Wikipedia defines “propaganda” as “a form of communication that is aimed towards influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position by presenting only one side of an argument. Propaganda is usually repeated and dispersed over a wide variety of media in order to create the chosen result in audience attitudes.”
It amazes me how much we tend to underestimate the role white supremacist propaganda plays in creating, justifying and maintaining our oppression. Certainly this phenomenon impacts several groups of people, but my focus in this article is on Black people.
What purposes do white supremacy and racism serve?
All you need do is view Marlon Riggs’ pioneering documentary “Ethnic Notions” to appreciate white America’s long and systemic effort to thoroughly degrade and denigrate the Black image and psyche. But why so much effort toward this sinister goal? At its core, white supremacy postulates the lie that whites are innately superior to and therefore naturally poised to dominate and oppress people of color. The theory of racism falsely justifies this lie by assigning value and ranking to people based on their presumed racial category. Naturally, “white” people and those resembling them are assumed to be superior in almost every form of human expression and activity including but not limited to: beauty, intelligence, ability, leadership, potential, hygiene, health, judgment, ethics, etc.
Racism serves multiple purposes. It provides pseudo empirical evidence to “support” the false claims of innate white superiority and Black inferiority. On one hand, it justifies the negative and discriminatory treatment of original people; it makes the separate and unequal status, opportunities and resources accorded to whites and Blacks seem acceptable and even “natural.” However, people of color are not the sole victims of racism. Racism encourages white people to feel secure in their whiteness although many of them are as destitute, ignorant and powerless as some of their Black counterparts! otherwise. This false racial consciousness then prohibits such whites from developing a class consciousness that would lead them to organize with people of color around their common labor exploitation and jointly confront their mutual oppressors…the privileged and elite corporate interests which subjugate poor white AND Black people. So we see how racism works to natural allies, justify brutality and discrimination, and insulate the greedy elite from any real fear of interracial rebellion or revolution.
Why and how is propaganda used against Black people?
Left to their own devices, humans act in their own best interests. No one desires subjugation! Therefore the only ways whites could get exploit our labor, and generally oppress us was to 1) use coercion/force and 2) convince us to become parties of our own victimization through brainwashing and conditioning . This second tactic took more than a century and ample effort on the part of whites, but had the advantage of being extremely effective once completed. Carter G. Woodson in Miseducation of the Negro, described it this way: ““If you can control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his action. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do. If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself. If you make a man think that he is justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one and cut one to enter.”
Forms of racist propaganda used to subjugate us
As explained in the film Ethnic Notions, or in Donald Bogle’s remarkable book, “Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks,” anti-Black propaganda took various forms including movies, television shows, toys, board games, nursery rhymes, songs, greeting cards, cartoons, jokes, pictures, theatrical productions, and stereotypes. Taken together these various mediums portrayed our people as silly, unintelligent, lazy, unattractive, violent, criminal, etc, We cannot underestimate the extent to which these images and characterizations impact how others see us and how we see ourselves today. This is especially significant when you consider that modified versions of these depictions still exist in popular culture today.
Common Negative thoughts/practices produced by propaganda
Countless times I’ve described this insidious process to friends and co-workers as part of a larger attempt to explain some of our self-defeating attitudes, self-hatred, dysfunction and irritating worship/acceptance of white ideas, symbols and superiority. Not surprisingly, some of us act out the negative scripts written for us by people who despise and seek to control us – and don’t even realize we’re doing so! Nevertheless, we were conditioned to exhibit many of the following counterproductive behaviors and attitudes:
- Black skin, hair, lips, and body types are ugly or “bad.”
- Black people can’t organize
- Jewish lawyers are preferable to those who are Black
- The tendency to patronize white businesses over our own
- Our tendency to speak to one another in the most disrespectful ways but act submissive toward whites
- A tendency to disrespect and devalue Black authorities
- A condescending view toward Africa and African people
- Viewing Black institutions or cultural practices as being inferior to their white counterparts
And the list sadly continues.
Perhaps no one did a more thorough job of explaining and critiquing the dynamic of ranti-Black propaganda than did brother Malcolm, yet several decades after his murder, and the capable contributions of people like Amos Wilson, Naim Akbar and many others, insecurity, identity issues and self-hatred continue to debilitate our organizations, institutions and communities.
What we can do
I am not naïve enough to believe that a condition that took over a century to create will end overnight. There re some practical things we can do immediately to counter anti-Black propaganda First, we must come to understand how we were/are brainwashed. Second, we can learn the truth about ourselves and our history/contributions. Third, we can teach our children to distinguish between propaganda about us and the truth. Fourth we should begin to identify, expose and challenge attempts to mischaracterize our people and smear our names. The struggle continues!
Some suggested references:
Ethnic Notions, Marlon Riggs
Hidden Colors: The Untold History Of People Of Aboriginal, Moor,and African Descent, Tariq Nasheed
Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority, Tom Burrell
Breaking the Chains of Psychological Slavery, Naim Akbar
The Falsification of Afrikan Consciousness: Eurocentric History, Psychiatry and the Politics of White Supremacy, Amos Wilson
Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks, Donald Bogle
From Superman to Man, J.A, Rogers
What They Never Told You in History Class, Induskhamit Kush
The Miseducation of the Negro, Carter G. Woodson
African People in World History, John Henrik Clarke
365 Days Of Real Black History: Little Known Facts Of The Global Black Experience From Prehistory To The Present , Supreme Understanding
The Jim Crow Racist Memorabilia Museum:http://www.ferris.edu/news/jimcrow/menu.htm
Agyei Tyehimba is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.