“If you can sell the idea that Black people are inferior–I’m really into logic–then anything that comes out of that is: If it’s Black, it’s less than. And because you are less than, anything we do is less than; anything we make is less than, and anything we think is less than.”
Those powerful, yet simple thoughts are at the root of what ails Blacks in America, believes Tom Burrell, advertising pioneer and author of a newly released book– “Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority.”
Published by Smiley Books, Brainwashed is a no-holds barred look at what Burrell calls the ingenious way America convinced Whites and African Americans, that despite the notion that the United States was a democracy espousing freedom, liberty and justice for all, it was perfectly accepted to enslave Africans . . . because they were inferior.
Burrell says that the propaganda campaign selling that belief has been so skillfully handled through history, that today Blacks themselves are now perpetuating the message. From the music and movies we make and consume to the imagery we allow ourselves to be part of, African Americans have now become complicit in the effort to render the race ineffective and invisible, pointed out Burrell, who spent 45 years in advertising and focused on portraying positive images of people of African descent.
That very turnabout is among the topics Burrell addresses in his book. The first 11 chapters define the problems–from how the slave masters had to create and perpetuate a dissonant reality from our weak family structures to Black sexual stereotypes to our brief and surface-level flirtation with “Black is Beautiful” to our failure to take care of ourselves or even have high expectations of one another.
Then there are the solutions for internal and external healing that Burrell provides.
“We are focusing on what the psychologists call the external versus internal locus of control. What we are focusing on is not what is happening outside of us, but what is happening within us,” explained Burrell.
“We have been conditioned intergenerationally to think of ourselves as inferior and White people as superior. But for me, (that fact that) we continue to focus on what White people are doing to us–such as the U.C. San Diego (incident)–versus what we do to ourselves is feeding into the proposition of Black inferiority and White superiority. In other words, if you’re saying what that person does to you . . . to me is more important than what I do to myself, that means you’re saying that what White people do is more important; ergo White people are more important,” explained Burrell.
“So that’s where we’re focusing. It’s not so much what White people do to us, or do for us, or think about us; it’s what we do to ourselves; what we think of us, and what we do for ourselves. If we could ever get that concept turned around, we would be on the road to the total irradiation of the problem, and the problem has to do more with how we respond to racism, than the racism itself.”
This approach is not blaming the victim, countered Burrell. Instead, it’s about exposing and blaming the original perpetrator. It’s also about seeing and understanding the behaviors that have come as a result of this brainwashing, pointed out the advertising executive. These include learned helplessness and looking to someone–particularly those or the descendants of people who put you into the situation in the first place–to save you.
The only person who is going to save African Americans are themselves, stresses Burrell.
“The first thing we need to do is understand that we are a strong, resilient, creative people capable of saving ourselves. That’s the first step toward resolution; the first step toward the problem. If we can ever get that problem solved, then we can move (forward),” said Burrell, who also noted that a big part of the problem is mistrusting, disliking, not loving and not respecting ourselves and each other, because we have been conditioned that way. Disunity is one of the manifestations of that lack of caring for ourselves and our race.
One answer, writes Burrell, is for African Americans to develop and launch their own positive propaganda campaign.
“There’s no reason in the world why 41 million people, with almost a trillion dollars to spend, can’t prevail in a way to help themselves,” adds Burrell.
Keeping that thought in the forefront, Burrell–a Chicago native, whose advertising work forced corporate America to recognize the purchasing power of the African American community–has created a non-profit organization, The Resolution Project (www.theresolutionproject.us), to promote intra-racial dialogue and a campaign to stop the brainwashing.
The organization is sponsoring its first “Flip the Script . . . Stop the Brainwashing” competition, and the deadline to submit an entry is March 31. Participants are invited to submit an empowering, positive propaganda message, based on a theme inspired by Brainwashed, that raises awareness, challenges, and antidotes the myth of Black inferiority.
This is a global competition that will be evaluated by expert judges who will choose the top entry in the following categories: Video, audio, fine art photography, creative writing (short story or essay), poetry, music, print or broadcast advertising.
For additional information, visit The Resolution Project web site.