Q & A WITH
Q. What motivated you to write this book?
A. As a black ad man, I was compelled to understand the way that words and images have been used to manipulate how blacks are viewed in this country and the way many of us unconsciously view ourselves. Connecting the black dots on a larger level early on—from slavery and Jim Crow segregation to contemporary commercial and social propaganda—became my passion.
Q. What makes you an expert on the so-called Black Inferiority complex?
A. As the former founder and CEO of one of the top ad agencies in the country, I bring more than 45 years of advertising and marketing expertise with black consumers and social behaviors to the table. Brainwashed, to my knowledge, is the very first book that talks about the selling of race-based inferiority from both a historical and contemporary marketing perspective, and its devastating impact on both blacks and whites. I wrote this book to serve as a catalyst for deprogramming society from the myth that blacks are innately inferior to whites.
Q. What is the genesis of the White Superiority/Black Inferiority brainwash attitudes?
A. American slavery. It was in America that Africans were chained and branded, both physically and psychologically, as subhuman beasts of burden. It was here that we were first indoctrinated with the idea that we were, in fact, not humans at all, but property.
Q. How do propaganda and brainwashing fit together? Why did you choose such a strong term?
Gone With The Wind
A. Propaganda is the outer layer of this brainwashing onion. In the marketing world, propaganda is the first tool of persuasion. Brainwashing is the outcome, but propaganda got us here, and its continued use keeps the inferior/superior mind game in play. Instead of using torture and other coercive techniques, the stealthy, media-savvy propagandist uses mass media and other forms of communication to change minds and mold ways of thinking. I have no intention of shying away from the term propaganda. I say we use it—take what was thrown at us, shuck it off, and replace it with “positive” propaganda.
Q. Many of the events covered in your book took place hundreds of years ago. Aren’t you encouraging readers to wallow in the past?
Sony Playstation Advertisement
A. The Black Inferiority campaign has left us with centuries of unresolved trauma. We can’t move forward as a collective until we have honest and detailed conversations about the painful influences of our past and the connections to the present. Until we are fully cognizant of the triggers that enable social, political, familial, and personal dysfunction we will be forever trapped in a counterproductive cycle.
Q. Didn’t the media brainwashing that you speak of die in the wake of the Jim Crow and the civil rights era?
A. While some might argue that racist media practices died with the end of the Jim Crow era, a few thousand folks stranded for days on sweltering rooftops or in neck-deep, toxic floodwater in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 might disagree. We now know that many of the 24/7 news accounts of black-on-black sniper attacks, mass murders, and the rape of women and babies were largely unfounded. As if stuck in a vortex, mainstream news outlets today still heavily focus on the negative aspects of African American life while ignoring or downplaying our positive contributions and efforts.
Q. You say that “Black people are not dark-skinned white people.” Explain.
Beyonce in blackface and whiteface
A. Too often blacks and whites live in different worlds. My point is that black Americans, because of our heritage and history, have a unique culture that could best be reached through strategies, words, and images subtly or overtly related to those historical and cultural factors.
Beyonce in whiteface
Q. What are some of the lessons you learned about black Americans during your tenure in the advertising business?
A. Burrell Communications’ research of the 70s and 80s showed that African Americans have distinct psychosocial needs, desires, fears, hopes, and aspirations, all born of the circumstances arising from slavery and a history of racial oppression. We discovered, for example that:
• Black preference for high-end status brands was driven by the need to compensate for feelings of low self-esteem.
• Our penchant for a lopsided spending/savings ratio grew out of our need for immediate gratification, based on a chilling pessimism about an uncertain future.
Janet Jackson on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Q. Did the “black pride” feeling of the 60s and early 70s weaken the Black Inferiority brand?
A. Yes and no. During that exciting time in our history, we paid lip service to being black and proud, but the sudden conversion was not supported by the necessary psychological machinery to make the change permanent. Even today, we have no permanent cultural mechanisms to undo what a 400-year marketing campaign has achieved.
Q. How does the election of President Obama impact the Black Inferiority campaign in America?
A. Images are powerful. Never before has America seen a black man occupying the highest office in the land, delivering the State of the Union address, drafting and promoting national policy, or disembarking from Air Force One with his black wife and daughters. From a marketing perspective, this is powerful, life-altering stuff. Barack Obama, through intelligence, will, self-determination, and yes, not a small confluence of favorable circumstances, may have reached his Promised Land, but tragically too many black Americans are still wandering in the wilderness.
Q. Are black Americans finally making measurable progress in this country?
A. The National Urban League’s annual report, The State of Black America, presents some pervasive and depressing themes: social chaos, irresponsible spending, economic stagnation, and disproportionate death and incarceration rates. No matter what the category, blacks statistically trail behind whites and other ethnicities, and in some areas, such as educational achievement and overall life expectancy, our numbers are actually getting worse.
Q. What are some of the disturbing brainwash messages that black adults often unconsciously pass on to children?
A. At a very young age, black men and women are inundated with messages that they cannot trust or depend upon one another. Children hear comments and jokes about lazy, greedy, irresponsible, or otherwise flawed black adults. They are warned to be tough, trust no one, and always, always be prepared for the doomed relationship. It is not really a revelation that incompatibility, lack of love, and oftentimes violence become the inevitable conclusions of these tainted individuals’ relationships.
Q. What messages dominate media portrayals of black men?
A. The message that black men are America’s demons is peddled relentlessly on the nightly news and crime shows and through entertainment media. Through slick propaganda, the criminal code of respect is now regarded as a “black thing.” These messages hit black boys everywhere—on the basketball court, in the schoolyard, and when they gather on the street. Negative media reinforcements not only influence how cops, judges, employers, and others view black males, they affect how young blacks view themselves.
Q. Why should we care about the controversial image of NBA star LeBron James looking “King Kong-like,” posing with a white model on the cover of Vogue?Lebron James, Vogue cover
A. The reason we should care about LeBron’s image is the same reason we should care about the image of Tiger Woods on theFebruary 2010 cover of Vanity Fair magazine.
In framing James as King Kong and Woods in the classic Boyz ’N the Hood pose, Vogue, which reaches 1.2 million readers a month and Vanity Fair, perpetuated one of the most enduring stereotypes of black sexuality—the Brute.
Tiger Woods, Vanity Fair cover, Feb. 2010
Depictions of LeBron as the modern-day rendition of the brutish, ape-like menace and Woods, angry and muscled in a prison-yard pose, with the not-so-subtle reminder that both men preyed on fair-skinned maidens, do indeed matter—especially in a society still fixated on warped, racial images of oversexed black men.
Q. Your book challenges the work of black entertainers such as Tyler Perry, Steve Harvey, Lil’ Wayne, and other high-profile individuals and organizations. Is it your intent to embarrass or chastise these individuals?
A. No, not at all. We are all victims of the overwhelming BI campaign. The idea is to challenge everyone, including myself, to question what we put out, what we take in, and what influences we promote in our communities and the wider world. If readers agree with the material I detail in the book then new awareness must turn into conscious action.
Lil' Wayne on the cover of the Rolling Stone
Q. Many of the successful blacks entertainers have helped extend what you call the “BI brand—rappers, comedians, TV, films, and others. How do you feel about this?
Dennis Rodman as the devil.
A. In the book, I explain in great detail how many of us contribute and continue perpetrating stereotypes developed to forever keep us branded as inferior. More important, however, I explain the historical motivators that cause us to respond to such disinformation negatively. I’m no position to condemn anyone. I’m a firm believer that once we know better, we will do better.
Bill Cosby plays the Devil
Q. Why do you feel black American unity is so important?
A. There’s strength in numbers. African Americans share a legacy of resilience and strength but also a history of understandable division based on Black Inferiority conditioning. If we can unite around a very basic but necessary agenda of reprogramming ourselves and promoting uplifting images and messages about ourselves, I believe we will have finally laid a foundation for exponential progress. Instead of crabbin’ and backstabbin’, this generation can be the pioneers who pool their resources and talent, the generation that soars. This can be the generation that says, “Enough. The master puppeteer will no longer pull our strings.”
Q. What’s the most important lesson you want readers to take from Brainwashed?
A. More than anything, I want readers to understand the effects of a centuries-long propaganda campaign. I want them to start scrutinizing everything we see, hear, or say about African Americans. I want us to hold ourselves accountable and realize that we all can play a part in flipping the propaganda script.
Q. What is The Resolution Project?
A. I created the nonprofit Resolution Project in 2007 with the goal of sparking intra-racial dialogue and sharing ideas about ways we can challenge and change how we perceive ourselves. Brainwashed is the project’s first tangible product. Our task from here forward is to create a coalition of engaged citizens dedicated to using positive propaganda to eradicate negative images and replace them with a bombardment of positive words and images.
Q. What is the “Flip the Script…Stop the Brainwash” competition? Who can enter and how?
A. In order to recruit “evangelists for positive propaganda,” I established The Resolution Project, an organization dedicated to promoting community-based new media campaigns. One of The Resolution Project’s first activities will be to sponsor the 1st Annual “Flip the Script…Stop the Brainwash” campaign. This worldwide competition will honor the best positive propaganda campaigns in video, art, creative writing, poetry, music, and other media based on a theme inspired by Brainwashed.
Tom Burrell's CUNY Interview, Pt 1
Toms Burrell's CUNY Interview Pt 2
Toms Burrell's CUNY Interview Pt 3