In fact, Burrell could easily be accused of over-reaching, as he seemingly attempts to examine every possible consequence of the BI Complex in one book. Burrell takes an unflinching look at everything from why black people kill other black people (“Homey-cide”) to why we conform to black sexual stereotypes (“Studs and Sluts”) to why we defend a culture of low expectations (“D’s Will Do”) to why we cling to self-destructive health, dietary and sexual habits (“Slow Suicide”).
It’s a lot to swallow, and a lot to cover, and there are some gaps and inconsistencies in Burrell’s argument. For example, he correctly lauds Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s entrepreneurial mindset as one worthy of emulation, while failing to point out that Johnson is or has been a spokesperson for Rent-A-Center and Jackson-Hewitt’s tax refund anticipation loans, prime examples of the modern-day sharecropping Burrell describes in the chapter “Buy Now, Pay Later: Why Can’t We Stop Shopping?”
However, the truth of Burrell’s thesis is undeniable: We as black people have been successfully brainwashed to believe that we do not deserve life, health, prosperity, love or even basic human dignity; that we are, in fact, subhuman, inferior, incompetent, incapable and born to suffer. (I’m reminded of a statement of stubborn defiance—and perhaps more than a little fatalism—I heard the adults in my community declare regularly: “I don’t have to do nothin’ but stay black and die!”) And Burrell goes further, making the case that we’ve been so thoroughly brainwashed that the biggest threat to the survival of black people is no longer white society and its institutions, as racist as they may continue to be, but ourselves—or rather, the self-loathing mindset with which we’ve all been systematically programmed for generations.
Burrell’s mission, as an advertising veteran and a black man aware of his own brainwashing, is to launch a campaign to fight and reverse the effects of the BI Complex. This book, and the companion web site and profiles on such social media platforms as Twitter and Facebook, is the first salvo in that effort. To be sure, Burrell’s antidote is strong, nasty-tasting medicine—a call for African Americans to face up to its dysfunction and its causes, and to actively fight against it. However, if Burrell is right (and I believe he is), and we are addicted to a fervent belief in our own inferiority, then he—and we—have a major challenge ahead of us, as there are fewer things more difficult than convincing an addict to face and fight the destructive reality of his or her addiction. In fact, the addicts most in need of rehab—including rappers and comedians who profit from the denigration of black people and church congregants all too willing to surrender personal responsibility to blindly follow and finance prosperity-preaching mega-pastors—are usually those most likely to violently refuse it by any means necessary, including lying, stealing, betrayal and debasement of themselves and others.
Simply put, to have a chance to win this propaganda war, Burrell must win a critical early battle—getting enough black people from all walks of life to throw off denial long enough to simply read Brainwashed. I, for one, choose to fight by his side. If you read no other book this year, now read this.