Target: The “Brainwashing Thing”

Zak Stone Photo Activist Enola Aird hopes for “emotional emancipation for black people” in the coming decade. But first black communities will have to work hard to erase 400 years of “brainwashing” by a “myth of black inferiority.”

That was the message of a CTV Black History Month special aired Thursday night. Four panelists conversed for an hour on the topic “Stereotype Threat is Real, But Its Effects Don’t Have to Be.” The discussion explored the origins, effects, and possible solutions to the powerful stereotypes that perpetuate racial inequality.

The panelists were Erik Clemons, executive director of LEAP; Randall Horton, poet and University of New Haven English professor; and Camille Cooper, director of the School Development Program. Aird, founder of the Community Healing Network, was the moderator. The special was the latest installment of 21st Century Conversations, a program produced by the OneWorld Progressive Institute.

Panelists agreed that a more equal society is possible, if black institutions and families can work to undo the crippling damage of racial stereotypes.

As for the post-racial order that the U.S. supposedly has entered with the election of President Barack Obama? “We’re not going to let them get away with that,” said Aird. “We have to deal with the whole brainwashing thing before we move on to the post-racial.”

The “Brainwashing Thing”

The “brainwashing thing” refers to the argument of a new book by marketing expert Tom Burrel called Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority. Burrel argues that a centuries-long media campaign dedicated to projecting negative and demeaning images of blacks has led generation after generation to internalize the “myth of black inferiority.”

The book’s thesis served as a jumping-off point for Thursday night’s discussion. Panelists analyzed the way that negative stereotypes and brainwashing affect many aspects of black life, including parenting, education, pop culture, standards of beauty, community development, and what it means to be a man.

“Brainwashing” is being convinced that “everything that is us is ‘less than,’” everyone else, said Aird.

Consider the “epidemic of violence” that plagues black communities around the country, offered Aird. “What explains the carelessness for the way people treat each other?” she asked. Why is the community not “incensed?” How did people get “so desensitized” to the seemingly endless violence?

A possible answer: Brainwashing. “It’s convinced the world and us of our subhumanness,” Aird argued.

The panelists offered their own examples of problems caused by black stereotypes. Take masculinity, for example. Horton said that black men are taught that they must wear a “mask” of toughness. It’s an image that’s been “commodified in certain ways” by media icons who exploit that stereotype to make money. 

Clemons agreed and argued that the black community needs to rebrand what it means to be a man. “Being brave is staying home and doing what you’re supposed to do,” like raising your family, rather than going out in the streets to act tough, he said.

Defeating the Stereotypes

The panelists argued that the power to combat the pernicious effects of these stereotypes lies largely in the family. They took turns giving advice to parents on how to defeat the stereotypes. Clemons said that black parents need to convince their children that they can be anything they want to be. Parents’ “behavior should affirm it as well,” he said.

Aird added that black children need to see their parents in positions of power within their communities, rather than “always looking to others to solve our problems.”

Cooper said that parents can empower their children by encouraging them to exceed at a hobby, no matter how small, so that kids “get the feel of being successful.”

And Aird argued that parents should be more attentive to helping their kids process racial representations in the media and elsewhere. Horton agreed. Black parents “have to continue to beat [the kids] over the head with good images,” he said.

The panelists contended that the education system has a long way to go if it’s to help thwart the hegemony of negative stereotypes. Clemons said that while the “vast majority of teachers” do not “intentionally affirm the brainwashing,” it happens in schools anyhow.

Aird said that for many black college students, it constitutes a “mental health challenge” to make it through predominantly white learning institutions. Cooper added that it can be done successfully, but with “a lot of support.”

Role Models

One potential source of support is a role model with a gripping life-narrative of struggling against the odds to achieve, like Barack Obama or Oprah, said Cooper. Clemons said that a more potent source of inspiration is that of “a community image” of success, like the panelists themselves, rather than “a global image,” like the first black president. 

Clemons, who works with young people as director of LEAP, a leading New Haven youth program, described the experience of bringing 30 students to the Lion King on Broadway and seeing their faces light up when watching the play.

“Something happens to you” in those moments when you recognize that the “consciousness of a young person” is heightened, he said. “We need to expose our children to far more than their surroundings,” said Clemons, seeing as many young people in New Haven rarely leave the city.

What would the post-brainwashed world look like for New Haven young people, like Clemons’s students?

Cooper said that she would want to see more non-violent conflict resolution. Horton hopes to see “more of a community.”

For Clemons, “It’ll be a different rhythm of the world.”

People will “walk different, talk different. Everything will be different,” he said.

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posted by: lance on February 19, 2010  10:08pm

How come there wasn’t any white people there to offer their perspective?

posted by: elliot bergman on February 19, 2010  10:55pm

Good job CTV.  The recent anti-ctv “Register” articles have turned out to be bogus and we see Citizens Television has maintained it’s position as the only true carrier of free speech in (sorry nhi, you censor) new haven.

posted by: OneWorld Progressive Institute, Inc on February 20, 2010  3:00am

It is important for the public to know that “21st Century Conversations” TV program is not a CTV production.  Citizens Television is funded with money from Comcast Cable. People who live in the three towns served by CTV can be trained and certified at CTV to produce programs and air them on that station. CTV has nothing to do with the content of this program, nor with the selection of the guests who participate. Many of the producers whose programs air on CTV use the facility because they live in Hamden, New Haven or West Haven, and are certified to produce their programs and air them on CTV. Such producers are responsible for the content of their programs.

While CTV does produce some programs, this particular program “21st Century Conversations” is not one of them.  This program is a production of OneWorld Progressive Institute, Inc, a volunteer community organization.  We produce “21st Century Conversations” in the interest of the broader community; we focus on health care literacy, education-at-every-level and on promoting civic engagement.

posted by: Enola Aird on February 20, 2010  9:48am

Thank you for covering this important community conversation. You captured the key points well. One clarification: the name of the program is “Defying Black Stereotypes.”

In nine years, we will mark the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Africans in America. The Community Healing Network is calling on Black people everywhere to imagine and help build a world free of the stereotypes that have burdened us for so long. 

Our goal is emotional freedom for Black people by the year 2019—and people can join the movement at http://www.communityhealingnet.org.


Enola G. Aird
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

posted by: lance on February 20, 2010  9:52am

Elliot, what makes you say the claims in the register about ctv are bogus? 

and you are correct about the independent and censorship.  between the censorship and content, I sometimes wonder if it is acting as an action organization.  lol.

http://www.irs.gov/charities/charitable/article/0,,id=96099,00.html

posted by: Mary R Rosario on February 20, 2010  4:01pm

Eric is right,consciousness of any young adults are heightened when you expose them to far more better things outside their surroundings.We as a community need to rise up to teach our children there are better ways to handle conflict and change.When we all come together to address conflicts for young people and find ways to help them it will be a different rhythm for everyone.

posted by: Tracy Smith on February 21, 2010  4:39pm

what a wonderful, thought provoking article. It’s sad that we are still struggling after all we’ve been through. Trying to get accepted in the world as human beings with smarts and something to offer. Beneath the veneer of toughness, Black people are still hurting and I don’t know if ever, the pain will go away. Still so much work to do…

posted by: Concerned Citizen on February 22, 2010  1:05am

Defying Black Stereotypes—Thank you Ms Aird.
Black people need to learn to come together as a people and need to teach our children self love before anything else will change.  Today, 2/21/10 makes it 45 years since Malcom X was assasinated by other black people. What killed Malcolm is still killing us today.

In this article ‘Aird added that black children need to see their parents in positions of power within their communities, rather than “always looking to others to solve our problems.”
Cooper said that parents can empower their children by encouraging them to exceed at a hobby, no matter how small, so that kids “get the feel of being successful.” Aird argued that parents should be more attentive to helping their kids process racial representations in the media and elsewhere. Horton agreed. Black parents “have to continue to beat [the kids] over the head with good images.”

All of these statements make up part of the solution. Enola Aird is right on when she says black parents should be more attentive to helping their children process etc.. The point is—as a community, there needs to be more attention paid to the children in meaningful ways. Black children need to engage more in meaningful dialogue and in critical-thinking activities rather than in music and dance. 

While we live in a society that is still plagued by covert, overt, innate and structural racism, the biggest barriers to black children succeeding is still the homes and communities in which these children live, and the negative influences that pervade their lives every day.  Yes, black children need to see their parents and other black adults in position of power and influence in their communities.  Unfortunately, in the black community children are more likely to see adults tearing each other down than supporting each other. If black children are learning that they cannot trust each other, who are they going to learn to trust?  Of course, we are not supposed to talk about these things in mixed company, but it is the truth.  This is one of the reasons why we have such difficulty moving forward in large numbers.  Too many are more interested in under-cutting each other.

In Nov. 1963 in his “Message to the Grass Roots” Malcolm X reminded black people that they must learn to come together as black people. He said black people are not catching hell in America because of being Methodist, Baptist, Democrat or Republican; they are catching hell because they are black. Sadly these days, a black person trying to do positive things is more likely to be torn down by other blacks than by white racists.  How can children love themselves when they do not see adults loving and supporting each other?

This is an excellent article about an important topic.  Where are the comments from the community leaders and the pastors of the many churches?  Where are the positive examples? The NHI, its writer, Mr. Stone and OneWorld Progressive Institute, Inc are to be commended for this caliber of work. It is refreshing to see an online journal that is covering serious issues.  Bravo!

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 22, 2010  1:54pm

Concerned Citizen

Black people need to learn to come together as a people and need to teach our children self love before anything else will change.  Today, 2/21/10 makes it 45 years since Malcom X was assasinated by other black people.
What is your point.And John F. Kennedy was killed by white a person. Abraham Lincoln was killed by a white person.Mohandas Gandhi was killed by one of his. Even Malcom X said that the nation was not the one behind trying to kill him. The government used the COINTELPRO, a program designed to “neutralize” those who could no longer be prosecuted. Over the years, similar programs were created to neutralize civil rights, anti-war, and many other groups, When you take over people you must first get the people who look like the people you are taking over to help you. Look at some of the Jew’s who help the nazi’s Read this book.
Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers
The Untold Story of Nazi Racial Laws and Men of Jewish Descent in the German Military
Bryan Mark Rigg. So all group’s have there Traitor’s.

What killed Malcolm is still killing us today.

I agree,The CIA and FBI are still at work using COINTELPRO.


While we live in a society that is still plagued by covert, overt, innate and structural racism, the biggest barriers to black children succeeding is still the homes and communities in which these children live, and the negative influences that pervade their lives every day.  Yes, black children need to see their parents and other black adults in position of power and influence in their communities.  Unfortunately, in the black community children are more likely to see adults tearing each other down than supporting each other. If black children are learning that they cannot trust each other, who are they going to learn to trust?  Of course, we are not supposed to talk about these things in mixed company, but it is the truth.  This is one of the reasons why we have such difficulty moving forward in large numbers.  Too many are more interested in

You must not have seen the show from the start.
Ms.Aird talk about the book The MIS-Education of the Negro By Author:Carter Godwin Woodson. If you have not had the chance to read this book you shold read it. and it will tell you why we under-cutting each other.And by the way all groups of people under-cutting each other. Not just African American.


In Nov. 1963 in his “Message to the Grass Roots” Malcolm X reminded black people that they must learn to come together as black people. He said black people are not catching hell in America because of being Methodist, Baptist, Democrat or Republican; they are catching hell because they are black. Sadly these days, a black person trying to do positive things is more likely to be torn down by other blacks than by white racists.  How can children love themselves when they do not see adults loving and supporting each other?

You are right How can children love themselves when they do not see adults loving and supporting each other. Look at what president Obama did to REV.WRIGHT.Look at what he told the black govern of NEW YORK not to run for office.Look how he did not help the brother who run for mayor of New York. So yes I agree
that we under cut and tearing each other down sometimes.But don’t mistake that with sometime with us speaking out on people who don’t have our interest.

posted by: CTV producer on February 22, 2010  2:40pm

Threefifths, Why don’t you do a show at CTV?  I know you watch and call in whenever possible.  I think you’d make a good host, and i’d get to call YOUR show.

posted by: Camelle S. on February 22, 2010  4:39pm

Looks like a great show. Sorry I missed it.
Lance raises an interesting point. It would be really neat to see people of all races discuss this issue. That can often be a very difficult conversation and sometimes very ugly things come out from all sides, but done correctly, it can be real eye opening experience. I’d also be interested in the perspective of youth around the city.

posted by: streever on February 22, 2010  5:32pm

Lance you are absolutely correct, it is a shame that the NHI does not allow someone to express any view that they hold.

I actually found some very odd photos of you. By found I might mean “I did a bad job photoshopping your head onto a naked woman wearing lingerie’s head”. I tried to link to them in my comments, but the NHI blocked it. They claimed it was not relevant and was of a malicious nature.

Clearly, that is censorship, and it makes me more convinced then ever that the NHI is a politically motivated “action” group seeking to undermine my attempts at making fun of you. I simply can not wait until you report them to the IRS for this and have them shut down.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 22, 2010  5:42pm

CTV producer

Threefifths, Why don’t you do a show at CTV?  I know you watch and call in whenever possible.  I think you’d make a good host, and i’d get to call YOUR show.

Thanks,But I like Being some times on WPKN.

posted by: N'Zinga Shani on February 23, 2010  11:54am

We at OneWorld, Inc are interested in comments from the community and often find them informative.  We are particularly pleased when we see proactive as well as provocative comments that help to inform and engage. When people comment only to react we (the commentators) are more often defensive; therefore we seldom see the broader picture.  That being said, we appreciate the dialogue.

Our hope is to positively engage the broader community. We are truly grateful to writer Zak Stone for his excellent coverage, and to our OneWorld board member, Enola Aird for her superb facilitation.  This program would not have been possible without the commitment of the panel members.  We thank them.

Lance asked why there were no white people to give their perspective. Camelle said it would be a good idea. Lance and Camelle if you watch “21st Century Conversations” on a regular basis you will see that we include a broad cross-section of people in all of our programs.  If you visit our web site at http://www.oneworldpi.org you will see the we are totally inclusive.  However, during the month of February we dedicate one program to discussing issues affecting Black people, and that conversation is by Black people only.

We particularly like Camelle’s suggestion about talking to young people about this topic.  It’s not as easy as you might think to get participants for such programs, but we will certainly try. We have hosted some truly dynamic conversations with young people on a range of issues; this should be no different, but unfortunately, not everyone sees such conversations as a positive activity.

Recently, I have heard from a few people complaining about Black History Month.  To those people I would like to offer this: It is not because Feb. is the shortest month in the year why it was chosen to celebrate Black accomplishments. Please do not buy into the negatives you hear. This idea of celebrating our contributions started in 1926 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a brilliant and accomplished African-American.  He started Negro History week in Feb. because Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln were both born in Feb. I highly recommend a visit to: African-American History Timeline - A chronology of black history from the early slave trade through Affirmative Action.  Please visit http://www.infoplease.com/spot/bhmtimeline.html. Borgna Brunner has put together an array of factual information.  The month of Feb. has some startling historic occurrences for African-Americans.  White people did not select Feb to celebrate Black History.

Presently, “21st Century Conversations” airs on CTV, Comcast Channel 26 at 7-8PM on Tuesdays.  We encourage viewers to visit our web site to learn more about why we do these programs.  We are also on AT&T UVerse and on all major cable systems in CT. Peace

posted by: Wicked Lester on February 23, 2010  12:51pm

Brainwashing can be prevented by wearing a tinfoil hat. It can also be prevented by taking personal responsibility and not blaming others for your problems.

posted by: Concerned Citizen on February 23, 2010  4:02pm

Hello Wicked Lester
Ignorance can be eradicated with a commitment to learning and becoming truly informed.  Instead of a tinfoil hat, a few electrobes can also be strategically inserted in parts of the head to stimulate dead brain cells. There is an old addage which says: “There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.”  On the other hand, there is much joy in learning.

posted by: Cynthia Cunningham on March 4, 2010  7:36pm

The Black population in the United States has suffered greatly due to slavery and are still suffering for the mere fact that through the years they have been undermined and ridiculed for being who they are and who God made them to be. Yes, they have been “Brainwashed” for so long from the mindset instilled in them over the years by the “white supremacy” belief still dominant in this country. As Bob Marley sings “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, non but ourselves can free our minds” this is where the black population in this country needs to get to in order to move forward in attaining higher goals and be happy with who they are as a people, believing in themselves and that they have a God given right to be here.
Thanks, to the 21st Century Conversations to bring forth programs like these to the people.