Response to 'The Rape of the Black Mind'


Few persons identifying themselves as libertarians would disagree that racism is wrong—individualism and a desire to treat persons on the basis of merit rather than on such accidents as skin color seems to go along with a commitment to the libertarian political philosophy. However, racism as a topic has seldom been dealt with in the libertarian literature: writers have been much more fascinated by black flags than by black persons. This stems in part from few libertarians being affected by racist attitudes: very few blacks have gotten involved in any way with "the libertarian movement."

Happily this situation seems to be changing and REASON is pleased to further a discussion of the causes, cures, effects and modes of analysis of racism in modern society. To that end we published, in the January 1975 issue, an article by libertarian author and activist Susan Love Brown, entitled "The Rape of the Black Mind," in which she argued that blacks are still suffering from the effects of slavery and years of accepting collectivist doctrines and will need to overcome those attitudes in order to achieve a truly nonracist society. The article which follows, by author Anne Wortham, takes issue with some of Ms. Brown's analysis.

When I received the January issue of REASON and saw the title of Susan Love Brown's article, "The Rape Of The Black Mind," advertised on the cover, my first impulse was to dash off a single-sentence note to the author: "Check your premises!" But that was only my reaction to the title and I thought it prudent and just to read the article before rendering a final judgment. If I had read only the last part of Ms. Brown's article I would have been pleased by her perceptive statements regarding the tendency of many (but not most) blacks to seek freedom by collectivist means. But when I tried to apply the statements on these pages to those in the first part of the article, I found the premises of each standing in contradiction to each other. Basically, Brown's conclusions may be stated as follows: It is a mistake for blacks to attempt to achieve freedom by means of collectivism, but it's not their fault that they've made that choice; the fault lies in psycho-cultural and political reinforcers.

During these days when the world is so much in need of a rational view of reality, it is imperative that spokesmen for individual freedom know their subject matterthat their ideas be formulated on a firm epistemological base. I found several flaws in Brown's presentation that I feel must not go unnoticed and unchallenged.


Entailed in the suggestion that "the black mind was raped" are two erroneous assumptions, both being products of the doctrine of determinism:

(a) that there is such a thing as a collective minde.g., "black" mindand that such an arbitrary classification of man's mind has cognitive significance;

(b) that the lack of self-awareness, self-regulation and self-assertivenessi.e., self-esteemis a state of mind caused by forces beyond one's control; that one's mind is somehow "raped" or "slaughtered" by calculating oppressors, one's family, or the culture around him.

Both errors disregard volition and free will as the motor of man's reasoning and its role in man's psycho-intellectual development. If Brown truly understood the nature of self-esteem, as exposited by psychologist Nathaniel Branden (whom she quotes), she would have also grasped the fact that whatever has been done to the minds of the blacks, "rape" is not the proper analogy. In answer to the question "Raped by whom or what?" Brown tells us that slavery and racism were the assailants; that "the black mind" was deprived of the image of itself; and that this deprivation "has been externally reinforced since the days of slavery primarily in two ways: culturally and politically."

Quite a different view of man's relationship to his social environment is presented by Branden in the following statements:

A man's social environment can provide incentives to think or it can make the task harderaccording to the degree of human rationality or irrationality that a man encounters. But the social environment cannot determine a man's thinking or nonthinking.…The social environment can provide him with the incentives for good or evil, but…an incentive is not a necessitating cause. The environment consists only of facts; the meaning of those factsthe conclusions and convictions to be drawn from themcan be identified only by a man's mind. A man's character, the degree of his rationality, independence, honesty, is determined, not by the things he perceives, but by the thinking he does or fails to do about them. [1]

While Brown acknowledges "the psychological enslavement to which all collectivists inevitably subject themselves" (emphasis mine), she offers a picture of slaves being passively cast in a mold of self-immolation by forces they had no control over. "The institution of slavery," she tells us, "set up a psychological slavery in the minds of blacks that lasted even after their physical chains were taken away." Man's self-identity may be evaded by others, but they cannot shape it; only he has the power to create the personality and character from which self-identity is derived. To quote Branden again:

When a man defaults on the responsibility of thought, he is left at the mercy of his involuntary, subconscious reactionsand these will be at the mercy of the outside forces impinging upon him, at the mercy of whoever and whatever is around him. By his default, such a person turns himself into the social determinists' view of man: into an empty mold waiting to be filled, into a will-less robot waiting to be taken over by any environment and any conditioners. [2]

The institution of slavery certainly frustrated every slave's need for self-identity; but the creation of an authentic self was the inalienable responsibility of each bondsman unto himself. Some slaves rose above the frustrations; others shrank beneath them. But in either case, it was not the institution of slavery that had the last word, but each man himself. Slavery and racism are too quickly identified as the sine qua non of an undermined self-esteem in many Negroes, with no thought given to the fact that an undermined self-esteem is the consequence of inappropriate responses to an irrational social environment. A man without self-esteem cannot respond rationally to physical bondage or racism.

If we are to believe the interpretations of slavery that Brown presents in her choice of references (interpretations that call the self-definition that many slaves achieved "accidental" or "unimportant"; that view of self-hatred of slaves as "unique"; and that bypass the conceptual identity of man by implying that there was no internal, if not external, resistance to the irrationality of oppression), how, then, can we explain the nature of those slaves who maintained their self-identity in spite of the lack of positive confirmation of this fact from the whites they served? How do we account for the passionate desire for freedom expressed in the many sermons, the music, poetry and stories that are so imbedded in the cultural history of American Negroes? And if we are to believe that racism, by its nature, causes the psychological bondage of those toward whom it is aimed, how do we explain the existence of the many thousands of Negroes who have and continue to function successfully without reference to the irrational men and institutions around them?

How, pray tell, do we account for the success of a man like multimillionaire Hobart T. Taylor, Sr., a Houston Negro who made his first million 43 years ago in the then-segregated taxi franchise businesspart of a family fortune that began with $600 in dimes earned by Mr. Taylor's grandfather, the slave Andrew Taylor, who worked as a shoemaker on a plantation in Texas? How are we to view slavery and racism: by the power that a man already lacking in self-esteem gives them to reinforce his thoughts and actionsor by their impotence against a man determined to be his own maker? What is the most significant fact about Andrew Taylor: that he was a slaveor that he was a shoemaker?

Physical or political enslavement is involuntaryalways. Psychological enslavement (of otherwise healthy men) is voluntaryalways. While Brown claims to understand the source of individual freedom, she is reluctant to acknowledge that psycho-intellectual enslavement stems from the same sourceman's consciousness. With the aid of her references, she conveys the idea that the slave's mind was raped by someone else while the present-day Negro is raping himself. But while man's existential circumstances change from one era to another, the requirements of his mind remain the same. Man's volition, entailed by the law of causality, is constantnot a point of reference to be applied to man's activities whenever it suits our fancy. The option of psycho-intellectual independence was not a dead issue during the days of slavery. Its imperative was as real for the slaves (and their oppressors) as it is for men today. I only wish Brown had not given the impression that it was or could have been otherwise.


A second instance of the faulty epistemology of Brown's social determinism is seen in her interpretation of assimilation. She describes assimilation as "a proposition calculated to blow the black mind to bits." By this reasoning, then, it is a dis-value: "for the culture around them was not at all suited to them." She tells us that the rise of "black awareness" (a concept that has no epistemological validity whatever and which she does not challenge) was short-circuited because "many blacks still cling to the ideas of collectivism [which] they had assimilated along with everything else in the culture around them."

I agree with novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand that "a nation's culture is the sum of the intellectual achievements of individual men, which their fellow-citizens have accepted in whole or in part, and which have influenced the nation's way of life. Since a culture is a complex battleground of different ideas and influences, to speak of a 'culture' is to speak only of the dominant ideas, always allowing for the existence of dissenters and exceptions." [3] Rand adds the following parenthetical note:

The dominance of certain ideas is not necessarily determined by the number of their adherents: it may be determined by majority acceptance, or by the greater activity and persistence of a given faction, or by default, i.e., the failure of the opposition, orwhen a country is freeby a combination of persistence and truth. In any case, ideas and the resultant culture are the product and the active concern of a minority. Who constitutes this minority? Whoever chooses to be concerned. [4]

It is within the context of this concept of a nation's culture, my belief in voluntary association as an aspect of man's political independence, and my acceptance of the doctrine that volitional choice is the regulator of man's consciousness that I present a definition of assimilation counter to that implied in Brown's statements.

Assimilation, properly defined, is the process whereby individuals and groups with different cultures come to share a common culture; it is the process of selection and exchange in which individuals acquire (by conscious choice) the memories, sentiments, attitudes and values of other individuals, and by which their shared experiences and history are incorporated into a common way of life. Assimilation is most often discussed by sociologists in terms of the dynamics of contact between individuals of different ethnic or national cultures; but it may refer also to the less-obvious but greater occurrence of contact of differences among individuals of the same ethnic or national culture. (There is, for instance, great resistance by some tribes in Africa, the Near East and India to the national goals set by the political and intellectual leaders in these countries. Most Western school children know more about the national culture of these lands than do the tribesmen living in them. They have no sense of "nation"; their first loyalty is to the tribe, its elders and witchdoctorsa loyalty prescribed by centuries of traditional values which national leaders find themselves hard put to influence toward change. It is for this reason that the cultures of these nations are best described as "tribalistic"regardless of what their national leaders say to the contrary).

Assimilation is not a condition, as Brown implies; it is not the end result of association, but a process of sub-cultural give and take. Neither is it by definition a dis-value, but a process of human interaction in which men deal with each other voluntarily for mutual benefit. There are many existential factors that influence the nature and rate of a person's assimilation, but the one factor on which all the others depend is his power of volitional choicewhether he chooses to view the culture as his makeror himself, a creator of that culture. The individual who views the culture as his maker employs the process of assimilation as a means of escaping his self-responsibilitywhat Branden calls the social metaphysician's "mindless conformity to the values of others." There is cultural give and take, but rather than being honest, just, harmonious and benevolent, the social metaphysician's assimilation is characterized by cognitive parasitism, psycho-intellectual blackmail, deceit, manipulation, role-playing and appeasement. When such is the case, Brown is partly correct: one's assimilation is a proposition calculated (by himself) to blow his mind to bits. But assimilation need not be such an odious and self-immolating experience. The individual who views himself as a creator of his culture employs assimilation as a means of asserting his self-responsibility. His assimilation involves what Branden calls the healthy man's judgment of his "sense-of-life affinity" to others and to their ideas, their spiritual and intellectual achievements. (For a wider discussion of "sense-of-life affinity" see: Branden's discussion of psychological visibility in The Psychology of Self-Esteem and Rand's essays on "Philosophy and Sense of Life" and "Art and Sense of Life" in The Romantic Manifesto).

Assimilation is not a process whereby one group of men dangle at the end of the sub-cultural strings of another group. It is not an automatic process and neither can it be externally calculated. Coercive assimilation is a contradiction that defeats its own purposea fact illustrated by the resistance of slaves to "deculturalization" and by the failure of the government-sponsored "Americanization Movement" inaugurated during the First World War to assimilate foreign immigrants. We are presently witnessing a similar failure of coercive integration, calculated to force men to associate or live next to one another.

If, by her statement that "the [American] culture was not suited to [Negroes]," Brown means that the culture has taken shape largely to reflect the ideas and interests of free white men, I must agree. But I hasten to add that the history of American culture is of an endless stream of individuals who have challenged this contradiction in a nation established on the principles of individual rights and equal freedom. As the slaves struggled to survive the bondage of the plantation subculture, they also embraced the ideals of freedom that permeated the larger culture. They may not have experienced the fact of that freedom, but they were nonetheless fervent in their belief that they were entitled to it. And every immigrant to America from 1619 to the present day shared the same belief. The issue was not whether an individual was capable of assimilating aspects of the larger culture, but whether, irregardless of his cultural heritage or biological ancestry, he would be granted the legal protection necessary to make assimilation possiblein this case, to meritoriously rise to the level that his intelligence and industry would allow. This is the issue which stirred the advocates of women's suffrage and moves those who protest government-enforced racism. And it is this same issue that waits to be faced in deciding the still unresolved fate of American Indians.


Unlike self-immolating assimilation, self-assertive assimilation requires a strong self-identity and the psycho-intellectual independence that enables one to select those aspects of another culture which he judges beneficial to his interests. One of the finer examples of self-assertive assimilation is seen in the story of a Russian young woman who immigrated to America in 1926 on a six-month visitor's visa, but remained to become a United States citizen and a best-selling philosophical novelist. Had she been a person of different character and ideals, this young immigrant could have rushed to the bosom of a Russian-American community in order to cushion the shock of entering a society so different from her native land. But since her childhood, she had held a view of reality that was most un-Russian. Her arrival in New York was merely the act of her body finally arriving in the setting where her mind had already been so many times before. Being neither "deculturalized" nor "Americanized," she was more "American" in spirit than most native-born Americans and in this, her psycho-intellectual homeland, she would turn her ideas into concrete achievements. Like all immigrants to a new culture, she integrated into her life-style that which served to enhance the goals she had outlined for her lifeno more and no less.

One day in 1940 she spoke to a street crowd in behalf of Presidential candidate Wendell Willkie who called himself an "uncompromising defender of free enterprise." A heckler interrupted her speech, demanding: "Who are you to talk about America? You're a foreigner!" Unperturbed, she answered: "That's right. I chose to be an American. What did you do, besides having been born?"[5]

The young campaigner who asserted her American citizenshipand the epistemological root of citizenship in America: choice—was Ayn Rand. On that day she was in the middle of writing a novel in "defense of egoism"of "individualism versus collectivism, not in politics, but in man's soul." She had already published one novel set in Russia about "dictatorship, any dictatorship, anywhere, at any time, whether it be Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, orwhich this novel might do its share in helping to preventa socialist America." She would write another in which she would formulate "a rational morality of and for man, of and for his life, of and for this earth"a moral defense of capitalism. And in spite of attacks by intellectuals of all persuasions, her books would become best-sellers and the basis of a moral revolution in the minds of thousands in the United States and abroad.

It is interesting that in the field of musical entertainment, Ayn Rand's favorite dance is the tap dancepopularized by Bill Robinson, a Negro vaudevillian and screen actor, but which originated with the plantation slaves and which she calls "singularly appropriate to America and distinctly un-European."[6] Why would this white American novelist of Russian descent find such pleasure in the performance of a dance originated by Negro slaves? Does she harbor some neurotic desire to be black? Was her sense of esthetic judgment "blown to bits" and reinforced by the popular culture of the 1930's and 1940's? Those who are in the least familiar with the ideas of Ayn Rand and who understand anything about the process of assimilation know that to ask such questions about her choice of dance is to issue the supreme insult.


I am satisfied that many Negro women, especially those whose lack of sophistication leaves them largely unaware of the motives urbane social science scholars attach to their behavior, would find themselves as baffled as I am by Brown's assertion that their cosmetic customs are manifestations of a dislike for their physical attributes and a desire to imitate the physical appearance of whites. Since I have no evidence that such is the case, I cannot disprove Brown's assertion, but I would like to present a different view of hair straighteninga view of at least one Negro woman, myself, who straightens her hair but who is not neurotic and quite pleased with who and what she is.

Some human beings are born with physical attributes that develop naturally into beautiful faces and bodies, but most people must make themselves beautifuli.e., the achievement of the harmony of features and excellence of form that is a pleasing sensory experience involving sight and/or touch. One's achieved beauty is not skin deep nor in the eye of his beholder, but the metaphysical projection of his self-image and his view of reality. To paraphrase Ayn Rand: "Physical beauty is not a moral or volitional issuebut the choice to [make oneself] a beautiful human being rather than an ugly one, implies the existence of volition: of choice, standards, values." The choice to make oneself beautiful need not stem from the conclusion that he is ugly and unfit, but from the conclusion that he is worthy of living and therefore worthy of beauty and the pleasure it bringsbeginning with the beauty of his own person.

One improves or imparts physical beauty by means of personal grooming—the technique of caring for one's body and making oneself attractive according to his value-judgments. Entailed in personal grooming is cosmetology—the art of applying beautifying preparations to the face and body of which hairdressing, the art of arranging the hair in certain styles, is a part. (Another, less related aspect of personal grooming is cosmetic surgery—the improvement of one's appearance by restoration of damaged areas of the body, replacement and repair of lost or deformed parts).

It is not the illusion of being someone else that motivates a rational person to alter and adorn his natural appearance; nor does his cosmetology imply a denial of his biological ancestry or genetic endowment. His aim is simply to have his outward appearance match the quality of his character and personality as it is or as he would like it to be. He does this by accentuating the shape, texture and features of the face and the texture and form of the hair, by coordinating his makeup and hair styles to emphasize the best features from the weak ones in order to achieve visual harmony.

Obviously, a lot of people of pale pink complexion would prefer a tawnier pigmentation than that they're born with. So would a lot of people with limp, straight hair like more curl or wave than what they were born with; and a lot of people with kinky or wooly hair would like less coil and more wave or straightness. Some people even go to great expense to restructure their appearance by means of cosmetic surgery (the famous nasal operations have been going on since the ancient Egyptians tried to repair broken noses). There is nothing morally wrong or inherently neurotic about improving one's features by means of cosmetic surgery, or about straightening or curling one's hair to achieve a desired hair style worn by women with different hair form and texture. It is neurotic to believe that one's personal value and self-identity are dependent on the shape of his nose, how he wears his hair, or if he has any hair at all. When a self-confident Negro woman straightens her hair, it is not Caucasian hair that she desires or intends to achieve, but the sufficient alteration of her own hair to achieve the hair style she considers most attractive. It is not an attempt to be someone else, but to improve her own appearance. She is not engaged in an act of self-depreciation, but in projecting the value she places on her person.


There is no universal standard of beauty in Americaonly prevailing fashions that come and go. One such fashion in hairdressing is the bushy "Afro" worn by many Negroesa coiffure that is not "natural" but requires vigorous combing and brushing, continual shaping and the application of hair spray to maintain its bushy appearance. There are whites who wear the style but must cut their hair and have it teased or set in very tight curls to achieve the "puffed" effect. Some Negro women who cannot achieve the wooly appearance use the same methods or wear Afro wigs; others wear wigs rather than style their own hair. But wearing the wig or the coiffure seems to be losing the political significance attached to it and is considered by many women as just another of the various hair arrangements they may choose among. After finding the Afro too much trouble to care for, some women are returning to styles that require hair straightening.

Unlike the temporary fashion of the Afro hairstyle, hair straightening among American Negro women is a custom that has been practiced for many generations. It is as much their custom as is the heat and cold permanent wave a custom among white women. (I should point out that the "hell" of the hair-straightening process described by Brown is not descriptive of a professional treatment but rather the ruination of an amateur). Altering the natural form and texture of the hair, the "hell" notwithstanding, is a custom practiced by women all over the world and throughout history. (Archaeologists have found hairpins and combs that date from prehistoric times.) And as the retail statistics of the cosmetic industry indicates, it is a foregone conclusion among most women that as man is the shaper of his environment, so is he the shaper of his personal appearance; that personal attractiveness, achieved by imparting or improving one's natural endowments is a goal worthy of their effort. It is this view of man's cosmetology that leaves me unable to comprehend how anyone can identify it as "the cultural reinforcement of psychological enslavement."


Finally, I would like to comment on the book Black Rage from which Brown quotes.

I agree with Brown and the authors of Black Rage that slavery was an evil, unjust and reprehensible institution, but slavery did not cause the degradation that many Negroes allowed themselves to sink to. I agree that being the object of government-enforced segregation, racial discrimination and general race consciousness is humiliating, but neither government policy nor one's prejudiced neighbors are the causes of the alienation a person might experience. I agree that some Negroes have assimilated some of the worst aspects of the culture around them, but neither the dominant culture nor one's own subculture are causes of self-immolation. While there is nothing wrong, per se, with having an interest in the history of one's biological ancestorsor fashioning one's hair and dress after their cultural customsor favoring only the achievements of individuals whose race is the same as one's ownthese things do not cause self-acceptance. They are not the agents of pride and they certainly do not identify the "essence" of one's identity. Every individual is his own creatorresponsible for his own existence, the content of his consciousness and the nature of his actions.

Nathaniel Branden writes that in any study of man, "one must begin by identifying the fact upon which any subsequent analysis of man necessarily rests: that man is a rational being, a being whose distinctive form of consciousness is conceptual." Nothing could be farther from this approach than that of psychiatrists Grier and Cobbs who, by employing social determinism and their subjectivity to the motives and behavior of Negroes in particular, reveal how little they understand about man in general and what little regard they have for the individual. Their entire approach is to exempt Negroes from man's identity as a rational beingand then to absolve them from the error of their reasoning, judgment and actions by putting the blame for many of their psychological problems on agents to which it does not always properly belong. They present cases of troubled individuals whom they describe as "typical of black Americans" and proceed to create from these a new Negro stereotype: a mangled mass of madness whose "'place' in America had been shaped by powerful forces"whose identity is "a nearly bottomless well of self-depreciation…prepared by society and stands waiting, a prefabricated pit which they have had no hand in fashioning." He is the product of the "powerful interlocking of family milieu and social attitudes [that] has presented a barrier to him and his black brethren which is felt by no other ethnic group in America." He is a festering force of fury turned inward on himself and capable of destroying those without who created him.

In The Disowned Self, Branden presents many cases in which individuals go to great lengths to evade their self-responsibility and thereby nurture their suffering rather than take the necessary steps to alleviate it. He says that in the material sphere of his existence, man has the option of assuming responsibility for his life or not assuming it. But psychologically, man is, by his nature, necessarily self-responsible. "His option is only whether or not he will choose to be aware of that fact and to accept its consequences." He continues:

The more a person grows in self-awareness, the more he is prepared to acknowledge responsibility for his action, responses and psychological state. The 'responsibility' to which I refer does not carry any necessary implication of moral blame; the issue of moral blame may be entirely irrelevant; a person may behave self-harmfully because he does not know any better or cannot imagine an alternative; but the fact remains it is he who is behaving, not some external agent.…I do not mean to imply that a person never suffers through accident or through the fault of others. But psychotherapy is primarily concerned with the suffering that a person brings on himself. [7]

In Black Rage, Grier and Cobbs are not concerned with the self-responsibility of Negroes. They explicitly state that their aim is to demonstrate that "the anger raging in the black man's breast [is caused by] the long history of white racism that put it there." First they inform us: "Of all the things that need knowing, none is more important than that all blacks are angry." Then they warn us: "The time seems near for the full range of the black masses to put down the broom and buckle on the sword. And it grows nearer day by day." And not oncefrom their point of information to the issuance of their warningdo they question whether the internal rage many blacks experience should necessarily end in expressions of violence against others. Indeed, they offer the psychological problems of blacks as the moral justification for crimes against property and person and for racial "chauvinism"a euphemism for black racism.

Having exempted Negroes from self-responsibility, these two doctors of the mind end their analysis and conclusions with the ultimate insult to all Negroes when they ask: "Can we say that white men have driven black men mad?"

Black Rage was published in 1968 and in the same year another book was published which gave an unequivocal "Yes!" to the Grier and Cobbs question. The book, called Letters To A Black Boy, is a compilation of messages from Bob Teague, a television news reporter, to his infant son. Teague begins with the declaration that "All black men are insane. And that includes your daddy.…As a general rule, the white majority has no idea that its irrational behavior has created a monster it calls the Race Problembetter, call it 22,000,000 insane blacks. I see no reason to apologize for my madness. As a matter of fact, I am proud of it. Any black man who is not insanethe way things areought to have his head examined. Our madness is proof of our humanness."

I have only one thing to say to writers like Grier, Cobbs, Teagueand in a different sense, to Susan Brown: Speak for yourself, brother!


[1] Nathaniel Branden, The Psychology of Self-Esteem (Los Angeles: Nash Publishing, 1969), p. 45.
[2] Nathaniel Branden, The Disowned Self (Los Angeles: Nash Publishing, 1971), p. 248-49.
[3] Ayn Rand, "Don't Let It Go," The Ayn Rand Letter, Vol. 1, No. 4, November 22, 1971.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Nathaniel Branden, Who Is Ayn Rand? (New York: Random House, Inc., 1962), p. 199.
[6] Ayn Rand, "Art and Cognition" (Part II), The Objectivist, Vol. 10, No. 5, May, 1971.
[7] Branden, op. cit., p. 102-103.

Anne Wortham is a Research Librarian in the news syndication industries. One of her articles from The Freeman is included in The Libertarian Alternative: Essays in Social and Political Philosophy. Portions of this article are excerpted from her forthcoming book profiling race conscious prototypes among American Negroes.