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Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority [Book Review]

Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority written by Tom Burrell, is a book about “the greatest propaganda campaign of all time”: the concept of black inferiority. Burrell is an advertising pioneer and founder of one of the world’s largest multi-cultural marketing firms. In this book, he details the use of racial stereotypes as propaganda to promote the idea of black inferiority and white superiority. The book also explores the lingering effects of slavery and its aftermath on the Black psyche and community.

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The Internalization of Black Inferiority

Brainwashed does a good job of exploring the side effects of internalizing the concept of black inferiority. Several chapters discuss how feelings of inferiority lead to unhealthy lifestyles. The book was particularly strong in these areas because they lent themselves to measurable statistics.

The spotlight on the negative impact of lack of access to affordable health care and nutritious foods was intriguing. It was also interesting to learn about current health initiatives aimed at reaching Black communities.

Dysfunctional Relationships

Brainwashed provides a great breakdown of issues within the Black family and relationships. Irresponsible Black men and enabling Black women create unstable homes for Black children. This then results in generational cycles of dysfunctional relationships. There are disproportionate rates of abuse in Black relationships. And a large percentage of Black children grow up in single-parent homes where a father or father-figure isn’t present.

Many of these issues date back to the instability of slave families. Slavery dehumanized Black men and women by using them for “breeding”. The sale of family members fractured families.


We accept that Black men were victims of slavery. Why does there seem to be a disconnect and assumption that Black women were willing participants in their own oppression? Black female house slaves/domestics were as much at the mercy of their owners and employers as slaves and workers who worked outside the home. The forms of oppression differed but it’s oppression nonetheless.

It’s ridiculous and sexist to believe that Black men’s seeming inability to have dominion over Black women is emasculating. Think about it, the argument is, “I see White men having control over you and as the man in your life I should be the only one controlling you. I’m angry at the lack of control I have over my life and livelihood but am also frustrated because I don’t control the life of the woman in my life.”

To be clear, Brainwashed didn’t put forward this idea as something Burrell supports. Instead, he takes macho Black men to task for lamenting the limits placed on their participation in patriarchy.

Sexual Objectification

The sexual objectification of Black men and women reinforces variations of dehumanizing stereotypes. This is nothing new. But, as Burell notes, crime and sex focused rap and music videos expose Black children to explicit content. The music and imagery are age inappropriate and might mentally condition them to mimic hedonistic behavior. The premature sexualization of Black children further perpetuates dysfunctional relationships.

Sex and sexuality are normal human behaviors and activities. Yet, focusing on short-term pleasure at the expense of development in other areas is detrimental. It also plays into the erroneous the idea that Black people have little to offer the world beyond their bodies.


I applauded Burrell’s criticisms of dependency on religious and organized community leadership. To be clear, the issue is not with religious leaders or organizations in general. But, rather with leaders and organizations that profit from but are not of service to the needs of the community. There’s also the problematic promotion of the concept that struggling is a natural and unavoidable part of life. It encourages people to expect and tolerate ill-treatment.

Crime in the Black Community

Crime in the Black community is an important issue that needs attention. Black people losing their lives to violence or prison is cause for alarm. I’m not arguing against that. But, generally speaking, the justice system doesn’t seem to go out of its way to avoid prosecuting Black offenders. That isn’t the case in instances where the perpetrator is a police officer or non-Black. Law enforcement and the justice system focus on what the Black victim might have done to bring about their death. Yet, what the killer could have done to avoid ending a life is rarely addressed.

Black young men wearing a hoodie or posturing for attention in photos aren’t referred to as immature, instead, it’s said or implied that they’re “thugs”. Unflattering photos and info about Black victims, their relatives, acquaintances, etc are dug up and put on full display. Yet, a White young man murders nine Black people in a church and the media writes think pieces on if it’s acceptable to refer to him as a “terrorist”. Also, his parents weren’t held accountable for his white supremacist views or the attack.

Crimes committed against Black people don’t seem to get the same degree of attention as crimes committed against White people. For example, in instances where women or children go missing, White victims receive more news coverage than Black victims. Also, it can take an effort to even get a crime against a Black person investigated. Much less prosecuted or have the perpetrator receive a sentence comparable to what a Black person would receive for the same crime.

Black-on-Black Crime

The term “Black-on-black crime” itself is a problem as most crime is intraracial. Perpetrators of most crimes usually know or live/work near their victims. So in most cases, Black people commit crimes against Black people, White people commit crimes against White people, etc.

The term “Black-on-Black crime” suggests that Black people are committing crimes in a manner endemic to only the Black community. When identified and discussed through this lens, crime becomes the problem of the Black community. It gives society the option to ignore such crime or deal with it in a manner that is much different from crime management in other communities.

We don’t have to end “Black-on-Black” crime before addressing crimes committed against Black people by others. We can and should do both. Work to decrease and eradicate violence and other criminal behavior within the Black community. But, also call attention to crimes committed by people outside the community who might otherwise escape justice.

Personal Accountability and Respectability Politics

My major gripe with Brainwashed is that it’s great at detailing problems but offers mediocre ideas for solutions. Many of the solutions offered were variations of respectability politics.

Burrell outlines the origins of many dysfunctions in and stereotypes about the Black community. He explains how many of these issues originated from racist ideologies aimed at supporting slavery. Actually, the entire book focuses on how the concepts of white superiority and black inferiority are tendrils of systematic racism.

We are ALL responsible for OUR actions. So, there is a disconnect when proposed solutions for problems call for change in the behavior of the oppressed rather than the oppressor. There is nothing wrong with expecting individuals to hold themselves accountable. But, not requiring the same from an oppressive system excuses that system from responsibility for its actions.


Brainwashed is worth reading for historical background on some of the issues that affect the Black community. The solutions for family/relationship, health, and financial dysfunctions are actually quite good. But, I wouldn’t recommend the book if you’re looking for realistic actionable solutions with regards to crime and racism as a whole. The book isn’t geared towards one gender but some chapters may appeal more to men than women and vice versa.

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