The Hidden Colors of Frances Cress Welsing’s Historical Legacy

by R.L. Stephens II on January 3, 2016

Dr. Frances Cress Welsing has died. I offer my condolences to all who knew her as well as to the thousands around the world who cherished her scholarship and role in Black politics.

Black people, I really love us. I know that things are very difficult. Many of us live under the immediate pressures of poverty and we don’t know how we’re going to make it from one day to the next. On top of that, there’s the pervasive threat of racial violence and bigotry that could imprison, impoverish, rape, or murder us at any moment. I hear you, I see you, and I’ve lived this stuff myself.

But though we rightfully feel an urgency to make sense of a world fueled by our subjugation and that seems to take pleasure in our pain, turning to Dr. Welsing for guidance is and always has been a mistake. It’s appropriate to mourn her death, as we would almost anyone, yet the devastating miseducation wrought by her work will continue to plague Black political efforts years after her passing.

As the news of Welsing’s death spreads, tributes to her work and ideas are sure to follow. A giant in the Black nationalist world, Welsing casts a long shadow. It’s her intellectual pedigree that makes her role in Black politics so important, and so dangerous. She was a professional psychiatrist with an M.D., a distinguished professor at Howard University, and a published and widely-read author. Backed by professional prestige,  Welsing built a career convincing thousands and thousands of people, mostly Black, that racism wasn’t the result of political economy, but was instead a product of biology. Her work, in effect, helped gut Black political resistance by delegitimizing anti-capitalist Black radical politics.

In 1969 the proletarian internationalism of the Black Panthers and other anti-capitalist Black radicals was in its pomp, and the US government stepped up a full scale war to annihilate them. 1969 was also the year Welsing first “formulated” the Cress theory of color confrontation, an effort to “develop a sound and consistent theory of racism.” This juxtaposition is crucial in order to grasp the counterrevolutionary nature of Welsing’s work.

1969 was the year the Chicago police murdered the now-iconic socialist and Black Panther Fred Hampton. It was also the year Bunchy Carter, another Black Panther, was murdered in Los Angeles. It was at that time, when the project of Black radical socialism was being systematically exterminated by the U.S. government, that Dr. Frances Cress Welsing was formulating a theory that recycled the false narrative that “capitalism, communism and socialism have been devised, used and refined in the effort to achieve the primary goal of white domination.” The implication here was that the international proletarian socialism that the Black Panthers and other Black radicals fought and died to advance was actually just another plot to ensure white supremacy. In her 1991 book The Isis Papers, she would not only repeat this anti-socialist falsehood, but she’d also use the US government’s murder campaign against Black anti-capitalist radicals like Hampton and Carter to rationalize a theory which denigrated their struggle and analysis.

Rehashing author Neeley Fuller’s analysis in order to justify her own theory1, Welsing outright rejected the idea that race was explained by the history of political economy, in stark contrast to the position of the Black Panthers and other Black socialist revolutionaries. Instead, she argued that whiteness was fundamentally biological, “a genetic inadequacy or a relative genetic deficiency state or disease based upon the genetic inability to produce the skin pigments of melanin which are responsible for all skin coloration.” According to Welsing, white skin was a recessive gene that was always “annihilated” by non-white genes. Therefore, racism and even capitalism were the product and pursuit of whites people’s struggle for genetic survival.

For Welsing, it’s not workers and owners, or masters and slaves, but the genetic imperative to preserve white skin that moves history. This is consistent with historian Barbara Fields’ admonishment that ignoring political economy results in the false belief that the European enslavement of Africans was primarily about race relations, “as though the chief business of slavery, were the production of white supremacy rather than the production of cotton, sugar, rice and tobacco.” If racism results from an age-old struggle for genetic survival, and not political economy, then class confrontation–that is, genuine political struggle–is irrelevant to Black people. According to this worldview, procreation under Black male-led families is our premier source of agency.

This positions Black heterosexuality as inherently progressive and, by extension, makes Black homosexuality not only deviant, but a de facto threat to the survival of the race. Inevitably, homosexuality is seen as a strategic weapon unleashed by white people against Black people. Therefore, destroying Black homosexuality becomes a matter of rational racial self-preservation:

“Black psychiatrists must understand that whites may condone homosexuality for themselves, but we as Blacks must see it as a strategy for destroying Black people that must be countered. Homosexuals or bisexuals should neither be condemned nor degraded, as they did not decide that they would be so programmed in childhood. The racist system should be held responsible. Our task is to treat and prevent its continuing and increasing occurrence.” Welsing, The Isis Papers

Some people set aside Welsing’s views on homosexuality as they wax poetic about her philosophy and contributions to Black politics. However, such a selective reading of her body of work cannot hold up to scrutiny. Frances Cress Welsing’s anti-gay ideology isn’t a side dish, it’s the main course. Hating gay sex and gender fluidity is an inevitable and essential element of her theory, because her whole racial analysis hinges on heterosexist biological determination. This anti-gay line of thought is captured in her starring role in the 2011 cult classic documentary Hidden Colors.

I first came across Welsing’s work four years ago through my barber Darnell. Darnell’s got an effortless low-energy charisma at all times, but he really lit up when telling me about Hidden Colors. I’d never seen him more animated. In true Black barbershop form, he hooked me up with a bootleg copy of the DVD.

Upon viewing the documentary, it was easy to see the appeal. For Black people, who’ve endured generations of hearing our brutalizers tell us we’re deficient, that we’re less than human, and that we’ve made no contributions to the world, it feels good to hear Cress Welsing say that it’s actually white people who are inferior–and genetically so, at that. This type of distortion is understandably cathartic for those of us who spend every day of our lives catching economic, physical, and psychological hell. Indeed, Hidden Colors has since become wildly popular, allowing the filmmakers to crowdfund tens of thousands of dollars for sequels.

Hidden Colors was propaganda for the conscious community, a constellation of influential self-styled pan-African and Black nationalist activists and academics. The film series is the brainchild of professional pick-up artist Tariq Nasheed. Nasheed’s contributions to the pseudoscience of sexual manipulation include the how-to books The Art of Mackin’, The Mack Within, and The Art of Gold-Digging, as well as a long running podcast, The Mack Lessons. Dr. Welsing was Hidden Color’s intellectual backbone, her theory providing a veneer of legitimacy to Nasheed’s burgeoning how-to-be-a-player conscious empire.2

When Melody Charles of asked Welsing in a 2013 interview what Black people should do in the face of racial onslaught, she replied, “Black people have to get it to the mind frame that ‘black’ means dignity and being serious, that people respect one another. this is going to be the strength of black people—valuing themselves, respecting themselves and having dignity.” The moral conservatism proposed here by Dr. Cress Welsing is unsurprising once we consider the long history of how Black elites have sought to demobilize Black masses under the guise of race leadership. In an article for Jacobin, Prof. Kenneth W. Warren argues, “for nearly 130 years, black elites in the United States have been offering up improved ‘race relations’ rather than interracial workers alliances against capital as the primary solution to American inequality.”

Given this history and her antagonism towards proletarian class struggle, it should therefore come as no surprise that Dr. Welsing framed her work as a quest for a “consistent theory of race relations.” One of the central architects of this form of counterrevolutionary politics, Booker T. Washington, is a revered figure within the contemporary conscious community. Umar Johnson, also of Hidden Colors fame and a titan in the conscious community, is raising 5 million dollars to build a school in the spirit of Booker T. Washington’s legacy.

In reality, Booker T. Washington conspired with and was financed by white industrial capitalists in the 1890’s to destroy the radical Black labor movement, specifically interracial proletarian populism and the one million strong Colored Farmers Alliance. Washington’s Atlanta Compromise Speech, co-authored with white railroad tycoon William H. Baldwin Jr., rhetorically justified Jim Crow segregation a year before Plessy vs. Ferguson. Prof. Kenneth W. Warren concludes, “Jim Crow America was the result of a successful counterrevolution against an interracial labor threat — a counterrevolution aided and abetted by the rise of Bookerism and the Tuskegee Machine.”

This history of demobilizing, counterrevolutionary efforts by Black elites is the proper context to understand Dr. Frances Cress Welsing. Her ideas on race relations as an expression of genetic warfare should be understood as an impediment to Black political liberation. For example, although Welsing frequently mentions chronic unemployment as one of the ways Black people are attacked, making genetics the core of her analysis can in no way lead to movement that resolves the problem. Black people are facing crises that challenge our daily existence. The issues we confront aren’t explained by melanin or genetics, but are instead rooted in the political economy, which of course requires real struggle on political economic terms, namely proletarian class struggle. Dr. Frances Cress Welsing’s work, like Booker T. Washington’s before her, actively undermines such a struggle and should not be celebrated.

1 “Neeley Fuller, in his 1969 Textbook for Victims of White Supremacy, recognized the need for a functional statement on racism, one that could be utilized daily by those earnestly seeking to bring about social change… He discounts as invalid theories which state that the evolution of economic systems has necessitated or produced this state of affairs. Instead, he turns such theories upside down by suggesting that various economic systems such as capitalism, communism and socialism have been devised, used and refined in the effort to achieve the primary goal of white domination.”

2Nasheed and Cress Welsing actually compliment each other perfectly. If racism is a genetic war, as Cress Welsing asserts, then heterosexual sex takes on a revolutionary character.

12 responses to “The Hidden Colors of Frances Cress Welsing’s Historical Legacy”

  1. Me says:

    Racism is a global system of white supremacy affecting all areas of people activity. That is the most important aspect of her theory. We can agree and disagree about other things she has discussed, but that eye-opener is the most important, and should be at the heart of her legacy.

    • Mike says:

      But that aspect is neither unique to her theory, nor formulated in a way which accords with historical, biological, and material realities…

  2. Rhone Fraser says:

    I agree with your points that Cress wrongfully dismisses the role of class in fighting for Black liberation, but her work should be celebrated for its strong anti-racist critique of US film and television culture. She is correct in noting that Black boys are shown very problematic images by the US film and TV networks. She wrote that “Black male children systematically are deprived of strong male models through whom they can develop pride, useful self- and group-supporting behavioral patterns, and true respect for the adult Black male position.” For Welsing to say this and completely ignore the POSITIVE role that Black Panther Party members played in Black liberation is to be disingenuous and have selective amnesia. Supporting useful group supporting behavioral patterns is what the Black Panther Party did.

  3. Andy says:

    Great piece.

    Adolph Reed takes down Cress Welsing’s theories during the Q & A here:

    Too lazy to find the time code for it, but it’s predictably brilliant.

  4. Mike Ballard says:

    Nazism was “applied biology,” according to Rudolph Hess. Cress Welsing is a reactionary response, embracing the notion that multiple races exist and that one of them is superior to all the others. Race is a pseudo-scientific notion which was developed during the time of European ruling classes’ colonisation of the world. That it has been accepted as fact by a majority of leftists and rightists demonstrates a poverty of intellectual premise behind their political theories and actions.

    • johnw11 says:

      Dr.Welsing did field research in post-Nazi Germany, and therefore understood the nature and methodology of genocide. One of the things she found in her research was that the victims of Nazi genocide thought that they were Germans. The Nazis thought otherwise.
      The foolishness you talk about race being a “pseudo-science” construct is itself the ultimate pseudo science. In socio-economic-political reality, people who classify themselves as white control every society in which they exist; whether it is socialist or capitalist. Classism is a construct of racism white supremacy, not the etiology of it.
      The attack on Dr. Welsing by LGBT spokespersons who have no knowledge of science, genetics, or the etiology of socio-political constructs (just slogans) was a low blow. A low blow that has generated a response in the conscious community that has destroyed what good-will that community had for their position. It was a grave strategic mistake. It showed both a lack of class / decency and knowledge. It showed a pathetic lack of knowledge on their part of having any relationship with Black cultural values specific to when is an appropriate time to criticize the departed.
      In fact, it is difficult to know which was saddest, the ignorant uninformed, malicious, attacks specific to their content, or the timing of the ignorant rants as evidenced by the puerile rubbish of this article passing as “intellect” in its spewing of long ago discredited postulates. It’s a shame!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Dr. Frances Cress Welsing made a valuable contribution, she did not pander to the rainbow philosophies of sexual proclivities which I suspect is the cause for the vitriolic diatribe. It’s a typical lack of respect In our Black community and the audacity to grant us a day to mourn before launching into the defamation of her character. The issues are most definitely rooted in melanin or a lack of it. It transcends politics to analyse the psycho biological predisposition to and patterns of behaviours by a race of white people spanning thousands of years. She was a psychiatrist, she approaches the matter as a clinician. The basis of the political warfare is rooted in the denial of the incomparable genius of The Black race of The African peoples. The usurpation, annihilation and misappropriation has everything to do Blacks as the progenitors of civilisation. The system of white supremacy is not some arbitrary entity, It is formed of people with ideas and behaviours and a psychology the longevity and prevalance of the barbarity and consistency of destruction cannot be attributed solely to environmental and political factors when it has been prevalent some five thousand years, globally through various ages, cultures. Science has provided the empirical proof that behaviour predispositions are passed down through genetics.

    • Nixak says:

      IMO This IS Some Very ‘Curious’ Timing: Why write such a piece upon Sis Dr France Cress Welsing’s death, unless the author feels she was an ENEMY to Black people or at-least an out-right FRAUD!!! Which IMO the author does NOT seem to be claiming, but rather his main beef is that her race-relations theory was melanin-gene based, instead of class-based, & that she had ‘concerns’ re [white] Marxists / Communists, & also the [white led] LGBT movement & its dubious benefit to Black People!!!

      One big issue w a class-only analysis of white-supremacy is the inter-generational perpetuating nature of chattel-slavery of Africans.
      – Chattel-slavery in the Americas- from US, to the Caribbean, to Latin-America & Brazil was unlike almost any other type of traditional ‘serfdom’, in that it was inherently inter-generational- based on RACE! The US had another type of ‘serfdom’ IE: indentured-servitude that for sometime co-existed w chattel-slavery. In other-words if chattel-slavery was primarily a class-based system rather than being both RACE & class-based, IMO it would have looked more like ‘indentured-servitude’ [FYI: Most US indentured servants were poor-whites who contracted out their labor for an agreed period of time to affluent / rich white land-owners]- in which a contract was drawn-up where the ‘serf’ agreed to work for the Master for a period of time, & after that period was up, he had the choice to renegotiate an extension of his time of service w the ‘Master’, or set out on his own- free of further ‘service-commitment’ to the ‘Master’.
      – But chattel-slavery of Africans was NOT like this at-all, cause ‘Ole Massa’ literally OWNED the African Slave for the ENTIRE Duration of His / Her LIFE-Time!! Thus in effect their status was reduced to that of cattle!! And NOT only that- Effectively ‘Ole Massa’ also OWNED any Children born to African Slaves, & Ole Massa could Sell-Away Slaves’ children from their Parent(s) or vice-versa, Any-Time he chose to- upon a whim!!! In other-words the only inheritance the African slave could pass-on to his / her / their off-spring(s) was his / her / their Chattel-Slave Status!!! And this was all RACE-Based, NOT just class-based!!!
      – PS: Indentured-servitude ended in the US circa 1776 – 1789, but US chattel-enslavement of Africans lasted for another 90YRS! Ending only due to the Bloodiest War in US History- in terms of total US lives lost!!!

    • Nixak says:

      A response to the Above Article: } ‘Dr. Frances Welsing’s melanin-based genetic pseudo-science found an eager audience among several generations of Black Americans.’{:
      – Scientific & Genetic Fact: The main distinguishing physical features re whiteness [IE: pale skin-color along w blond-hair & blue-eyes] is attributed to a melanin deficiency because their genes that produce melanin have been turned-down or in rarer cases almost completely turned-off [aka albinism]
      – Fact: In a sense NOI founder Elijah Muhammed was right that the advent of those we now call ‘white’ people occurred about 6000 yrs ago [certainly NOT-more than 10000yrs ago- Note: IMO Elijah.M was wrong re: his Dr Yacub skin-grafting theory as the ‘real’ explanation]. Even white geneticists who study the origin of blonde-hair, blue-eyes & pale-skin among those of European descent, mark this as the date when those traits first appeared & then spread thru-out European populations.
      – Genetic Fact: Up-to 6% of Europeans’ & Asiatics’ genome is Neanderthal DNA, which is NOT the case for people of African ancestry. [white] Geneticists say this is why people of African ancestry have curly / wooly / ‘nappy’ hair while most folks of NON-African descent have straight hair.
      } ‘Dr Welsing outright rejected the idea that race was explained by the history of political economy,…’ {:
      – [White] Marxists / communists have always seem to take issue w Black Nationalism & Pan Africanism. I’ve personally witnessed white Marxist communists take issue w NO less than Bro Kwame’ Toure’ [most definitely a scientific socialist but also a Pan Africanist], because he said though whites allies could work w his ‘All-African Peoples’ Socialist Party’, they could NOT join its internal ranks!!
      PS: It seems the US’ Communist Party [w apparent ties to Lenin’s Russia] may have even tried to infiltrate & take-over &/or subvert Marcus Garvey’s UNIA!
      – Marxism was/is a class based / focused ‘theoretical world-view’, which [originally] lacked any racial analysis. Even today when incidents of white cops gunning-down Blacks & Browns w near impunity, many / most white socialists [ala WSWS] insist class ALWAYS supersedes race! WSWS has even reported on such incidents [IE: Mike Brown] while avoiding stating the plain fact that the Killer Cop(s) was / were white & his / their unarmed victim(s) was / were Black [or barely make a passing reference to it]!!! The fact is in the AmeriKKKan context RACE & class are generally thoroughly intertwined. To try to explain the US’ system of chattel-slavery, the rise & long violent 150yr legacy of white terrorist org the KKK along w ‘Jim-Crow’, The ‘New Jim-Crow’ = Mass Black Incarceration, & the long legacy of white cops killing unarmed Black [& Brown] folks- from just a class-based analysis alone, w NO reference to Race at-all- would be severely lacking & frankly quite disingenuous [Note my other post]!!!
      – I just read an article stating that it wasn’t so-much that capitalism gave rise to chattel-slavery, but rather the chattel-enslavement of Africans by Euro-whites was the foundation of the US’ & Europe’s modern corporate capitalist system, along w the great land theft from & then near extermination of Native Americans [who whites tried to enslave first]!! And of-course we also must add Euro-white colonization [to grab on the ‘cheap’ land, labor & resources] of much / most of the NON-white World to that equation!
      – We know that in the US the slave-owning class played the ‘race-card’ to nix a potential burgeoning alliance between enslaved Africans & white indentured-servants who initially often toiled side by side for ‘Ole Massa’. Massa’s solution was to elevate the status of white indentured servants to that of over-seer of Nigra slaves, & for the most part it worked. Another part of Ole Massa’s bag of ‘divide-&-conquer’ tricks was to play the ‘skin-game’ within the ranks of Black slaves themselves. So ‘lighter’ racially-mixed slaves [generally sired by ‘Ole Massa’ himself] were often treated a bit better & seen as ‘better’ than darker skinned Black slaves. We see how the end result of that ploy can play-out in the current anti-Haitian policies of the Dominican Republic [both were initially set-up on the very same island as slave colonies- Haiti by France & the DR by Spain]!!!
      } [Dr Welsing viewed] ‘Black male-led families as our premier source of agency. This positions Black heterosexuality as inherently progressive and, by extension, makes Black homosexuality not only deviant, but a de facto threat to the survival of the race…’ {:
      What has the US bourgeois [white led] LGBT [& feminist] movement really done for the Black struggle except piggy-back off of the 1960s & 70s Black freedom struggle & then leap-frog out in-front of it??! IMO Black activists have been more supportive of the LGBT movement than white LGBT activists have been of the Black freedom struggle! In that vein- When the issue of Black support of the [mainly white led] LGBT movement was posed to the late Bro Kwame’ Toure’- he said his ‘All African-Peoples’ Socialist Party’ ‘carefully considered it’ but concluded ‘it’s NOT really our problem’… [implying it’s more a matter of an internal issue between whites – that may distract us from what should be our main focus].
      IMO it’s quite troubling that Pres Obama on 2 separate ‘official’ visits to Africa, chose to ‘lecture’ Africans re: their resistance to legalizing ‘queer’ marriage. Of all the key issues affecting Africa & Africans, why would the 1st Black POTUS [a supposed son of an African] think that’s really a top priority for discussion??!!
      } Dr Welsing: “Black people have to get into the mind frame that ‘black’ means dignity and being serious, that people respect one another. This is going to be the strength of Black people – valuing themselves, respecting themselves and having dignity.” {:
      How can any positive & conscious Black person possibly have a ‘problem’ w that statement [IMO ditto re the video excerpts above of Dr Welsing & Umar Johnson]- unless it’s used Bill Cosby [‘Kids’] style to effectively absolve systemic-racism & white-supremacy [w corp capitalism as its economic-spearhead] as one of the, if NOT THEE, main problem facing Black [& Brown] folks- which the author actually admits was NOT Dr Welsing’s position: [for} ‘although Dr Welsing FREQUENTLY mentions chronic unemployment as one of the ways Black people are attacked…’ {= she frequently acknowledged economic warfare as a main weapon used to suppress Blacks]??!

      The problem w the author & also most white Marxists / communists strictly class-based ‘solution’ to the issue of white-supremacy [ala ‘workers of the world unite’] is- Though it sounds good in ‘theory’, it’s often a bit impractical in the real World. Cause the fact is most white working-class folks, especially in the US, are among the most reactionary, bigoted if NOT out-right RACIST folks- w a long sordid legacy of going against their own-best interest, just to ‘jam’ their ‘fellow’ Black & Brown working-class folks to ‘keep them in their place’ [No less than ex BPP member & political-prisoner Dhoruba bin Wahad says this]!! FYI: FOX Noise’s base is mainly white-working class folks, ditto for the Repugs whose strong-hold is among white southern & western regional working-class whites -&- Repugs also have a strong foothold even among working-class whites in many northern / N.E. tier states. That’s why white working-class folks are among Repug Multi-BILLIONAIRE [= the 1% of the 1% of the 1%] Donald [‘Duck’] Trump’s main supporters, as he tries to ‘race-bait’ his way to the ‘Big{White}House’, by trashing their ‘fellow’ Black & Brown working-class folks! Thus IMO when white Marxists / communists ‘preach’ their slogans: ‘it’s really about class NOT race’ & ‘workers of the world must unite’- they should focus that message to WHITE-Workers, NOT Black & Brown folks!!!

      • Nixak says:

        PS: IMO one does NOT have to be a Booker T Washington fan, NOR be a ranting-raving homophobe to appreciate the points that Bro Umar J. & the Late Dr Sis F.C.Welsing were trying to make in the above video segments!
        – In fact much, if NOT most, of what Bro Umar talked about in the above video segment, was a critique of the current Black misleadership class re: their lack of real service [& commitment] to the masses of Black people, yet are held-up as so-called Black ‘role-models’.

        But Hey, Maybe it’s just me….

  6. JacK Mills says:

    Who is this graham cracker chump trying to bad mouth dr. welsing?

  7. Eric Wright says:

    So your real reason is not the fundamental teachings of the color theory, but rather the homosexual implications of white supremacy. It’s evident being that you attempted to criticize Dr. Welsing initially from a socialist point of view and then conveniently pivoted to your real agenda which deals with homosexual acceptance. Its sad that you would use her passing to attempt to propagate this foreign oppressor based agenda of homosexual proliferation. However, I will allow the brother at the above you tube link to expound further on your brand of coonery.