Decolonizing the Black Mind: Emancipating Oneself from Mental Slavery

From Bermuda to New York, from Idaho to Durban South Africa, viewers from across the globe gathered online to join Sydney Freeman, Jr., PhD, as he kicked off his three-day virtual summit titled “Decolonizing the Black Mind.” The summit ran from November 19–21, with all sessions made available to watch on both Facebook Live and via YouTube stream. Collectively, the summit generated around 5,000 views over its runtime.

“The purpose of this summit is to help liberate the minds of those who have been captive by white supremacy, and provide strategies and tools to decolonize our minds and provide a road map for our collective liberation,” Freeman said.

Freeman, who is associate professor in the Department of Leadership & Counseling at the University of Idaho, invited various guest speakers to host critical conversations centered around one main goal: to provide viewers, specifically Black viewers, with the guidance and tools to help decolonize their thinking both socially and spiritually.

Becoming Unstuck

Tiffany Llewellyn, DSW, LCSW-C, founder and president of Adventists for Social Justice, started the first session off by defining what decolonization is. She placed emphasis on how in order to begin the process of emancipating oneself from mental slavery, one’s previous way of thinking must be removed in order for a new way of thinking to take root and settle in.

“When we talk about decolonizing, we’re talking about how we program ourselves and our minds,” Llewellyn said. “Colonization has distorted how we see ourselves and each other, and it has also distorted our perceptions of God. Negative thoughts, systems, beliefs, and behaviors that have been injected into the psyche of individuals over the past century are what needs to be uninstalled, as it’s left Black Christians in the midst of an identity crisis.”

Additionally, Llewellyn urged people to walk patiently with others as they go through new learning experiences and gain a new self-awareness in an effort to rediscover their identities. She noted that it is not just reaching for the books and biblical texts, but instead having one-on-one conversations, “talking it out and connecting the dots,” and getting to know Jesus all over again.

“Colonization is deeply psychological... it changes our memories, our language, our judgment, our social behaviors,” Llewellyn said. “The result of colonization says to us, ‘I am not good enough for God, blackness is not good enough for God, black thoughts, black pain, and being black is not good enough to connect and experience God.’”

Over the years, Jesus has been warped to fit the mold of whomever is describing Him, however Llewellyn reminded viewers that when one turns to the Bible, they can get to know the one true form of Jesus.

“If we can accept Jesus’ identity and its true authentic form, then we can do the same for our own identities,” she said. “And by decolonizing Jesus, we re-capture the essence of our personhood. We remember that God has always intended and ordained it to meet us where we are.”

Don’t Confine Yourself to a Small Container

Stepping away from any previous profession can be a scary step, as it can feel like you are leaving God’s calling behind. Courtney Ray, MDiv, PhD, an ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and President of the Society for Black Neuropsychology, gave advice on how one can transition from pastoral ministry over to something else without feeling guilt or anxiety. She said it’s important to note that ministry is larger than working for a church, and that being a pastor is not the only definition of a minister.

“There are so many other larger things that God is able to do through us in order to bless people and to evangelize to the world,” Ray said. “Whatever it is that God has asked you to do, if you feel that it is a calling on your life, don't be encumbered by the fear of your own inadequacies. God will give you the ability to fulfill that calling.”

Lola Moore Johnston, a motivational speaker and senior pastor of the Woodbridge Seventh-day Adventist Church in Virginia, shared Ray’s sentiments that it is okay to move from where you currently are. She said that if one finds their community to be toxic, or if they feel God calling them to grow elsewhere, they should not be afraid to pack themselves up and go somewhere else. Perhaps the setting one is currently in is not where they've been called to help dismantle the current oppressions. But if they go slowly and ask questions along the way, God will show them where their job of breaking the cycle will begin.

“There’s some forms of oppression that are our experiences over long periods of time because we have chosen to stay,” Johnston said. “And sometimes God is saying you can go.”

Re-defining Church: Evaluate Values and Be Accepting of Differing Cultures

Johnston reminded viewers that Jesus is notorious for inviting everyone to join His community. There were no limitations or turning away of others who didn't fit the “typical mold” of a church-goer. Age, race, ethnicity, and gender have no bearing on who can sit at the table next to Jesus.

“I believe that every time we see the kingdom of God and its ideal form, it is a diverse group of people who haven’t had to surrender their cultural differences in order to be faithful to God. God was not expecting or demanding that people surrender their cultural identity in order for it to be uniform, rather we surrender our hearts, uniform our allegiance to God, and then God infuses our cultural identity so that people can see a representation of Christ in their own skin.”

Pastor Joshua Maponga, a motivational speaker and philosopher from South Africa, finished off the summit by reiterating the need for a new definition and gave advice on how the church can better meet the community and teach contexts that are relevant to today’s current world.

He emphasized studying the cultures within the Bible and asking yourself if you believe in the text or if you believe in being politically correct. Understand that not everyone's worship experience is the same as yours, and that there is no right or wrong way to worship the same God.

“We [Africans] don't worship in the excellence of buildings, but in the canopy of creation,” Maponga claimed. “African worship for me includes clapping of hands, dancing, beating of the drum, all done together. It's not time bound. American theology teaches you holiness on a day. African theology teaches you that worship is a lifestyle.”


Taylor Dean is a junior Public Relations major at Southern Adventist University. She is currently the news editor for the university's student-led newspaper, the Southern Accent, and hopes to pursue a career in corporate communications.

Image courtesy of Dr. Sydney Freeman.


Further Reading:

An Interview with Sydney Freeman by Alita Byrd for Spectrum

An Interview with Tiffany Llewellyn by Alita Byrd for Spectrum

Tiffany Llewellyn’s “Girl Meets Church” podcast for Spectrum

Courtney Ray’s monthly column for Spectrum


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Sounds like a most interesting meeting. Would be interesting to hear more.

It seems to me that so much emphasis on culture and race is actually dividing the body of Christ more than it’s uniting it. The last speaker is quoted as comparing “American worship” vs African worship. Implying that African workshop is superior. In an effort of liberate I think some will be motivated to either resent or think they are superior to the “American” form of worship. I’m an immigrant and I can worship God in the US just fine. I don’t need to know how the Mayans or Aztecs worshiped and reconnect with that style. So much talk of liberation from the colonial mindset…I think we need more talk of liberation from the worldly mindset. Race politics is defining our country and I hope it doesn’t do the same to our church!


I object to the false premise that people with black skin are the only “true” descendants of The so-called “Dark Continent” given that evolutionary science currently holds that all humans have a common ancestry and are essentially “Scatterlings of Africa”, to borrow the title of a song by the South African band Juluka.

Further, the notion that only persons of color understand what it means to be colonized, persecuted, subjugated, etc.—either personally or as a race—I find to be a counterproductive attempt at “grief and misery one-up-man-ship” which starts from the unprovable premise that one person, or his race, has experienced pain and suffering on a level so extreme and extraordinary that it is incomprehensible by anyone other than that person or his people. Yes, everyone’s encounter with oppression is different but no one’s experience is absolutely unique given that all of it has happened to a human being. For example—and to quote an even older “black/African” song title—this mindset is typified by “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” and this dogma persists in some people’s worldview (no matter what their race) despite the fact that even a cursory study of history will show that no one’s skin, despite its color, is an impenetrable armor and that neither blackness, whiteness or anything in between, is absolute protection against being mistreated at the hands of another.

Lastly, I find the term “white supremacy” not only confrontational and demonizing of a large percentage of earth’s population—almost all of whom have been victimized in some manner—but basically misguided and demonstrably mythological thinking given that there is no such thing as a monolithic “white race” any more than there it is reasonable to think of blacks as being “all the same”. So the belief in and usage of the words “white supremacist” is prima facie evidence of provocative divisiveness and intentionally invective speech. To employ such essentially and accusatory language is racist on its face and can only lead to more distrust amongst individuals rather than compassion and understanding of our unavoidable and mutual sameness.

As I see it, before the “black mind” in any and all of us can be “decolonized”, these fundamental assumptions and misconceptions must be abandoned by those elitists who exclusively claim to be the “real” Africans given nothing other than their more recent separation from all humanity’s birthplace. Only after that is accomplished can any real progress can be made toward John Lennon’s “Imagine’d” Utopia where all people live as one.

In order to make Heaven a place on earth—and I promise, that’s the last song lyric I’m going to quote!—it seems there is still no better suggestion than to treat others as you want to be treated, i.e., as an equal in our common experience of life in all its many different perspectives rather than seeing anyone as something other than, and therefore basically different from, her- or himself.


Let’s not get too oversensitive to the words/ideology of the phrase. It is a very complicated concept worth understanding.


It is as easy to debunk the notion of white supremacy as it is to refute the basic assertion of unicorn superiority over horses.

I am of Irish/Scots/British decent, which three groups are so distrustful of each other and essentially clannish that I find it completely understandable that I experience constant inner turmoil within myself! So it is no wonder that I sometimes see it as all too easy to think that I have little if anything in common with other “whites” such as Swedes, Germans, Italians, et. als.

Similarly, after after having spent almost a year living in West Africa while in my mid twenties, I was disabused of any uniformity among the tribes of The Ivory Coast.

The basic point being that there can be no such thing as white supremacy given that there is no such thing as whites. Thus any person who clings to such a fantastic buzz word—whether that person is black, white or a little of both, as is the case with almost all of us—is in the same boat as one who insists that cookies made by elves are necessarily better tasting than those made by humans.

So the concept of white supremacy is not complex it is inane and typifies a mode of thought which is so simplex as to be beneath discussion. This just as surely as it is utterly misguided to claim that the term black is a one-size-fits-all appellation which tells one all he need know about every person with dark skin.


“So the concept of white supremacy is not complex it is inane and typifies a mode of thought which is so simplex as to be beneath discussion.”

And yet you are discussing it! We all have our opinions, based on our own experiences in life and in listening and learning from others. Great to have the freedom of choice!


That term is now coopted and expanded to mean something else entirely, and it’s generally referrers to tendency of ethnocentrism of “white culture”, whatever “white culture” would mean.

He is addressing it as a nonsense construct, and there’s a difference.

The irony of those who claim that white supremacy is a thing is that they actually indirectly argue for superiority of “white people”.

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Thanks, @NY_G_Pa.

These two excerpts, above, from the same statement by you, appear to contradict each other.

Despite this, I’d say I don’t know, either, if there are such things as “whites.”

But, as a non-white person, I would say that, based on my experience, and that of others, there are definitely such entities as white people, and there is certainly such a phenomenon as white supremacy.

For starters, see below:

"White Person" =

(1) Any person who considers him or her self as “white,” and, who is considered as “white” by a substantial number of other persons who consider themselves as “white,” and who generally function as “white” in all areas of activity.

(2) Any person “classified” as “white,” and/or “Caucasian,” and, who generally functions as a “white” person in his or her relationships with other “white” persons, and/or in his or her relationships with “non-white” persons.

(3) Any person not classified as “non-white,” who does not consider him or her self as “non-white,” and who generally does not “function” as a person who is considered to be, and/or who has been “classified” as “non-white.”

(4) Any person who is “classified” as, and/or who is generally “accepted” as a “white” person by other people who are also classified as, and/or generally “accepted” as “white.”

White Supremacy =

(1) The direct or indirect subjugation of all “non-white” people by white people, for the basic purpose of “pleasing” and/or serving any or all “white” persons, at all times, in all places, in all areas of activity, including Economics, Education, Entertainment, Labor, Law, Politics, Religion, Sex, and War.

(2) The only functional Racism, in existence, among the people of the known universe, that is based on “color” and/or “anti-color” in the physical make-up or physical appearance of persons.

(3) Racism “for the sake of” Racism.


Thanks, but this isn’t exactly accurate, @Arkdrey.

What I, and many others, are arguing for is the superiority—or as I prefer to say, the dominance—of white power.

White supremacy is an expressed form of power; what some would call a power dynamic.

So, by saying White Supremacy, what one is saying is that the white people of the known universe, collectively, in all areas of activity—economics, education, entertainment, labor, law, politics, religion, sex, and war—dominate the people who are not white.


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If LeBron is the most dominant dominant player in the league, is he a superior player? In that context… is he a superior player, or superior human being? You are conflating these two concepts.

Arkdrey makes the point I was going to make about Michael Jordan. He dominated a lot of white people, and I knew several that wanted to be like him, even buying his shoes, and jerseys.

I think you simplify. White ideas have dominated the world, because whites had a technical advantage starting about 500 years ago. They did colonize the world.

But their expertise has benefitted he whole world. China after abandoning Marxism, a white ideology, and adopting capitalism, another white ideology has nearly done away with poverty in that country. India is moving in the same direction. The latin countries are doing the same.

Now subsaharan Africa remains the only place that have not managed to progress along those lines, but showing promise. And I think will.

This idea of “Decolonizing” black minds is rather vague and I think silly. Take what is good from all cultures and reject the rest. But don’t think that White culture is all bad.


Thanks for the question, @Arkdrey.

Yes: He is a superior player, compared to the other players in the league, by evidence of the fact that he dominates them in play.

If the context is still “the league,” for me to answer the question, you’d have to state, first, what the qualities are that “a superior human being” possesses, in that context.

By saying “he’s a superior human being,” you’d be implying that you are talking about other qualities besides “play,” or dominance in it. (Otherwise, why not just say, “He’s a superior player”?)

You imply you’re talking about qualities other human beings possess, perhaps even ones who do not “play.”

I’m not, but I’m open to any lucid statement, by you, as to how I am doing so, when I say “X.”


Thanks, @ajshep.

By saying White Supremacy, what I am saying is that the white people of the known universe, collectively, in all areas of activity…










dominate the people who are not white.

By “dominate,” I mean that no non-white person has The Last Word in these areas.

By The Last Word, I mean that no non-white person can make a decision, in any of these areas, that cannot be overruled by one or more white people.

Perhaps it is to this socio-material reality, above, that those who speak of “Decolonizing Black minds” refer.

In any event:

Your response seems to indicate that you agree with my statements—that white supremacy is dominant, and, thus, real.

However, you also seem to think that white dominance of non-white people is the ideal state for non-white people. This idea is racist.


I thought of asking the next logical question… but then I remembered our previous exchanges and would rather do something more productive with my time :wink:

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