Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority
Author: Tom Burrell
Publisher: SmileyBooks, 2010
You read in the newspaper that a young Black man is killed by another young Black man over tennis shoes. On TV, a silky-haired young Black woman gyrates before a hate-spouting rapper. Click, and there’s a fight over “baby daddies.” Click again, and it’s a sitcom with a Black man making a fool of himself.
The reasons for all the negativity soon became chillingly clear to author Tom Burrell. In his new book, Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority, he explains. Ever since Black people were enslaved, certain beliefs whites held about them have been told to them as truth. Cultural riches were stolen; critical thinking was discouraged. The “truths” were repeated and reinforced and many Blacks accepted them as such and perpetuated them. African-Americans were, and continue to be, brainwashed, Burrell says.
He blames Black-family dysfunction squarely on slavery and says change must come from within the African-American community itself. African-American children need to be taught to accept their natural appearance, including hair; to be imbued with self-worth; to be shown how to save money; and they need to be empowered to show their intelligence and reach for an education. Sexual stereotyping and disrespect disguised as humor can be stopped by ceasing to purchase, attend, or watch anything that perpetuates either of them. “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 decides we want to stop… believe me, this… would end – quickly.”
Burrell founded Burrell Communications in 1971and spent 45 years in advertizing, and he writes as someone who has reason to study the way African-Americans are portrayed in the media. He gives examples to support his points, draws parallels between the origins of a behavior or perception and the myth that endures and outlines what can be done about it.
Without a doubt, Brainwashed will be a springboard for much conversation and reflection and maybe a few actions that are long overdue. It’s been a long time, in fact, since I’ve read a book so provocative or so well-researched. By no means a quick read, Brainwashed is one of those books that demands attention and thought before you move to the next chapter. If you’re ready for a few brutal truths, this is a book to get.
How to Escape from a Leper Colony: A Novella and Stories By Tiphanie Yanique
Graywolf Press, March 2010, 240 pp., $15
From the moment the reader turns the last page of the title story in Tiphanie Yanique’s debut collection of stories, How to Escape from a Leper Colony, he realizes that the writer is about to take him on a unique journey. In “The Bridge Stories,” “The Saving Work,” “The International Shop of Coffins” and “Kill the Rabbits” — as with all of the pleasurable tales — Yanique writes about the mysteries of love and loss, expressions of desire and tragedy with fresh, fantastical storytelling and an assured graceful voice. The memorable characters and situations that create these mostly Caribbean portraits — though stories take place in Africa and America — ring with spirited truth, as the St. Thomas-born author says, “Writing is for me to find out. I write to know things. I write to find out the answer.”
Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama By Peniel E. Joseph
Basic Civitas Books, January 2010, 288 pp., $26
It is without question safe to note that history, particularly Black-American history, played an influential role in the election of President Obama. Aspects of that history, however, seem to have been overlooked. The Black Power Movement, particularly in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was energized by the struggles against social and racial injustice. Yet it is characterized mostly for its aggressive and controversial actions. In his latest book, Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama, Peniel E. Joseph, a history professor at Tufts University, provides a clear-eyed analysis of how the outspokenness of the Black Power Movement and the organizers and activists who stoked it helped set the path for an Obama presidency. Joseph’s perspective is lucid; as he pointed out in an interview, the Black Power Movement “transformed our understanding and definition of Black identity… and transformed the sphere of politics.”