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Excerpt: 'Brainwashed'

Cover of 'Brainwashed'

Chapter 2

Relationship Wrecks

Why Can't We Form Strong Families?

The shattering blows on the Negro family have made it fragile, deprived and often psychopathic.

— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Father's Day, June 15, 2008, Barack Obama, then only a candidate for the U.S. presidential nomination, stood before a black congregation at a Chicago South Side church and delivered an important message to the black community:

Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important ... But if we are honest with ourselves we'll also admit that too many fathers are missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.

While Obama was congratulated for boldly taking absentee black fathers to task and condemned for taking an opportunistic shot at black men for political gain, all sides missed the most important points. Black men are not just absent from their children's lives; too many black men and women are absent from each other's lives.

In other words, it's not just a fathering problem; it's a "family-ing" problem, another casualty of our addiction to the Black Inferiority brand. The major challenge, therefore, is to discuss and seriously dissect the black family-ing problem.

Songs to the Beat (down) of Black Life

We sing, dance, and make love to catchy beats that endorse, reinforce, and promulgate our most self-destructive habits.

The messages are not only telegraphed through our music. The muddy milieu of black relationships seemingly splash across the front pages of tabloids, on Internet pages, on the nightly news and TV dramas, and in everyday advertising. The media gleefully amplified the exploits of a wildly successful R&B singer beaten bloody by her equally popular boyfriend. Of course, the juicy story of the black televangelist strangled and stomped by her preacher husband on a hotel parking lot also received plenty of media play.

Flip the channel or turn the page and there are the "baby mamas" and "baby daddies" so ubiquitous in common American culture that they become plot points or titles for mainstream comedies and movies.

And there, on the news, backed by respected research, are the products of all this ingrained promiscuity and violence — young children seemingly running amok in urban cities that breed violence, some left to raise their own siblings in the absence of negligent or missing parents.

The syndicated television program Maury, hosted by Maury Povich, is known for its "Who's Your Daddy?" segments. Much of the content is based on issuing paternity tests to teens and young adults in hopes of determining fatherhood. In just one week during the summer of 2009, I watched these scenarios:

Three young African American women — girls really — accused a young man of fathering their three children — all born within a month of one another. The young man had another 7-month-old child with his current girlfriend. In another segment, a young girl slept with two men at the same time, and was unsure who fathered her child. Then, there was the story about a mother who paid her daughter's boyfriend for sex.

Many of Maury's guests are black, and the sheer number of these cases is damning. Shows like these, along with court television shows that promote the same dysfunction, are very popular. I couldn't help but imagine the vast numbers of people indoctrinated by these images of black family chaos. And it's not like we can put 100 percent of the blame for this public buffoonery on the producers of these shows. These situations aren't fabricated; they're just carefully picked realities of black life. Sadly, it's art (and I use the word loosely) that imitates life. We watch these programs like a gory train wreck because they involve so many people who look like us.

Blacks not only dance to the beat of family destruction, we patronize films by black producers and directors that bombard our brains and reinforce all the bad we've been fed about ourselves — first by the white ruling class, and now abetted by our brainwashed brethren. Whether it's sagas like Rihanna and Chris Brown, or negative, self-demeaning movies, or characters like those depicted in HBO's gritty urban drama The Wire — black relationships and families are seen as hopelessly at odds, dysfunctional, violent, and unsubstantial.

Yet we accept and share these perceptions without question or qualm. Passionate conversations about "no good black men" among groups of black women are not irregularities. What is a rare occurrence, however, is our willingness to go to the historic root of negative black male behavior or discuss how fatherless homes help shape the sentiments shared by so many black women.

Likewise, black men are not aware of the unconscious motivators that cause them to demean black women. Nary is an objection raised when gaggles of these men depict evil, mean-spirited, materialistic, or impatient black women, and then expound on why they're better off with white women. Little attention is paid to the daughters these men bring into the world. Not only are they conditioned to live the stereotype of their mothers, many do so in homes with absentee fathers.

It's assumed that black women are supposed to have a slew of children with multiple men who will eventually abandon them. These women are quickly relegated to "supermom" status, expected to serve as both the foundation and as the black family's doormat. This, too, is a topic that receives little discussion, as is the mystery of how and why black women become enablers, molding black boys who will someday emulate the actions of their wayward fathers.

At a very young age, black men and women are inundated with messages that they cannot trust or depend upon one other. 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. Is it really a revelation that incompatibility, lack of love, and oftentimes violence become the inevitable conclusions of these tainted individuals' relationships?

Taken from Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority © Copyright 2010 by Tom Burrell. Published by SmileyBooks, New York, NY. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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Tom Burrell