Ad executive Tom Burrell has seen first-hand how images can influence consumer thoughts and behaviors.
He founded Burrell Communications Group in 1971 and has worked to promote positive and realistic images of African-Americans ever since.
His new book, Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority, examines how negative images and stereotypes have impacted America’s view of African-Americans.
“If you give people negative images…then they’re going to internalize those images,” Burrell said.
“By portraying it constantly on the screen and on the tube, you take the reality of one and you make it a reality for millions.”
Burrell says he cringes when he watches daytime court tv shows or movies like Precious and The Blind Side, because he says the portrayals of African-Americans are troubling.
“Look at Precious, the casting…all of the misfits, all of the pathological characters are dark-skinned,” Burrell said. “All of the good people, the saviors are at least half-white. If it is not intentional, it is certainly insensitive.”
In Burrell’s book, he outlines how blacks have devalued their own self-worth and how that has negatively impacted their education, health and spending habits.
Burrell says slavery is the historical root of many problems but not the only cause.
“Today, African-Americans have become accomplices to this ‘brainwashing’ of inferiority,” said Burrell who describes the work of filmmaker Tyler Perry as “egregious.” “When a respected, talented black person puts [negative images] out, they automatically gain more acceptability.”