is the title of George S. Schuyler's satirical novel. Originally published in 1931 by The Macaulay Company, New York, its main concerns are racial identity, racial bias and politics. More relevant today, probably, with all the discussions taking place in the American media that concern race relations in the United States.
Mr. Schuyler's book begins with Dr. Junius Crookman, a black physician, who discovers a scientific method to..."turn darkies white..." He opens a sanitarium in Harlem and sets out on a grand plan to rid America of its "race problem..." "To either get out, get white or get along..." As he says in an interview with a "Negro" reporter: "In three days the Negro becomes to all appearances a Caucasian."
Dr. Crookman's conversion process, though successful, causes a myriad of unforeseen complications for Negroes who take him up on his offer. One of them is Mr. Schuyler's main character, Max Disher, who becomes a white man from head to toe after Dr. Crookman works his magic on him in his Harlem sanitarium. But Max Disher's life, who renames himself Matthew Fisher, takes a dramatic turn when he relocates to Atlanta, Georgia from New York.
Soon after his move Matthew Fisher ingratiates himself to The Knights of Nordica, a white Supremacy Organization. Its agenda is similar to that of the Ku Klux Klan. In an ironic twist, the Reverend Henry Givens, The Imperial Grand Wizard, is the father of Helen Givens. She is the same young woman who rejects the former Max Disher's invitation to dance at a Harlem club patronized by "white and black folk..." It occurs before the Negro Max Disher reinvents himself as the Nordic Matthew Fisher. After an unpleasant exchange between Max and Helen, she turns to her friend and says, "Can you beat the nerve of these darkies?" Naturally, Max is hurt and dejected as he slinks back to his table.
Now, in Atlanta as a bonafide Caucasian, Matthew Fisher once again encounters and is free to pursue the affection of the alluring, green eyed beauty Helen Givens without hesitation or fear of rejection, because he is a Negro. And so he does. But first he becomes a trusted, influential advisor to her powerful father. Unbeknown to Henry Givens, Matthew's aim is to subvert the political goals of The Knights of Nordica. Furthermore, the now blond and blue eyed Matthew Fisher is in the dark about the relationship between Henry Givens and Helen.
Until the day he once again sets eyes on her.
The now Caucasian Matthew Fisher's relocation to Atlanta is fraught with seemingly an unsurmountable amount of obstacles. Though, throughout his amorous pursuit of Helen Givens and his tense filled determination to bring down her father and his organization, The Knights of Nordica, the Negro Max Disher never forgets nor rejects his true racial identity. There is a marriage and a pregnancy thereafter. How will it all turn out for Matthew Fisher? Will his child inherit the Caucasian appearance of his wife, Helen? Which would enable him to continue his quest of destroying her father's racist organization? Or will Matthew be forced to own up to his true racial identity after the birth of his Negro child and possibly face his own physical demise at the hands of Helen's father, the Reverend Henry Givens?
In 1948 Ray Sprigle, a white journalist published a series of newspaper articles about his experience passing as a Black man in the south titled, "I Was a Negro in the South for 30 Days". It was followed by John Howard Griffin's nonfiction book, Black Like Me, first published in 1961. It is an account of Mr. Griffin's odyssey passing as a Black man through the southern states of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi, which were all racially segregated at the time. Black Like Me was adapted into a film of the same title released in 1964. It starred James Whitmore as Mr. Griffin's alter ego.
The title of Mr. Griffen's book was taken from the last line of a poem, "Dream Variations", by Langston Hughes. Here it is in its entirety.
To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently.
Dark like me---
That is my dream!
To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done
Rest at pale evening...
A tall, slim tree...
Night coming tenderly
Black like me.