by Terri Schlichenmeyer
For New Pittsburgh Courier

It’s enough to make you want to bury your head.

You read about a young Black man, killed by another young Black man over tennis shoes. On TV is a silky-haired sistah shaking her stuff at a hate-spouting rapper. Click, and see a fight over baby daddies. Click again, and there’s a sitcom with a Black man acting the fool.


What’s going on? Author Tom Burrell blames it on something that started more than 200 years ago. He says that African-Americans have been taught to believe negative things about themselves, and in his new book “Brainwashing: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority,” he explains.

In his years in advertising, Burrell says that he had reason to study the way African- Americans are portrayed in culture, and it usually wasn’t good. He began to think about all the negativity, and the reasoning behind it became chillingly clear.

Ever since Black people were enslaved, certain beliefs were told to them as truth, repeated, and reinforced. African-Americans were, and continue to be, brainwashed, Burrell says. Cultural riches were stolen, and critical thinking is discouraged. And in many cases, though Whites started the cycle, today’s Black people accept it as reality and perpetuate it.

Why, for instance, do African-Americans tolerate daytime TV that promotes baby mama drama and public paternity testing? Why is it assumed that “Black women are supposed to have a slew of children with multiple men who will eventually abandon them?” Burrell blames Black family dysfunction squarely on slavery and he says change must come within the African-American community.

Furthermore, he says, African-American children need to be taught to accept their natural appearance (including hair), they need to be ingrained with worth, they need to know how to save money, and they need to be empowered to show their intelligence and reach for an education. Sexual stereotypes and disrespect disguised as humor can be stopped by ceasing to purchase, attend, or watch anything that perpetuates either.

“African-Americans have been conditioned to see themselves as powerless,” writes Burrell. “Yet, if only a fraction of the 39 million of us in the United States decide we want to stop…believe me, this would end–quickly.”

Burrell gives examples to support his points, draws parallels between the problem’s origin and the myth that endures, and explains what can be done. “Brain­washed” is going to be a springboard for a lot of conversation and reflection, and maybe a few movements that are long overdue. It’s been a long time, in fact, since I’ve read a book so well-researched.

If you’re ready for a few brutal truths, this is a book to dig up.

(“Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority” by Tom Burrell, c.2010, SmileyBooks, $15.95/$19.95 Canada, 285 pages.)

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