black No More: Being an Account of the Strange and Wonderful Workings of Science in the Land of the Free, A.D. 1933–1940 is a wonderful novel and incredibly fun.  Its main point is indeed the reliance of both racist and ostensibly anti-racist organizations on the color line.  The plot centers on a scientific development in which a scientist could transform black people into whites in three days (newborn infants in one day, this is important because mixed race children are still born with dark skin much to the surprise of many mothers).  The protagonist Max Disher is rejected by a white woman in Atlanta on account of his race.  So when he hears about the scientific breakthrough of “Black No More,” he rushes to become one of the first.  in his mind the entire time is that white woman in Atlanta, who he seems to have fallen in love with but the erotic desire is not at all hidden.  Later he attempts to profit from “Black No More” by joining up with the KKK in opposing the operation of these clinics.  This technology, in the view of the KKK, is a threat to white supremacy.  Disher is more than happy to help, for a salary, and he is glad to find out that the white woman who rejected him is the a daughter of one of the white supremacists.   As membership and donations to black churches and agency groups declined (hey, the solution to racism was found in science!) they entered into an alliance with the white supremacists to try to shut down the “Black No More” clinics.  The novel ends with an interesting resolution.  First, a new definition of Caucasian is developed, meaning Anglo-Saxon heritage.  In this way, America went back to the early 19th century definition of “white.”  Also, some upper class folk began to darken their skin using tanning to separate themselves from more lower class folk, restoring (in a way) racial segregation.

What I am going to take from this novel is that we need to be aware of how we are invested in institutions and “the system” in ways that we cannot always articulate.  This does not mean that any struggle is inauthentic, only that success will require rethinking much about our own identity.  For someone in the movement (and I do not claim to be one of them) there is the danger of losing her identity when victory is won.  That is what happened to activists on both sides of the color line in Black No More and it turned them into reactionaries.

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