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Black Like Me

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Professor Banks: You've learned something I can't teach them. You've learned what it feels like to be Black.
Mark: No, sir. I don't know what it really feels like, sir. If I didn't like it, I could always get out. It's not the same, sir.
Banks: You learned a great deal more than I thought.

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 Implications 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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    Comic Books 
  • In Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane, Lois notoriously changed race temporarily in a story entitled "I Am Curious (Black)". (The title references the film I Am Curious (Yellow)).
  • One The 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-slash-mocked 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.

    Fan Works 
  • The Second String: When Harry arrives in the past, with no resources or home, people assume that he's a Squib, and rather than try to explain the real situation, he lets them. What he discovers, however, is that Squibs have essentially no rights in the Wizarding world, not even self defence. When he's prosecuted for fighting back against a kidnapper who intended to interrogate and then kill him, he decides to take a stand and not admit that he's actually a wizard, so as to draw more people's attention to the injustice of the system.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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 (C. Thomas Howell) poses as an African American (by, among other things, taking self-tanning pills), in order to attend Harvard on a minority scholarship.
  • In Zelig, the title character, in addition to being able to blend in with famous celebrities due to a pathological need to fit in, is able to "change his race". Being Jewish, The Klan pronounces him "a triple threat".
  • In I Now Pronounce You Chuck & 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.
  • Inverted in File Under Miscellaneous: The main character is in the minority; he receives surgery to look more like the majority.
  • Another pair of gay deceivers turn up, unsurprisingly, in The Gay Deceivers. They are trying to avoid being drafted.
  • In Partners (1993) Ryan O'Neal is a straight cop who goes undercover as a gay man to investigate a series of murdered gay men.
  • In Tootsie, Dustin Hoffman plays an actor that has been blacklisted due to being very difficult to get along with. He tries to restart his acting career by dressing up as a woman and trying out for a female role in a soap opera. He gets the part and his character become very successful, with a huge fan base. But more importantly, he learns an Aesop when he finds out first hand what it's like to be a woman.

  • In the Alien Nation Expanded Universe novel, "Slag Like Me", a reporter spends time undercover as a Newcomer. He winds up murdered.
  • In Sholem Aleichem's The Bloody Hoax, young Russian aristocrat Grigory doesn't understand what Jews are complaining about. So he trades identities with the Jew Hersh for a year. He becomes a victim of a blood libel (false accusation that Jews kill Christian babies and use their blood in religious rituals), prosecuted by his own uncle.

    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 Neighbour 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 Jerkass 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.
  • In a now banned 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 newsstand 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.
  • Morgan Spurlock's 30 Days had a few episodes where he tried to live 30 days on: minimum wage, in a medium security prison, and in an indian reservation. The rest of the series consisted of having people live within a group they looked down upon, such as: a homophobic Good Ol' Boy from the Midwest staying with a resident in Castro Street; an Islamophobic Christian man living as a Muslim; a nativist Cuban immigrant from Arizona staying with an illegal immigrant Mexican family in East L.A. Also others who were encouraged to look at the other side of the argument, like: an anti gun activist living with gun enthusiasts; an avid hunter working with a an animal rights group; an abortion clinic doctor working with a pro-life organization; and several other examples.
  • Parodied in the season 12 premiere of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
  • John Safran disguised himself as a black man in the second episode of his series "Race Relations" even referencing the book, "Black Like Me" (nominally he did this as part of exploring the idea of whether race influenced how you experienced the world).
  • Undercover Boss follows business owners who disguise themselves as new employees and trainees in their own corporations, usually as blue collar minimum wage workers at the last link of the chain of command. Aesops ensue after the boss learns of the domestic hardships of his "coworkers" or has to deal with a bullying manager.
  • The Brittas Empire:
    • In the episode “Stuff of Dreams”, Gordon Brittas, troubled by his mortality and wanting to push age awareness, goes into the centre disguised as an old man. Naturally, this leads to a fight with another pensioner in reception and the destruction of said pensioner's glasses.
    • There is also a reference to a Noodle Incident later on in “The Chop” where Brittas seemed to resign, then went into the centre disguised as a woman to highlight the sexism in the centre.

  • 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.

    Web Original 
  • Accidentally meta-invoked in the third RP of Darwin's 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.

    Real Life 
  • 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.
  • In the eighties, German journalist Günter 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 wrote a book on his experiences called "The Cross in the Closet". 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. The women embodied in the black avatars became less biased against black people in their test scores. The women who embodied white or purple avatars showed no change.
  • Straight male radio hosts Iain Lee and Justin Dealey walked around holding hands to experience homophobic abuse.
  • The G.I.R.L. challenge. If you're a guy, simply make a new account on a Forum/Social media with a female name, avatar, and or course gender setting. You aren't allowed to call the mods if people creep on you. Optionally, you aren't allowed to use the internet under any male identities during this time. Most men say they have a new respect for women on the internet after doing it for a month or so, particularly on a more active site.

Alternative Title(s): Race Change