Black No More by George S. Schuyler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In this Harlem renaissance classic, Schuler mixes satire and science fiction for a unique blend of social commentary. Black No More is not often referred to as science fiction, but it is the first science-fiction work by an African-American writer.
By definition, a satire is supposed to be “over the top” funny. Here, Schuler’s jokes are mostly “in your face”, but just when you, as a reader, are feeling saturated by the humor, he switches it up and gives you something a little more subtle. For myself, I didn’t think that it was laugh out loud funny, but I found it extremely interesting. The irreverence he showed for the icons of his time, like DuBois was shocking, but I felt he made a good cases to justify his criticism.
Schulyer’s overarching themes are: (1) Racism is absurd; (2) Racism is used by capitalist elites to control the population. After reading this book, I did a little research on Schyuler, and I was shocked that shortly after writing this book, his political leanings took a 180 degree turn. Clearly, part of the agenda in writing Black No More was to garner support for, what was considered at the time, socialist ideas. Also, Schuler was very critical of the NAACP. Maybe his satire spoke more truth about who he was than anyone could have guessed. In Black No More he accused everyone of using racism to make money, but Schulyer seems to have done exactly that. He aligned himself with agendas that most would consider hostile to civil rights. For example, in 1968, in a radio broadcast Schuyler said, "In South Africa you have a system of apartheid. That's their business. I don’t think it’s the business of other people to change their society." He opposed Martin Luther King’s award of the Nobel Peace prize. Although, in Black No More, he was very critical of the NAACP, Schulyer worked for the NAACP from 1937-1944 as business manager.
Was any of the satire based on genuine conviction? He criticizes black men for their apparent rejection of black women, but at the time he wrote the book, he was married to the rich, white heiress, Josephine Lewis Cogdell. Schuyler became a staunch conservative, leaning extremely right, and he made a good living expounding his point of view. He may have switch sides in real life as easily as Max Disher turned into Matthew Fisher. It might be interesting to read one of his later books like Black and Conservative: the Autobiography of George Schuyler or Rac(e)Ing to the Right. I assume either would offer some explanation for his transformation.
Questioning Schuyler’s real opinions when he wrote this book is interesting, on an academic level to me, but does not change my perception of the book itself. It is well done. The book lacks depth, but that can be forgiven with a satire. I didn’t like the part of the ending involving the botched getaway. I thought it was little long and gory. When I read Black No More, it reminded me of Mat Johnson’s Pym. In a way, even the endings were similar. Johnson lost control of Pym in the same way I think Black got away from Schulyer. Both books offer irreverent, entertaining social commentary.
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