Black Like Me
Character disguises self, for some reason or another, as a member of another group (usually an African-American or a woman). To his surprise, people treat him differently, and An Aesop occurs. Named for Black Like Me John Howard Griffin's memoir about a social experiment of this variety that he undertook on himself. Not to be confused with Color Me Black. Allows white people to experience racism from the point of view of a black person while giving white audiences a Lead You Can Relate To. Critics say that this leads to the Unfortunate Implication that white people can only care about prejudice if the victim is white. Contrast with White Like Me. Contrast Color Me Black where the transformation is forced on someone to punish them or teach them a lesson. Compare Master of Disguise, when a character is generally good at disguising themselves as someone completely different. Compare Persecution Flip. This trope can be viewed as an Invoked Persecution Flip. Compare and contrast Blackface. Both involve using makeup to make a white person look black. However, Black Like Me is usually done to teach a moral about tolerance while Blackface is usually done to mock black people.
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- Lois Lane, Superman's girlfriend, notoriously changed race temporarily in a story entitled "I Am Curious (Black)". (The title references the film I Am Curious (Yellow)).
- A Punisher storyline saw the title character Frank Castle turn black after experimental plastic surgery and subsequently hanging out with Marvel Universe black hero Luke Cage.
- The entire concept behind the Black Bomber, a white racist with the power to transform into a black superhero. The idea was rejected for being too offensive but was eventually recycled in Dwayne McDuffie's JLA run in the form of Black Power, a balding, overweight white guy who could transform into a tall, muscular, black superhero.
- When Excalibur visited New York during the Inferno saga, Meggan's empathic shapeshifting caused her to look like the people in her immediate area. She became black while passing a basketball court and joined in the game, enjoying herself greatly and helping her team win. Her rapid shapeshifting stabilized on this look for awhile and she wondered if it meant anything.
- Abe Jenkins, MACH-(I-IV) of the Thunderbolts (and formerly the Spider-villain Beetle), spent much of the original run of the series disguised as a black man after being legally-but-covertly released from prison.
- It's a well-known fact that Superman's pal Jimmy Olsen makes a disturbingly attractive woman when he dresses in drag to go undercover. When he does it in the Silver Age, though, don't be surprised if the Aesops he learns are more along the lines of "it can be exhausting getting hit on constantly" than "the glass ceiling is unfair."
- The short-lived DC comic Xero revolved around a black hitman who disguised himself as a blonde white guy for his missions. Likewise, his arch nemesis was One, a white woman who disguised herself as an Asian man.
- The Batman villain White Rabbit toys with this. In her civilian identity, she is a dark-skinned Indian woman with black hair and green eyes. Her White Rabbit form has a more Caucasian skin tone, white hair, and violet eyes.
- The 1964 film Black Like Me, the film version of Griffin's memoir starring James Whitmore as a character renamed John Finley Horton.
- In the comedy Soul Man, a Caucasian student poses as an African American (by, among other things, taking self-tanning pills), in order to attend Harvard on a minority scholarship.
- The Woody Allen film Zelig. In addition to being able to blend in with famous celebrities, due to a pathological need to fit in, the title character is able to "change his race". Being Jewish, The Klan pronounces him "a triple threat".
- In I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, the titular duo (played by Adam Sandler and Kevin James, respectively) pose as a gay couple and enter a civil union in order to preserve Chuck's pension and life insurance. Very quickly, they find themselves having to deal with prejudiced people, including a confrontation with a group of religious protesters and their colleagues in the NYFD turning on them.
- To Be Fat Like Me was a Lifetime Movie of the Week where a beautiful teenage girl decides to disguise herself as the new fat girl to prove to her Hollywood Pudgy little brother that his being unpopular is all his fault because of his mopey personality instead of a result of him being fat. She pretty quickly discovers that she's totally wrong.
- The teen comedy 100 Girls has a male main character disguising himself as a girl to gain access to the girl's dormitory and learning a lesson about the female perspective.
- A 1970s film, Old Dracula involved Dracula reviving his bride and her spontaneously becoming black due to the method of revival (something about gathering the essence of several supermodels, one of whom was black). She seems to like it, though. "Black is beautiful!"
- The 1947 film Gentleman's Agreement involves a Christian journalist going undercover and pretending to be Jewish. An interesting example in that he did not disguise himself or change his behavior in any way whatsoever — all he did was claim to be Jewish — and people treated him very differently.
- In Silver Streak Gene Wilder disguises himself as black (complete with shoe polish complexion) to escape police detection. But his performance is so over the top that Richard Pryor tells him that they'll be able to fool the police but "I hope we don't see no Muslims."
- The 2004 Australian film Strange Bedfellows has two working class men from a small country town claim to be gay in order to receive a tax benefit available to couples. However, word leaks out and most of the town ends thinking they are actually gay. And then a government inspector arrives to verify the relationship is legitimate. And the daughter of one of the men arrives in town with her girlfriend.
Live Action TV
- When Becky is pregnant with the twins on Full House, Jessie dons a pregnancy belly to prove he can handle it. He can't.
- In one episode of the controversial Love Thy Neighbor series racist Eddie Booth wore an afro wig and black face to prove there was no racism only to be kicked out of a bar while his black friend Bill was allowed to stay.
- Subverted on an episode of WKRP in Cincinnati, when Les Nessman attempts to disguise himself as an African-American and only succeeds in making himself look ridiculous.
- A character in Tales of the City (both literary and television versions) took "tanning pills" to appear black in order to further her modeling career. White, she was merely pretty; black, she was an exotic new face. Either way she was in the closet about both her race and her gender preference.
- This and its contrast is basically the entire premise of the FX documentary series, Black.White. Though considering the shaky execution (particularly on the adults' part), the actual, meaningful aesop that's supposed to go with it can be quite a challenge to find.
- Variation: an episode of Boy Meets World does this with Shawn doing "Chick Like Me" to see if girls really do suffer from as much sexual harassment as they claim. It ends with him decking the Jerk Ass who kept making unwanted advances toward him on their date. "That's for every girl I've ever known!"
- Subverted in the satirical British mock-news show Brass Eye, in which a white reporter 'blacks up' for a story and ends up indulging in stereotypically criminal behaviour, including muggings and destruction of property. The presenter uses this footage as proof of 'inherent' criminal tendencies within minorities to force a representative of Britain's minorities to apologise on behalf of everyone with his skin color.
- An episode of Spin City had Mike voluntarily don a fat suit, at first just to prove that big people wouldn't have a hard time with the new state-of-the-art washrooms at city hall (it doesn't work), but then to see how it affected his everyday life.
- Pretty much the entire premise of South African sitcom The Coconuts. A white family is turned black, and their black maid is turned white. Hilarity Ensues.
- Subverted in The Sarah Silverman Program where Sarah gets in an argument if it's harder to be black or Jewish. She then decides to dress in blackface and try doing black things, while the black man she argued with puts on a fake nose, a yarmulke, and a t-shirt that says "I <3 Money", in order to try being Jewish. Both of them face scorn and hatred from the public for their offensive costumes. However, they both think their disguises are perfect and mistake the hatred they receive as actual prejudice against black and Jewish people respectively.
- Similar the the Sarah Silverman example above, in an episode of 30 Rock, Jenna and Tracy get into an argument whether its harder to be black, or be a woman. Tracy's make-up is unconvincing
- In a Saturday Night Live sketch, Eddie Murphy disguised himself as a white man (Mr. White). He discovered that white people give each other things. First the newstand worker encouraged him to just take a newspaper without paying, once a black customer left. When he went to a bank to ask for a loan with no collateral or credit, the black bank worker was ready to refuse him until a white worker excused him and instead offered Mr. White as much money as he liked "Pay it back whenever you want. Or don't. We don't care." And when he rode on a bus, as soon as the only black person on board left the driver pulled out secret wine bottles and all the passengers began partying.
- Happens several times on Quantum Leap, when Sam leaps into a black person or a woman. It's worse because he's also travelling in time. The first time he leaped into a black man he ended up in the South in 1955, where he innocently sat down at a bar, only realising the reason for the Stunned Silence from the white patrons when he looked into a mirror.
- An episode of Mission: Impossible forces this on a South African (white) racist by causing him to turn black in order to get him to expose his group that is targeting black townships for attack and repression.
- Accidentally meta-invoked in the third RP of Darwins Soldiers, when author Mirumoto_Kenjiro mentioned a black woman exiting a car and calling herself Dr. Joe (one of his characters). Everybody else's characters reacted skeptically, since everyone had always assumed Dr. Joe was white. Kenjiro later admitted that he'd never mentioned beforehand that Dr. Joe was black.
- This raises the question of how all the characters had fought alongside Dr. Joe for three RPs without noticing her ethnicity.
- Sore Thumbs had Fairbanks invoking this trope by first disguising himself as a black man and then going with Cecilia to a Klan rally where he ended up getting killed. It wasn't really Fairbanks but another black man who just happened to look just like him and Fairbanks ended up with Easy Amnesia and taking the guy's place.
- Modeling her experience after that of the trope namer John Howard Griffin, Texan journalist Grace Halsell changed her skin color to black and passed as a black woman. She told her story in her 1969 book Soul Sister.
- Sacha Baron Cohen's entire career.
- In the eighties, German journalist GŁnter Wallraff diguised himself as Turkish guest worker and wrote the book Ganz unten about his (mostly negative) experience. More recently, he did basically the same disguised as Somali black man.
- A couple of psychology and sociology studies have involved female researchers interacting with groups of people both with their natural appearance, and then with a cosmetic change such as different hair color or breast size. Most have results along the lines of "blondes with big boobs get treated better", though this also often includes a side helping of objectification and misogyny.
- For her book Nickel And Dimed, author Barbara Ehrenreich went "undercover" to see if she could survive on a minimum-wage job. She found that it was incredibly easy to "pass" as a person of low socio-economic status and, although it wasn't the main point of her book, had some interesting observations on how she was treated differently.
- Another journalist, Norah Vincent, wrote a book, Self-Made Man, about her experience spending 18 months posing as a man.
- Timothy Kurek, once a homophobic Christian, spent a year pretending to be gay after one of his friends came out as a lesbian and was disowned by her family. He is planning a book on his experiences. Read about it here.
- There are several instances of women donning hijab to go "undercover" as Muslim women. There is also a "Hijab Challenge" which challenges other women to do the same thing.
- It was a semi-common trait on talk shows during the 1990s and early 2000s to have a woman (usually a model) go out during the day and ask people for some type of small favor (usually something that could be easily measured at the end of the day, such as asking them for a dollar to buy a cup of coffee or use a payphone.) The would send her out the next day in a fat suit, and do the same thing (with much less success.)
- In preparation for her role on Shallow Hal, Gwyneth Paltrow dressed in a fat suit.
- In one study, white women were made to control a virtual reality avatar that was either white, black, or purple and then take a test for unconscious racial biases. Those who were given a black avatar scored lower than those with white or purple avatars.
- Straight male radio hosts Iain Lee and Justin Dealey walked around holding hands to experience homophobic abuse.