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 knowshi.com 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.