Once You Go Black
The Introduction begins with a personal anecdote. Unaware of the complicated politics of racial impersonation, Gaines blackened a fellow student for her high school’s revival of the 1947 Broadway musical, Finian’s Rainbow. In the musical’s complicated plotline, magically becoming black for a day was the only corrective remedy to the racism of a white, Southern legislator terrorizing his constituents. Moving from the personal to a close reading of Finian’s Rainbow, the introduction establishes the postwar temporality and theoretical scaffolding for the rest of the book. The introduction establishes the link between these racial experiments in temporary blackness and the politics of American liberalism by considering Gunnar Myrdal’s influential sociological tome, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy. In it, Myrdal concluded that the solution to the “Negro problem” “rested in the heart and mind of the [white] American.” This false conclusion enabled the genealogy of “empathetic racial impersonation” detailed in the rest of the book. It argues these racial experiments come into vogue when the United States, as an emerging, postwar superpower, attempts to understand its racial past, present, and future. It then unpacks how and why empathetic racial impersonation resurges during moments of racial and sociopolitical crisis.
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