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Through scientific or magical means, a person's apparent race or ethnicity is changed in-story, in a manner that may not be completely permanent, but is more drastic than make-up. Popular methods include Magic Plastic Surgery, Brain Uploading, and Grand Theft Me.

The reasons for this are as varied as for anyone who completely changes their outward appearance. It may provide a contrast in highlighting how the same character's perception by society might have changed. However, the race change itself may not even be actively discussed in terms of social context. For instance, if it is simply used to render someone incognito and making it more unlikely for their new identity to be traced back to their old one.

May overlap with Black Like Me (a relatively privileged person disguises themselves as a minority person and is shocked by how badly they are treated) or Color Me Black (where a bigoted person is transformed into the apparent ethnicity who they have previously persecuted as poetic justice), although both of those can relate to characteristics other than apparent ethnicity.

Interspecies transformations should go under other Shapeshifting tropes, with the exception of Standard Fantasy Setting works where humans, elves, dwarfs, and so on are treated as "races" that can interbreed and hybridise without any difficulty.

Needless to say, this trope can be very problematic if handled improperly.

Compare Gender Bender. See Race Lift for the out-of-universe version when a character's ethnicity is changed in a Reboot or adaptation. Blackface, Brownface, Yellowface, and White Like Me are the mundane and easily reversible make-up based alternatives.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • An Chinese ad for Qiaobi laundry detergent generated a huge backlash for depicting a black man getting shoved into the washing machine and emerging as a Chinese man.

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Ranma Kiima is a Chinese woman (who is part bird) but takes a dunk in a magic pool to make herself look like Akane, a clumsy Japanese high school girl.

    Comic Books 
  • American Born Chinese: Jin transforms into a white boy named Danny after a metaphorical Deal with the Devil. He later changes back into Jin after punching Ching-Kee who reveals himself to be the Monkey King.
  • Cable: during a short arc in the early-2000s, Cable's reporter friend, Irene Merryweather (white), had to use an image inducer to appear as an African-American women named Margaret Brundage.
  • In Champions (2016), Viv Vision is turned from synthezoid into a human by the High Evolutionary, and somehow becomes a black girl in the process.
  • Eternals (2021): Eternals Makkari and Phastos, both white when last seen, resurrect as Black (Phastos had originally been a Black man when introduced in a much earlier Eternals series, but had inexplicably become a white man for a follow-up series). Their comrade Ikaris explains that the million-year-old Eternals can choose a new appearance when they resurrect, and many do so every 20,000 years or so. The change is also Ret-Canon, mirroring the Race Lift of those characters in the Eternals film.
  • The DC character Father Time changes his appearance every time he is seriously injured. In his first appearance, in Seven Soldiers of Victory, he was a black man. Later, after being mutilated by Black Adam, he became a white man. He later became black again. In the New 52 universe, he became a little Japanese schoolgirl.
  • In the comic Lazarus, each of the Families that rule over the world in a Feudal Future has a chosen champion known as a Lazarus, who are upgraded to superhuman capabilities through various means such as Bio-Augmentation, the use of drugs, transformation into a Cyborg, etc. The family in control of the UK uses a form of Brain Uploading on Sir Thomas Huston, their Lazarus, and as such the same mind and personality can be adopted into different bodies. After the first Sir Thomas we see in the story (who is a white man) is killed in battle against another Lazarus, the Zmey, a side comic shows a new Sir Thomas, now in the body of a black man, acting with all the memories of his predecessor, including going on a date with a woman that had been set up by the first Sir Thomas.
  • The Punisher: In one storyline, Frank is heavily disfigured and asks a Back-Alley Doctor to change his face so that nobody will recognize him. The doctor goes a bit too far...
  • Le Petit Spirou: One strip has Spirou pretend to invent a machine to do this by going in a box and switching places with his black friend Cassius. When the school bully demands it be used on him, they put him in the box and dump a bucket of charcoal on his head, which is enough to get him mistaken for a black kid and beaten up by another Gang of Bullies.
  • One Spirou and Fantasio episode, "The Black Ray", features a ray that turns those stricken by it into black people.
  • A prequel comic to Star Trek Into Darkness revealed that the Kelvinverse's version of Khan Noonien Singh was Indian until he underwent forcible reconstructive surgery that made him look like the very white Benedict Cumberbatch.
  • In Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane #106, Lois uses a super-science machine to turn her into an African-American woman, so that the inhabitants of Metropolis's black district will talk freely to her.
  • Thunderbolts: After Abner Jenkins was freed from jail when Hawkeye was able to blackmail the CSA over their illicit use of a prisoner in covert operations, Jenkins was disguised by cosmetic alteration to resemble an African American man for a time, going by the alias "Matthew Davis".
  • Psylocke from various X-Men titles has a messy history with this. She was originally a white British woman called Betsy Braddock (sister of Captain Britain) but underwent a forced "Freaky Friday" Flip with a Japanese Hand assassin named Kwannon. Unfortunately, Kwannon-as-Betsy died before the body-swap could be undone, leaving Betsy permanently in an ethnically Japanese body. The racial implications of this became increasingly uncomfortable (especially given that the pseudo-Japanese Psylocke rapidly became a particularly notorious Ms. Fanservice), and eventually Marvel briefly tried to declare Betsy to have been a British-Japanese woman all along before during the Hunt for Wolverine event Kwannon-as-Betsy was finally resurrected and the body-swap undone, around thirty years in real-world time since the original arc.
  • A prototype character for Doctor Strange would complete his initiation into the world of magic by being mystically transformed from his European appearance to an Asian one, invoking the Magical Asian trope.

    Comic Strips 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The French satirical comedy Agathe Cléry is about a white woman who is mistaken for black after a rare medical condition causes her skin to darken.
  • Bubba Ho-Tep: One of Elvis' fellow patients at the nursing home is a black man who believes that he's John F. Kennedy, having been subjected to this by the CIA and Lyndon Johnson after the attempt on his life failed in order to ensure that nobody would take his claims seriously. The film never answers whether or not he's right, but it's implied that he's just a crazy old man undergoing a Napoleon Delusion.
  • Die Another Day: It turns out that the British multi-millionaire Gustav Graves is in fact the new identity of the North Korean Colonel Moon, which he achieved through groundbreaking plastic surgery. In the same film, his Dragon Zao is shown undergoing a similar process to assume a German identity, but James Bond interrupts the treatment before he can finish it. This has some nasty side effects, leaving Zao as a bald albino with the diamond fragments he tried to have removed still embedded in his face.
  • Down To Earth (2001): Chris Rock plays a guy who unexpectedly dies before his time is up, and is given another chance at life by Heaven, who transfer his soul into an old, wealthy, white guy. This results in a bunch of Pretty Fly for a White Guy moments since he still retains his old personality while he may look different to the outside world.
  • Ghost in the Shell (2017): Major Mira Killian is a Cyborg who resembles a caucasian woman in her mid-30s (played by Scarlett Johansson), but is in fact a Japanese teenager named Motoko Kusanagi whose brain was placed in a different shell against her will. The same thing happened to her best friend, who changed from a Japanese teenager into a white man.
  • Iron Sky: Moon-base Nazis use "albinizing drugs" and plenty of Artistic License Biology to "Aryanize" James Washington, a black man. He doesn't notice that he's become a blue-eyed white man until later.
  • The Naked Gun 33 1/3: Played for Laughs when a black inmate tells undercover police officer Frank Drebin that prison can really change a man. When Drebin asks how it changed him, the inmate claims that he used to be white.
  • At the start of Tropic Thunder, Australian actor Kirk Lazarus, played by Robert Downey Jr. (known for both his violent temper and extreme Method Acting), undergoes surgery and a change in skin pigmentation in order to convincingly play an African American character in an upcoming Vietnam War movie. This causes a lot of friction between Kirk and the rapper-turned-actor Alpa Cino.
    Tugg: I can't believe you people!
    Kirk: (defensive) Hey! What do you mean "you people"?
    Alpa: (very mad) What do you mean "you people"?
    Kirk: Huh?
  • White Chicks: Combined with Disguised in Drag, Marcus and Kevin Copeland, two black FBI agents, had to go undercover as two white twin sisters in order to complete their mission.

    Literature 
  • Known Space: Beowolf is a "Crashlander" (an albino Lightworlder) at first, but later undergoes a nanotech treatment that reconstructs his body into one better adapted to higher gravities and adds some pigmentation.
  • Older Than Feudalism; As told in Ovid's The Metamorphoses, Phaeton's joyride with the Sun-chariot causes the skin of everyone in Libya to be burnt to darkness. They passed this trait on to their children, and thus the Romans explained the existence of black people.
  • An 1890s antisemitic satirical novel, The Operated Jew by Oskar Panizza, features a Jewish doctor operating on himself to remove features deemed stereotypically Jewish.
  • In the Federation of the Hub story "The Other Likeness", the alien deep-cover agents can change their appearance (including apparent race) by injecting symbiotic bacteria.
  • Six of Crows: At the end of Six of Crows, Wylan van Eck is tailored to look like Kuwei Yul-Bo, who is Shu (Grishaverse Fantasy Counterpart Culture Chinese/Mongolian)
  • Non-human example: The Sneetches in The Sneetches and Other Stories are shown as a species with two races — "star-bellied", with a star-shaped mark on their stomachs, and "plain-bellied", with no mark. At the start of the story, the plain-bellied Sneetches are discriminated against by the star-bellied ones, but then a con artist comes along with a machine that allows them to gain stars on their bellies so they can join the star-bellies' society. The star-bellies don't accept this, and they use the machine to remove their stars, so they can retain their separate, privileged status. The two groups continue doing this over and over again until neither one can remember who the original star-bellies or plain-bellies were, and they ultimately conclude that their prejudice was pointless.
  • The Story of Doctor Dolittle: In the original edition of the book, one plotline (excised from later editions due to racist implications, with the blessing of the author's son) involved the doctor bleaching the skin of Prince Bumpo at the other man's request, changing him from a black man into a white one so he could "act as a European fairy-tale prince".
  • Black Like Me is the true story of John Howard Griffin, a white journalist who used drugs and tanning devices to live in the Jim Crow-era Southern United States.
  • In Takeshi Kovacs, people can swap bodies through Brain Uploading with little more difficulty than changing wardrobes. The titular character was born to an Asian-descended "sleeve" but spends most of the first book, Altered Carbon in the body of a white man. While in Broken Angels he's sleeved in an "Afro-Caribbean combat sleeve with scrapings of wolf genes". He spends the first third of Woken Furies in a robotic "synthsleeve" but soon acquires a new Asian sleeve, from his homeworld even.
  • After the Revolution: Black Super-Soldier Roland has advanced cybernetic implants that lets him change his appearance. He uses them to take on the identity of a dead (white) Texan in order to infiltrate the (openly white supremacist) Heavenly Kingdom. Roland's disguise never gets found out, but he gets to repeatedly watch his Latin-American friend Manny get accosted due to his race.
  • My Lady Just Wants to Relax: When the Japanese protagonist was reincarnated into a Magical Land, she became a blue-haired Caucasian woman. She found it strange at first but became accustomed to her new life.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the fifth season of Alias, Anna Espinosa (played by Afro-Cuban actress Gina Torres) undergoes gene modification created by Project Helix, transforming her into a physical-genetic clone of Sydney Bristow (the white Jennifer Garner).
  • Altered Carbon:
    • After Takeshi Kovacs (biracial, with a Japanese mother and a Russian father) is arrested and placed into a Cryo-Prison for 250 years, he wakes up in a new body (referred to as 'sleeves' within the show) that used to belong to a white man. In Season 2, he is re-sleeved into an enhanced soldier's body, outwardly appearing as a black man, but according to his profile he also has canine DNA.
    • Kristin Ortega sleeves her abuela (grandmother) into a white supremacist's body.
    • Reileen Kawahara (Takeshi's sister in this adaptation) has a collection of different sleeves of varying ethnicity and gender.
  • Andromeda: When the crew goes looking for the much revered Isabella Ortiz, they find her on a Wretched Hive of a planet with another woman who worked for her when she was a powerful leader. It was eventually revealed that the two women switched appearances to protect Ortiz. The women were black and white.
  • Dollhouse: At one point, the Asian Sierra's body is imprinted with the mind of a haughty Rich Bitch who makes several derogatory remarks about Asians. The scientist treating her smirks at the irony.
  • In the In Living Color! sketch "Greshan Formula", the said product can transform the user to a black person.
  • In the Mork & Mindy episode "The Night They Raided Mind-ski's", Mork turns the members of a KKK-like hate group into the races they were railing against as a form of Karmic Transformation after they terrorize Mindy for being Polish.
  • In an early episode of Nip/Tuck, a caucasian male patient requests surgery on his eyes to make himself appear to be Chinese-American, as his fiancee's mother is Chinese and heavily prejudice against white people, and he wants her to accept him into the family. Sean and Christian perform the surgery, but the mother-in-law isn't fooled for a moment, but accepts him because she is touched by the lengths he went to please the family.
  • The Orville: Teleya undergoes heavy cosmetic surgery to change her reptilian Krill features to human so she can infiltrate the Orville and spy on Mercer, then has the surgery reversed after she's been exposed and returns to her planet. Mercer himself and his shipmate Gordon had infiltrated the Krill in a similar manner before, but used a Holographic Disguise instead. Teleya's relationship with Mercer while undercover results in a half-Krill, half-Human child, so the two species are definitely biologically compatible.
  • Star Trek has this happen a surprising amount, although it's usually reversible. It's common for Starfleet officers going undercover to have some form of cosmetic alteration so that they can blend in.
    • Star Trek: The Original Series:
    • Star Trek: Discovery: The Klingon Voq undergoes extensive surgery to be converted from a Klingon into a human, one of the few cases of a permanent change.
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
      • In "Who Watches the Watchers?", Riker and Troi alter themselves to look like a race of Vulcan-like people in a bronze age stage of development.
      • In "First Contact", William Riker undergoes cosmetic surgery to evaluate whether a planet is ready for first contact. He is injured in an accident/attack, leading to his hospitalization, and causing the aliens to discover his non-alien nature.
      • In "Unification, Part 1", Picard and Data are altered to look like Romulans when they go looking for Spock.
      • In "Homeward", Worf is altered to look like the inhabitants of a planet where his brother had gone missing.
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
      • In "Second Skin", Kira is abducted and told that she is in fact a Cardassian agent who went undercover and had her memories altered — to corroborate this, she has apparently been turned back into a Cardassian. It turns out that the agent was just Kira's Identical Stranger, and Kira has actually been changed from Bajoran to Cardassian, not the other way around.
      • In "Apocalypse Rising", Sisko, Odo and O'Brien are altered to look like Klingons for an infiltration mission.
      • O'Brien runs into an old friend who is later revealed to have been an undercover Cardassian.
      • In the final arc of the series, Gul Dukat disguises himself as a Bajoran.
    • Star Trek: Voyager:
      • Seska was revealed to be a Cardassian altered to look like a Bajoran. After she was busted, she went back to her natural face.
      • Chakotay was disguised as a diseased Vidian, but Vidians suffering from the phage don't look like Vidians either, their faces are patchworks of grafted skin.
      • "False Profits" has Neelix altered to look like a Ferengi. This was a bit of Actor Allusion, since it wasn't the first (or last) time Ethan Philips played a Ferengi.
      • In "Scientific Method", when aliens experiment on the crew, Neelix is turned into a Mylean (he's actually one-eighth Mylean).
      • B'Elanna, upon discovering that her child would inherit her Klingon heritage in "Lineage", attempts to force the Doctor to engineer the Klingon genetics out from her baby.
    • Star Trek: Strange New Worlds: The crew of the Enterprise undergo a temporary race change using a gene mixture that caused them to develop similar enough features to the Kyrians.
  • Westworld:
    • At the end of season 2, the white Dolores' consciousness is transferred into a clone body of the biracial Charlotte Hale after murdering the original so she can escape into the real world — although technically, with Dolores being a "Host", really a very advanced android, she isn't really "white" to begin with.
    • In Season 3, Dolores does the same with her four copies who she tasks to infiltrate the real world. While it's confirmed that host-Hale is a copy of Dolores, the other three copies possess the host copies of an elderly white man who is the head security of Incite, a Japanese Yakuza leader who is based on a Shogunworld host, and a Mexican revolutionary who is based on a familiar Westworld host.

    Multi-Media 
  • The Doctor Who franchise has the Time Lords, who "regenerate" into a different physical appearance whenever they are mortally wounded. Several TV canon and Doctor Who Expanded Universe-continuity stories have made it clear that it is possible for them to change human-terms ethnicity in the process (in most cases, from the initial default white of an "aristocratic" character in a British work):
    • Doctor Who confirmed during the Moffat era in TV canon that it was possible for Time Lords to change their apparent human-terms ethnicity, first in "Let's Kill Hitler" when River's second incarnation is black compared to her white first and third ones, and then in "Hell Bent" when the General is shot dead and regenerates from a white man to a black woman.
    • Series Twelve of the 21st-century TV show introduced a new incarnation of the Master played by the British South Asian actor Sacha Dhawan, while the episode "Fugitive of the Judoon" introduced a mysterious, previously-unseen earlier incarnation of the Doctor played by black actress Jo Martin. The season's final episode, "The Timeless Children", had early incarnations of the Timeless Child played by child extras of varying ethnicity, beginning with a black female extra, and had Tecteun go from a white female extra to a black male extra in her first regeneration; Series Thirteen revealed Tecteun eventually returned to being a white woman.
    • It was announced in 2022 that the following year's season, Series Fourteen, would feature Rwandan-Scottish actor Ncuti Gatwa as the Fifteenth Doctor.
    • The Fourth Doctor Past Doctor Adventures novel Tomb of Valdemar features a cameo by a black future incarnation of Romana.
    • One incarnation of Iris Wildthyme who appears in the Eighth Doctor Adventures, in particular The Blue Angel, is black and has a Textual Celebrity Resemblance to the singer Shirley Bassey.
    • The unique version of the Master who provided the villainy in one Eighth Doctor arc of the Doctor Who Magazine comic was black, in contrast to all the TV incarnations of the character at the time being white. (Unlike most other Time Lord examples, he'd ended up in the body of a dead human rather than regenerating.)
    • The Doctor Who (Titan) comic series included an East Asian incarnation of the Master who accompanied the War Doctor for a time during the Time War and depicted the incarnation of Borusa who actually taught the Doctor at the Academy as being black.
    • One version of Rassilon who appears in a few Big Finish Doctor Who audio dramas is played by Don Warrington, a black actor, although given the medium it's unknown whether the character shares the actor's appearance.
    • One Doctor Who Magazine comic, "Monstrous Beauty", features a black female incarnation of Rassilon who predates their TV incarnations.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • In most incarnations, the reincarnation spell can resurrect a deceased character in situations where all other such spells would fail, but with the caveat that it will bring them back in the form of a random humanoid being. A human, for instance, could remain a human, or might instead come back as an elf, a gnome, a dwarf, an orc, a tiefling, a dragonborn, or any other such race. Older editions of the game include wider ranges of random options, including fey beings such as fauns and sapient animals.
    • In 3rd Edition, the spellscales are a humanoid offshoot race with a bit of Dragon Ancestry. There is also a magical rite by which a spellscale can permanently transform a willing humanoid into another spellscale, and there are unfounded conspiracy theories that the transformation can be forced.
    • Also in 3E, dragonborn are humanoids who have sworn themselves to the service of Bahamut the Platinum Dragon in his war against his evil sister Tiamat. Whatever their original race, they undergo the Rite of Rebirth, spending a day fasting and contemplating on what they will give up when they begin their new life, before crawling into an egg-like structure. When they awaken the next dawn, they are transformed into dragonborn, losing their previous racial traits and gaining new draconic powers. 4th and 5th Edition, however, treat the dragonborn as a true-breeding race.
    • The 5h Edition Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft introduces "lineages" such as the dhampir, hexblood and reborn. These allow a character to use a standard race as a starting point when it comes to ability score increases, languages, movement and proficiencies, but the lineage replaces the starting race's special abilities with its own.
  • In the Wild Talents setting Progenitor, Civil Rights activist Howard "Reddy" March developed a superpower he calls a "Race Reverser Ray" which turns non-black people black, and black people white. In both cases, the target gains a new set of memories to help them blend in with their new race.

    Theatre 
  • The musical Finian's Rainbow features the villainous Senator Billboard Rawkins transformed into a black man by a wish carelessly made over a crock of leprechaun's gold. After Og the leprechaun magically gives him a "new inside" to go with his changed outside, a kinder Rawkins not only ends up embracing his blackness, but is unable to defend Sharon against charges of "witchcraft" because the Jim Crow laws he himself pushed on Missitucky now give him limited legal standing; after he's changed back at the end, he vows to be a better representative to all of his constituents, both white and black. To avoid Blackface, revivals tend to cast two separate actors for Rawkins pre- and post-transformation, or a black actor initially in whiteface to give maximum irony to Rawkins' bigoted attitudes.

    Video Games 
  • BioShock 2: Discussed in one of Charles Porter's Audio Diaries in Minerva's Den when he recalls a businessman asking him why he didn't just splice himself from black to white so that he could "get ahead". Porter's response is to first say that he is ahead and that in Rapture his work should be more important than his race.
  • Subverted in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. At the start of the game, Venom Snake (recently awakened from a coma) is scheduled to undergo plastic surgery to change his identity. You're able to choose what he will look like, ethnicity included, but XOF soldiers storm the hospital before the surgery can take place. Double subverted when it's revealed that this custom appearance for Venom Snake is actually his original identity as Big Boss' top medic in MSF, and the planned surgery (intended to turn him into a body double for Big Boss) actually did happen.
  • Resident Evil 6: Carla Radames is a white woman who was transformed into an exact doppelganger of Ada Wong, an Asian woman her boyfriend Derek Simmons was obsessed with. Simmons even implanted false memories into Carla to make her believe she was really Ada Wong. When Carla discovered the truth, she formed the terrorist organization Neo-Umbrella and sought to tear down the world as revenge against both Simmons and Ada.
  • South Park: The Fractured but Whole: The New Kid can change their identity by talking to the principal, including their ethnicity, nationality, and skin tone.
  • Wizards Castle lets the player start out as a human, a dwarf, an elf, or a hobbit. This choice will remain stable throughout the dungeon crawl unless the player chooses to drink from a pool (three pools per level, 24 in total). Such a drink can change one's race. A player could enter the castle as a male elf, and emerge (or perish) as a female dwarf, for instance.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • In the American Dad! episode "Old Stan in the Mountain", Stan is cursed to become elderly. At the end, he manages to lift the hex, but he suddenly turns into a black man, the apparent result of another hex.
    Hayley: Alright, Dad, think. What was the last interaction you had with a black person?
    Stan: It was at the T-Mobile store, and it was not positive.
  • In The Boondocks episode "The Passion of Reverend Ruckus", Uncle Ruckus has a Dream Sequence in which he goes to Heaven, where his transracial wish to become a white man is finally granted. Though of course, he's still black in the real world.
  • In the The Dating Guy episode "Brother From Another Tanning Booth", Mark and Woody switch skin colors.
  • In the Family Guy episode "He's Bla-ack!", Peter and Cleveland swap skin and hair colors through sheer concentration when Cleveland's wife Donna was spotted outside the Drunken Clam, looking for him.
  • Gargoyles: The trickster Puck uses magic to turn every human in Manhattan into a gargoyle and vice versa. When it's all over everyone has been restored to their natural state, and as a "thank you" for all the fun, he gives Demona the ability to turn human during the day instead of stone.
  • The South Park episode "Mrs. Garrison's Fancy New Vagina" provides several ludicrous examples of Magic Plastic Surgery. Mr. Garrison transitions into a woman, which is fairly plausible (other than the plastic surgeon indicating that the process is completely reversible with no side effects whatsoever). But then Kyle, a short Jewish boy, undergoes a similar treatment to become the tall, basketball-playing black kid he claims to have always felt like on the inside. When his father Gerald goes to the surgeon to complain about his son's transition, Gerald himself gets convinced by the doctor to change his species into a dolphin (yep, Gerald is apparently an otherkin).


 
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