The Rape of the the Black Mind


One of the major political and social movements of our time has been (and still is) the civil rights movement. Blacks have sought freedom for a long time and have gradually cast off most of the political obstacles to that freedom. Susan Love Brown argues, however, that the civil rights movement has fallen short of its potential as a truly individualistic and libertarian repudiation of racism and collectivism, and looks for the causes in the history of the black experience in America.

Blacks have sought freedom in America longer than any other group—racial, ethnic, religious, or otherwise. They have sought it in every way—rebellion, riot, protest, legislation, prayers—and they have almost achieved it. But the one thing that blacks have not succeeded in doing is throwing off the dogma of collectivism and embracing the spirit of individual freedom.

While individual blacks have achieved great things throughout history—regardless of the opposition which they faced—the majority of blacks today tend to think of themselves only as members of a group. While reality forces them to live as individuals and has blessed each with different standards, desires, abilities, goals, and dreams, many blacks still cling psychologically to the collective as their means of self-identification.

Today, with little freedom for anyone living in the oppressive shadow of the State, some people have managed to retain a sense of freedom within themselves and to hope for it and work with it. But to these people, freedom is centered around a view of themselves as independent beings. Such is not the case with the many blacks for whom freedom is sought in the ideologies of collectivism. Of course, much of this has to do with the psychological base from which they are working. For these blacks, acquiring freedom in reality means overcoming an entire history of slavery and racism and its subsequent affects upon the minds of black people.

For a long time there were few black people in America—only carbon copies of white ones. That is to say, there were few men and women of color who accepted the reality of that color as natural and went on to live their lives as normal human beings, for in the United States being black has never been normal.

Since 1619, when the first slaves arrived in the colonies, being black has been detrimental. C.T. Vivian in Black Power and the American Myth describes the situation:

The blacks who were brought to this country as slaves were systematically stripped of all cultural ties. Care was taken on most plantations to separate slaves who spoke the same language. Only English, a tongue foreign to them all, was permitted. African religions were forbidden. African customs and social organizations were impossible. All vestiges of African society were eradicated. The slaves were stripped of everything that had formerly sustained and defined them—from homeland to friends and family. In fact, every possibility for them to define themselves was removed; only by accident and in unimportant ways could they do so.…Every form of social life which could ordinarily be considered normal was forbidden. Even families in the ordinary sense were impossible. Women were used like cows, as breeders, to replenish and increase the stock.…It was a time when mothers strangled their newborn infants so that they would not have to grow up as slaves.…Blacks were permitted nothing by which to mark themselves as human. [1]

Psychologically, the color black has always been connected with the status of inferiority—slavery. Blacks were rarely considered as individuals, merely as members of a collective—and this is a psychological burden most bear to the present day. Not deaf, nor dumb to what was going on around them, blacks heard what was said about them by their masters and the general public, and little by little their images of themselves began to conform to that held by their masters. There was only one way to be free from pain, torture, hunger, abuse, and restraint—that was to be white. There was only one way to be accorded acknowledgment as an individual human being whose existence on earth was deemed a favorable consequence to his fellow man—and that was to be white. There was only one way to secure rights—that was to be white.

To be black was a negative thing. It was to be plagued and punished for existing. It was to always serve the will of another and never your own. It was, in fact, to learn to have no will at all. But, mostly, it meant being less than human—denigrated for being black and conceivably no other reason. It was in self-defense that blacks sought to escape the consequences of their blackness. They could not do it physically, but it was to a large extent possible psychologically.

Thus, was the black mind raped—deprived of the image of itself, an image that was not to be seen again or even recognized for a long, long time.

SLAVERY In Black Rage, two psychiatrists, William H. Grier and Price M. Cobbs, describe the process of degradation:

The practice of slavery stopped over a hundred years ago, but the minds of our citizens have never been freed.…To be a bondsman was to experience a psychological development very different from the master's. Slavery required the creation of a particular kind of person, one compatible with a life of involuntary servitude. The ideal slave had to be absolutely dependent and have a deep consciousness of personal inferiority. His color was made the badge of that degradation. And as a final precaution, he was instilled with a sense of the unlimited power of his master. Teachings so painstakingly applied do not disappear easily. [2]

The institution of slavery set up a psychological slavery in the minds of blacks that lasted even after their physical chains were taken away. The slaves were "freed," but the mental chains held fast—each link a blinder to reality. Three hundred years of slavery are not erased by Executive Order or by Congressional decree. The damage had been done—the seeds of self-effacement had been planted. Inefficacy was everywhere in the average black mind—and self-esteem was nowhere. As Grier and Cobbs put it:

They are taught to hate themselves, and if at some point they discover that they are the object of this hatred, they are faced with an additional task, nothing, for the imperative remains—Negroes are to be despised.…Thus the dynamics of black self-hatred are unique. [3]

The acceptance of psychological enslavement by blacks has been externally reinforced since the days of slavery primarily in two ways: culturally and politically. It is difficult to surmise which has been the most oppressive of the two, but the political reinforcement was certainly the most avoidable and the most apparent.

Despite the Emancipation Proclamation of Lincoln, the end of the Civil War, and the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, the harassment of blacks was a continuing fact. Instead of being allowed to enjoy the individual rights which would have seemed the proper consequence of their freedom, blacks were taken under the paternalistic wing of the State and their rights bandied about as if they were pawns on a political chessboard—the North on one side and the South on the other. The State approached blacks as a group—and encouraged collective treatment by instituting practices which denied any recognition outside that of color.

In Civil Rights and the American Negro (Albert P. Blaustein and Robert L. Zangrando, editors), a documentary history of the civil rights movement, it is reported:

Throughout the former Confederate area, state governments legitimized by the terms of Presidential reconstruction proceeded in 1865 and 1866 to pass legislation regulating the status and conduct of newly freed Negroes. Termed Black Codes, these laws were based on the explicit assumption of Negro inferiority and sharply restricted the mobility and personal liberties of former free Negroes and new freedmen alike. [4]

The Black Codes defined the relationship between husband and wife, determined terms under which blacks could marry, defined the relationship of blacks to their employers as well as the terms of employment, and even restricted the kinds of employment blacks could seek, requiring licenses in some instances. These Black Codes, later revoked, cast blacks into the same kind of bondage from which they had newly come.

Southern governments, further, did everything possible to guarantee disenfranchisement of blacks—instituting for their purposes such practices as gerrymandering, white primaries, grandfather clauses, and poll taxes to prevent blacks from engaging in political activities through the ballot box.

Although there have always been blacks who voted in both the North and the South, it was not without tribulation. Southern governments faced with the prospect of fully sanctioned suffrage for blacks may not have succeeded in impeding its progress altogether, but they tried their best.

In 1865 in Pulaski, Tennessee, the Ku Klux Klan was formed as an "innocent joke" designed to "merely scare the stupid Negroes for fun." However, it was a joke which soon lost its humor. In 1867, a Klan convention was held and afterwards outright terrorization and brutalization of blacks became its main goal. J. W. Schulte Nordholt (The People Who Walk in Darkness) recounts:

A Negro, speaking from bitter memory, has summed up fairly accurately what the Klan really did. He said that when Negroes earned good money and owned a profitable farm, the Ku Klux Klan murdered them. The Government built schools and the Ku Klux Klan burned them down. They went to prisons, took the colored prisoners, smashed their skulls, broke their necks and threw them into the river. This is a very condensed version of the contents of the thirteen volumes of the Congressional report on this matter. Although (General) Forrest dissolved the Klan in 1869 because it got completely out of hand, its activities continued as if nothing had happened. [5]

Despite a Congressional investigation of the Klan's activities, its violation of the rights of black individuals continued:

When the attention of the North turned to other and more profitable objectives, the Negro was abandoned, and a special amnesty law of 1872 reinstated the civic rights of most of the former rebels. Every means of terror and violence were employed to keep the Negro from the polling stations. [6]

Thus, blacks were again betrayed by government when it was most expedient. Leaving the Reconstruction Era, the country moved on to the era of Jim Crow (1884-1914). Blaustein and Zangrando report:

It was the period in which southern whites effected a common racial front against the Negro. Absorbed with industrial growth, cycles of economic prosperity and depression, further settlement of the West, and, finally, the challenge of colonial adventures, the nation at large proved indifferent to the status of the Negro. The dominant majority treated the Negro's lack of education, training, and wealth as confirmation of inferiority, and justified, on that basis, all forms of discriminatory behavior toward black Americans. State after State throughout the South and border areas changed their constitutions and instituted statutory measures designed to deprive the Negro of all opportunities for civic and political participation. Other laws imposed segregated facilities in education, travel, public accommodations, and the like; and the concept of Jim Crow was extended to all forms of public activity—frequently under the force of broadly structured laws, but also under the rubrics of "tradition" and "custom." [7]

Blacks entered the 20th century still deeply aware that something was wrong. The whole attitude of government and society was negative. The conclusion too often drawn was not that something was wrong with government or with society, but that there was something innately wrong with themselves.

Ultimately., blacks learned to use politics to their own benefit—to wield it as a weapon against the oppressors that had used it against them. Their actions in this respect were a form of self-defense, though it has never protected them from the political or psychological commitment to collectivism. Moral or immoral, learning to use politics to some extent freed blacks from the rigors of discrimination. But politics is a booby-trap which can spring on the very people that manipulate it. Blacks have become entangled in the political apparatus that has perpetuated collectivism—the philosophy which is responsible for their oppression in the first place. Many blacks, in an effort to "fight back" have, ironically, adopted the ethics of their oppressor—they have become the philosophical neighbors of the proponents of racism.

CULTURAL EFFECTS The cultural reinforcement of psychological enslavement has been far more subtle than the political—and its ramifications more widely spread and more difficult to uproot. Culturally, blacks needed only to assimilate the essence of the culture around them—a proposition calculated to blow the black mind to bits, for the culture around them was not at all suited to them. It required, again, that they deny the physical reality of what they were.

American culture consisted of (and still does to a lesser extent today) a standard of beauty based on the blond-haired, blue-eyed mystique; a language which was foreign to blacks and access to which had been denied them educationally; a literature that negated their existence by simply not mentioning them or degrading them when it did; art and music that was not theirs.

The physical characteristics of blacks have always made them identifiable. Seeking subconsciously to obliterate when possible these characteristics which made them so foreign to the cultural norm, they succumbed to the temptation. The beauty standard is only one example of many too numerous to mention here.

Although many of the actions taken by blacks in this respect appeared to be merely cosmetic (the improvement of one's physical appearance for one's own satisfaction), it was psychologically an attempt to exorcise the blackness so identified with inferiority—and to imitate the whiteness so identified with normalcy. This is why at one time creams that promised to bleach the skin several shades lighter were so popular among blacks. But besides being trapped inside a black skin, being black carried with it another physical (and ultimately psychological) "disability"—hair. For the most part, blacks have been endowed by nature with "kinky" hair—hair that is not long and straight like that of most whites or Indians or Asians, but hair that is super-curly—hair that coils very close to the roots. The only available means of circumventing this natural phenomena was to straighten the hair.

Although black men were also plagued by this curse, it was primarily black women who had to endure the agonies of the straightening comb (the hot comb, the straightening iron), and the process was pure hell, physically as well as psychologically. It involved taking the hair piece by piece, applying grease, and then taking the heavy straightening comb from the fire on the stove, and pulling it through the reluctant hair. The heat from the comb often melted the grease on the hair which dripped onto the scalp and burned. The hair stayed straight only so long as one managed to avoid rain, swimming pools, and perspiration—otherwise, it "went back" to its natural state around the edges and was referred to as "nappy." Those blacks who happened to have been born with straight hair that didn't require "pressing" were said to have "good" hair; everyone else's was "bad."

Hot combs were eventually replaced with permanents which straightened hair by employing chemicals that stripped the hair of its outer layers, leaving it too limp to recoil. The caustic action of the chemicals often burned the skin, leaving scars; but it was better than the agony of the hot comb (and easier to pretend that one had been born with hair like that). Only technology and the increasing self-awareness of blacks alleviated the hair problems—the Natural (or Afro or Bush) came into style. Even then many blacks resisted the new hairstyle (through hostility toward those who adopted it) which was too visible a reminder of the blackness they were subconsciously trying to avoid. Grier and Cobbs describe the psychological consequences of the hair "problem" and of the cultural beauty standard:

Long, straight hair and a fair skin have seemed to be the requirements for escaping the misery of being a black woman. One can only guess at the agony of countless black women who have spent their hard-earned money for a bottled, emulsified escape from being the way they are. And it is difficult to imagine their frustration and hopelessness when they finally realized that they could not change their hair or their color.…The Negro woman's black face, African features, and kinky hair are physical attributes which place her far from the American ideal of beauty, and make her, with reference to the American ideal, ugly. When the feeling of ugliness is reinforced by the rejection of family and society, the growing girl develops a feeling not only of being undesirable and unwanted, but also of being mutilated—of having been fashioned by Nature in an ill- favored manner. [8]

Many whites were never aware of this whole sequence of events, and even today will walk up to a black person with a Natural and ask them how they get their hair like that (only to find out that it grows that way)!

BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL In the 1960's, the rise of black awareness brought to the surface many of the emotional ramifications of the premises which many blacks had accepted. Some blacks recognized their dilemma and struck back at it with "black is beautiful"—an attempt to eliminate the emotional despair by asserting its opposite. The old code of behavior was cast away—mostly by the young. Many blacks began wearing their hair naturally, they adopted dress which connected them with their African past, they laid claim to "soul" music, studied Swahili, and began to publicize all of the extraordinary accomplishments of blacks throughout history—information that had lain dormant, consistently evaded and never reaching the public's attention. Black culture was born full grown out of the conscious refusal of blacks to regard themselves any longer as objects of inferiority. Black artists who had been around for years gained "over night" prominence, and black literature became an object of interest.

All of this could have been a breakthrough for blacks—it could have been the beginning of self-acceptance and the beginning of the end of the psychological slaughter that had so long been an unwritten part of black history. But many blacks still clung to the ideals of collectivism—they had assimilated it along with everything else in the culture around them, though unconsciously—and so the root of the problem (the concept that being black was the most significant thing about them) has not been escaped. The inferiority complex has merely changed directions and disguised itself in the assertion of superiority. The call for "solidarity" became the order of the day, and to disagree with the group was to be divested of one's blackness by the group—the new manifestation of the same old psychological problem. In other words, the group giveth and the group taketh away.

And so, the boastful flaunting of one's blackness has become merely another means of obscuring the fact that one isn't really sure of anything regarding one's own being. It is no surprise that the current wave of black collectivism is so strong, helped along by those competent intellectuals who daren't raise the ire of the group by begging to differ, but who add a sophisticated flair to the same old rhetoric of slavery (and catch their individuality on the side).

The word "freedom" has been supplanted by the word "liberation," and the existence of the singular being has been scorned—the life of an individual and successful black person is now (and often willingly in guilt) mortgaged over to the collective. A new guilt has been launched upon the psyches of blacks—commitment to the group above all else (this time other blacks)—and nothing has changed.

(It should be obvious that blacks are not the only group that has perpetuated collectivism in their search for liberation. Indeed, the Civil Rights Movement which began in the South with its focal point on the rights of black people in addition to its political gains—good or bad, right or wrong—has triggered a chain reaction among other groups which have adopted the same techniques proven "successful" in the black movement. Mexican Americans struggle to implement "Brown Power," American Indians speak of "Red Power," and women—a majority, not a minority—equate themselves with oppressed blacks. There is an overwhelming disposition toward collectivism among representatives of these groups. Although these groups do have valid claims, they are for the most part obscured. It is not unusual even in these groups to see the fate of an individual member become insignificant compared to that of the group.)

PSYCHOLOGY There can be no doubt that many blacks have suffered psychologically from their refusal to see themselves as individuals. The proof is in the high incidence of psychoses among them, as noted by E. Earl Baughman in Black Americans:

[I]t is clear that the incidence rates for certain types of psychoses are disproportionately high among blacks. Two of these are organic disorders, paresis (a consequence of syphilis) and alcoholic psychosis. Schizophrenia is also more common among blacks (Malzberg estimates a 2-to-1 black-white ratio) as is manic-depressive psychosis (for this syndrome, Malzberg estimates a 1.5-to-1 black-white ratio). In interpreting these data, Malzberg emphasizes that blacks are not biologically more vulnerable, rather he sees the environment as being responsible for their unfavorable mental health record.…[9]

But the science of psychology is to a large extent unable to offer blacks any real help in regaining their perspective of themselves. Psychologically, the problem is not that the minds of blacks function differently. Grier and Cobbs say:

There is nothing reported in the literature or the experience of any clinician known to the authors that suggests that black people function differently psychologically from anyone else. Black men's mental functioning is governed by the same rules as that of any other group of men. Psychological principles understood first in the study of white men are true no matter what the man's color.…Rather that the unique experience of black men is a constant factor influencing growth and activity and is frequently a focal point upon which basic principles are seen to act…The problem encountered by emotionally troubled blacks are by no means confined to black people. [10]

The problem is that certain attitudes which are considered psychologically unhealthy usually are held to be normal for blacks, even by psychologists like Grier and Cobb themselves who say:

For his own survival, then, he must develop a cultural paranoia in which every white man is a potential enemy unless proved otherwise and every social system is set against him unless he personally finds out differently.…He develops a sadness and intimacy with misery which has become a characteristic of black Americans. It is a cultural depression and a cultural masochism.…These and related traits are simply adaptive devices developed in response to a peculiar environment. They are no more pathological than the compulsive manner in which a diver checks his equipment before a dive or a pilot his parachute. They represent normal devices for "making it" in America. [11]

So in the realm of psychology blacks are faced not with a cure for their individual inability to function healthily as human beings; they run into the collective log jam of "The Black Norm"—"cultural paranoia," and "cultural depression," and "cultural masochism." The black in America today is not even allowed to suffer in solitude.

Nathaniel Branden, the founder of the school of biocentric psychology, would call this attitude on the part of certain psychologists "cultural relativism." Branden explains it thus in The Psychology of Self-Esteem:

The theorists who maintain this position usually insist that the closest one can come to a definition of mental health is: conformity to cultural norms. Thus, they declare that a man is psychologically healthy to the extent that he is "well-adjusted" to his culture. [12]

Branden's development of biocentric theory is perhaps the greatest boon that black individuals could have hoped for. For Branden has recognized the existence of the individual mind and has dared to define mental health objectively:

An unobstructed, integrated consciousness, consciousness in unbreached cognitive contact with reality, is healthy. A blocked, disintegrated consciousness, a consciousness incapacitated by fear or immobilized by depression, a consciousness corrupted in its function by reality-avoidance mechanisms, a consciousness dissociated from reality—is unhealthy. [13]

It matters not one iota to the mental well-being of the individual black whether he has shared with others the experience which has torn his mind asunder—this common bond does not spare him as an individual from the loss of self-esteem if he has accepted his own inferiority; nor does it cure his problem to adjust to it, or call it an "adaptive device," or to become "incapacitated by fear," or "immobilized by depression."

Abraham Maslow, another psychologist who places great emphasis on the individual being, has said: "Not allowing people to go through their pain, and protecting them from it, may turn out to be a kind of over-protection, which in turn implies a certain lack of respect for the integrity and the intrinsic nature and the future development of the individual." [14] Maslow, who has studied healthy people, defines their characteristics (among others) as being a superior perception of reality, increased acceptance of self, of others and of nature, increased detachment and desire for privacy, increased autonomy and resistance to enculturation, etc.—all of these pointing to a greater emphasis on the individual. [15]

Fortunately, more psychologists are turning toward a consideration of the individual than has ever been true in the past. Even those who have not begun to take the "individual" approach per se are at least becoming familiar again with the concept of "self." Hopefully, this is a trend that will continue in the future to the benefit of all persons who have previously felt that their primary identification was with a group rather than with their own being.

The fact of reality is that until blacks as individuals can recognize all of the hurt and the pain and face it head on with the consciousness of what has been done to them both by others and by themselves—until they can accept, and indeed, rally around their individuality—they will not be able to implement political freedom, nor will they ever be able to escape the psychological enslavement to which all collectivists inevitably subject themselves.

To implement freedom, one must understand its source—the nature of people as conscious, thinking beings who must rely on their own individual minds to survive.

The road which the individual black must take is a long and eventful one. It involves the rebuilding of a whole self out of the devastation of a mind that has been reduced to ashes in the past. It involves adopting a whole new view of what it means to be human. It involves the courage to maintain one's individuality despite claims to the contrary. It involves putting the color of one's skin and other racial characteristics into a proper and realistic perspective.

It is not easy for any human being—black, Mexican American, Indian, or woman—to stand up against the pressures of an entire cultural persuasion insisting that the group must come first.

But the requirements of being human demand that one's primary allegiance be to reality—and, hence, to the vision of oneself as a separate being with a separate (and sacred) soul.

If one defaults in this area, nothing—not even the loudest clamor of the collective in protest—can raise the human spirit from the degradation of the ashes to which reality will condemn it.


(1) C. T. Vivian, Black Power and the American Myth (Fortress Press 1970), pp. 14-15.
(2) William Grier & Price Cobbs, Black Rage (Bantam Books 1968), pp. 20-21.
(3) Ibid, p. 167.
(4) Albert P. Blaustein & Robert L. Zangrando, editors, Civil Rights and the American Negro (Washington Square Press 1968), p. 217.
(5) J. W. Schulte Nordholt, The People That Walk in Darkness (Ballantine Books 1970), p. 184.

(6) Ibid, p. 185.
(7) Blaustein and Zangrando, op. cit., pp. 283-84.
(8) Grier and Cobbs, op. cit., pp. 38-43.
(9) E. Earl Baughman, Black Americans (Academic Press 1971), p. 67.
(10) Grier and Cobbs, op. cit., pp. 129-30.

(11) Ibid., p. 149.
(12) Nathaniel Branden, The Psychology of Self-Esteem (Nash Publishing, 1969), pp. 89-90.
(13) Ibid., p. 95.
(14) Abraham H. Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being (D. Von Nostrand Co. 1968), p. 8.
(15) Ibid, pp. 25-26.