The Effects of Ancestry in George Schuyler’s Black No More
Prior to the Black-No-More treatment in George Schuyler’s satirical novel, it was easy for people to tell who definitely had “colored blood” because they were not white. But when Dr. Crookman’s treatment came about, the only possible way to tell the difference between anyone was through his or her child/ren. Since everybody looked white, you either had to trust that they were or assume that they underwent the Black-No-More operation.
This, of course, is contrary to what the treatment was supposed to be–at least, it is according to the people who got it–as it was meant to erase color and judgment. In reality, though, it only created a society that contained people who were more suspicious of others than ever, all because of “non-pure” “white” people.
However: when Dr. Buggerie’s research yields the surprising results that everyone in the country has at least some “colored blood” in their ancestry, and it is then published, there are two main reactions to the news. The first of these, of course, is to despair at “tainted blood,” while the second is to simply accept it or realize that one can change what he or she looks like on the outside, but cannot change his or her genes.
Of course, we learn that Helen, Matthew Fisher’s wife, is upset about there being “colored” ancestry in her line, and that she immediately takes the blame for their son’s dark skin. When Matthew reveals himself, though, Helen is very accepting, which is really shocking and seems entirely out-of-character. Personally, I like to think that Helen loved Matthew so much that she didn’t care that he was not born white (a love above all sort of situation).
The people in Happy Hill, Mississippi, though, did not acknowledge the news at all, still choosing to believe that they were superior to those with dark skin even if they knew about the study (which is doubtful, considering few of the citizens in the second-to-last scene of the book seemed able to read…or those who can read didn’t share the news with everyone else). For them, it was part of their religion to lynch dark-skinned people, and even when they discover that Buggerie and Snobbcraft are black except they’re white except they used to be black, they lynch the two men because 1) the Reverend needed to satisfy his congregation, 2) Snobbcraft’s photo was in the paper, and 3) because they probably would’ve descended further into blood-lusty madness if they didn’t. All of that, despite (presumably) knowing that they themselves have “colored blood.”
I found a really cool photo article of people who identify as Black (Zun Lee, above, is one of the people in the photoset) despite not necessarily “looking Black,” which ties in well with the discussion about race, ethnicity, and culture that we had today. I believe that race should be irrelevant. The color of a person’s skin should not be cause for discrimination. Ethnicity and culture, are, however, very important and I think that they very much define a person and that person’s values.
You may wonder why I separate race and ethnicity–it’s because the two are so commonly mistaken as being the same thing that they are often used interchangeably. This, however, is incorrect. Race is socially-constructed, hierarchical, and relies on physical characteristics while ethnicity refers to cultural factors, including ancestry and language. (There is a super handy chart via that last link illustrating some example differences).
Culture, of course, is awesome and should be celebrated as much as possible. I am extremely fascinated by the things that people whose cultures differ from my own do and take part in, and I think it’s really cool that there are so many different cultural aspects of life–food, clothing, language dialects, etc.
Schuyler, George. Black No More. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1931. Print.
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