If you do not understand White Supremacy (Racism)-what it is, and how it works-everything else that you understand, will only confuse you. Neely Fuller (1969)
Frances Cress Welsing was born Frances Luella Cress, March 18, 1935, in Chicago, Illinois. Welsing continued in her family tradition of obtaining an education and eventually received her BS. from Antioch College in 1957 and her M.D. from Howard University College of Medicine in 1962. She worked in several capacities during her academic and professional career. Some of these positions include being an assistant professor of pediatrics at Howard University College of Medicine from 1968-75, serving as staff physician at the Department of Human Services from 1967-1991, and operating her own private practice in Washington, DC. She was also involved with professional organizations in her field such as the National Medical Association, the American Medical Association, and the American Psychiatric Association. While these descriptions and titles are important to understanding who and what Frances Cress Welsing was as a professional, it is her role as social and psychological theorist that brought her national and international recognition. Her life's work, dedicated to the systematic study of white supremacy and its impact on the thinking and behaviors of both white and black people, is a contribution that leaves an intellectual legacy that cannot be ignored.
This examination of Frances Cress Welsing's work situates her in the radical school of Black psychology. In contrast to the scholarship done by psychologists in the traditional school of Black Psychology where Black psychologists use standard European psychological principles to understand Black behavior, Welsing directs her attention to white people. By analyzing white racist thought and behavior, Welsing turns Eurocentric psychology on its head and explains the behaviors of people of European descent relative to African people while simultaneously deconstructing the cultural logic of white supremacy. In doing so, Welsing creates her own unique version of radical Black Psychology. The specific aspects of Welsing's work that will be highlighted are: (1) her deconstruction of Freudian psychoanalysis, (1) her critiques of racist white scientists (2) her contributions as an intellectual antecedent to critical white studies and (4) the legacy of intellectual warfare she bequeathed to contemporary Black scholars and activists.
Cracking the Psychological Codes and Cues to White Supremacy/Racism
Inspired by the work of Neely Fuller (1969), who posited that "If you do not understand White Supremacy (Racism)-what it is, and how it works-everything else that you understand... will only confuse you" (p. A), Welsing offered "The Cress Theory of Color-Confrontation" (1974) as a guide to assist people of African descent in interpreting and understanding global White supremacy. Welsing and Fuller charged themselves with the task of explaining the unexplainable and making sense out of nonsense? For Welsing, the Isis Papers (1991) provided the keys to unlocking the codes of the color complex and begin the process of attempting to understand the absurdity of white supremacy. Welsing is in agreement with Fuller (1969) who opines that (1) white supremacy is the only functional racism; (2) all third world people (people of color) are victims of it and (3) there are social theories and systems that support and maintain the perpetuation of white supremacy in all areas of life. Welsing's and Fuller's analysis of white supremacy incorporates individual, cultural and institutional definitions of racism (Carmichael & Hamilton, 1967; Jones, 1997) into a comprehensive whole.
For Welsing, the emphasis on white supremacy being the only functional racism is a critical component to her theory and is a prerequisite to comprehending the dynamics of racism. Welsing articulated the importance of power in the implementation and elimination of racism. She posits that people who have the ability and means (power) to eradicate racism do not have any intention/will (desire) to end it and the people who have the need/want (desire) to end racism, do not have the ability (power) (Welsing, 1991). It is here that Welsing's theory deviates from traditional approaches to understanding racism. Traditional approaches view the prejudices associated with individual and cultural racism as universal traits that can be manifested in any group, at any time and in any given social situation (Jones, 1997).
However, when Welsing and Fuller state that white supremacy is the only functional racism and that all people of color are victims of it, they are arguing that white people in power have control over the institutions that impact the lives of the world's majority (Black, Brown, Red and Yellow people) and thus are the only group in position to actualize and fully put into practice a system of domination based on racial superiority.
Welsing and Psychoanalytical Theory
Welsing does not argue that European psychological theories are irrelevant. However, Welsing does take the stance that major psychological theories were standardized and normed on European people, and thus should be viewed as culturally specific to people of European descent. Welsing turns Freudian psychoanalysis on its head and applies the theory to specifically understanding European cultural thought and behavior (Ani, 1994; Jamison, 2008). The foundation of Welsing's theory is based on genetic and social factors (Kambon, 1998). The genetic factor states that: (1) skin pigmentation has many adaptive functions which lack of pigmentation does not have (i.e. protection from disease, ultraviolet radiation, etc.) and thus the absence of color represents a genetic deficiency; (2) the majority of the world's population are people of color and are the norm among human beings; and (3) since people of African descent are perceived as the darkest among the people in the world, then they represent the group most despised and feared by whites (Jamison, 2008; Kambon, 1998; Welsing, 1991). The social factor states that: (1) since the majority of the world's peoples have more color/pigmentation than White people, then Whites are the numerical minority among the world's population and Blacks, of all the colored races of the world, therefore represent the greatest threat to White genetic survival; (2) White supremacy hostility and aggression against people of African descent manifests as psychological defense mechanisms that mask feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, fear, and envy toward people of color (Jamison, 2008; Kambon, 1998; Welsing, 1991).
Welsing puts forth three Freudian defense mechanisms (repression, reaction formation, and projection) that people of European descent use to oppress people of color, and especially African descent groups. These defense mechanisms manifest as: (1) repressing their feelings of inferiority by denying them; (2) discrediting and despising people of color; (3) sun-tanning, using make-up, enlarging breasts, buttocks, and lips to acquire the physical characteristics of people of color; (4) elaborating myths about white genetic superiority, (5) projecting their hate and sexual desires on people of color, while hypocritically maintaining that it is people of color that lust and desire white people; (6) obsessing, focusing, and alienating the physical body from sex; (7) dividing and separating people of color by classifying them as minorities, and (8) imposing birth control on people of color in order to neutralize/marginalize the reality that people of color are collectively in the majority of the world's population (Jamison, 2008; Karenga, 1992; Welsing, 1991).
Far too often, the sensationalism surrounding Welsing's articulation of the various manifestations of defense mechanisms deployed by whites undermines the understanding of certain core elements made in her arguments. While the popularized examples of defense mechanisms are important aspects of the Cress Theory, these defense mechanisms often come across as disconnected abstractions when presented outside of their proper theoretical context and sometimes detract from important aspects of the theory. In conjunction with defense mechanisms, a major value of the theory is seen in her reinterpretation of prominent psychoanalytical concepts that are thought to be universal. By shedding these concepts of their assumed universality, Welsing switches the angle of analysis from all members of Western civilization to focus on a specific group of people. Welsing (1991) maintains that theories espoused by thinkers associated with psychoanalytic theory such Otto Rank, Alfred Adler, Carl Jung, Karen Horney and Sigmund Freud that discuss Western personality traits are actually explaining personality traits peculiar to white people. Along these lines, Welsing asserts:
The term Western means 'white', Western has become a comfortable (and for some, confusing), obfuscating euphemism or code for the word 'white'. The terms 'Western civilization' and 'Western culture' specifically refer to the civilization and culture evolved, determined, directed, developed and controlled by people who classify themselves as 'white'. (Welsing, 1991, p. 23)
In decoding the language, mythologies, and concepts used in psychoanalytic theory that obscure critical analysis, Welsing positions the central problems of Western civilization and its discontents in the thoughts and behaviors of white people. Furthermore, her critique implies that within some of the theories developed by psychoanalyst regarding the nature of human beings, there are valuable lessons to be learned by Black people about the nature of white supremacy.
When certain concepts proposed as universal are specifically applied to white people, the political and cultural...