New musical ‘Black No More’ asks: If you had the chance to be white, would you take it?

OPINION: Starring Black Thought and Brandon Victor Dixon, the play offers a glimpse at a fascinating thought experiment that walks us through a nightmare scenario of someone willing to make a deal with the devil.

Black Thought in the musical "Black No More." (Credit: Monique Carboni/The New Group)

What if I told you there was a machine that could turn you from Black to white? You could become a white person for a small price and a brief procedure called deblackification. Would you do it? Of course, you’re saying, “Hell no! I love being Black!” I’m sure you do. I do, too. You’d miss the joy of being part of this awesome global tribe; you’d miss Black culture; you’d miss Black fortitude; you’d miss Black joy; you’d miss being cool. 

But imagine never fearing the police. Imagine getting jobs and promotions and bank loans with ease—even if you’re mediocre. Imagine your bank account swelling. Imagine freedom from Karens. Imagine freedom from racism. Imagine living your life without having to fight to be seen in this country, without being undervalued, without having your skin color be a challenge to surmount but instead, it becomes the wind beneath your wings.

There’s an awesome new musical called Black No More, starring Black Thought (billed as Tariq Trotter) from The Roots as an evil scientist in 1920s Harlem who figures out how to control vitiligo and thus turn Black people white. So many people take advantage of this technology that Harlem grows nearly empty. We do not see white people being given the option to turn Black; one wonders how many of them would take it. Most of the play’s Black folks sign up to switch without consternation, but as with any deal with the devil, things seem perfect at first and disintegrate later when it’s too late.

Our main character (played by Brandon Victor Dixon) starts as a Harlem smoothie, a cool, average brother who’s struggling to get by, but after a turn in the Black No More device, he becomes white. Immediately, he talks about feeling optimistic, and his body language suggests someone who’s now carefree. He goes down South and, through a turn of events, becomes the leader of a white supremacist organization. After that, things get really sticky.

Brandon Victor Dixon, center, in the musical “Black No More.” (credit: Monique Carboni/The New Group)

Most of us love Blackness so much that we would never leave the race even as we know all about the challenges of racism. We hold a special sense of resentment and scorn for those few who have left the race, who have decided to pass as white and faded into a new life. The recent Netflix film Passing explores the story of someone who did—I think more Black people disappeared into whiteness than we will ever know. But one important thing that sociologists who have studied this have identified is that these people don’t dislike Blackness. They don’t pass because they hate themselves. No, they hate racism, just like most Black people, and decided to use racism against itself by giving themselves a life that was free of racism so they could see how far they could get in life without its tentacles pulling them down. 

It’s a fascinating experiment that I’d love to try—we’ve all watched some white person who’s less experienced and less capable emerge into our company or industry and rocket past us. What would it be like to be them, propelled by their race, instead of being held back by it? I can’t say I’d be strong enough not to get into the Black No More device even though I love Blackness immensely. But Black No More shows us that, just like in any deal with the devil, eventually, there’s a heavy price to pay. The deeper our main character goes into his life in this hateful white supremacist organization, the messier his life becomes. He’s not really liberated from racism; he becomes tied down by it. 

Even if you say you’d never use some hypothetical science-fiction technology to become white, this musical feeds us a fascinating thought experiment that walks us through a nightmare scenario of someone who made a choice and ended up losing his soul. 

Black No More from the New Group—starring Tariq Trotter and Brandon Victor Dixon, with book by John Ridley and lyrics by Tariq Trotter; music by Tariq Trotter, Anthony Tidd, James Poyser and Daryl Waters; choreography by Bill T. Jones and directed by Scott Elliott—is playing now through Feb. 27 at the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St., New York, N.Y. Get tickets here.


Touré is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books.

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