Psychiatrist Frances Welsing has a two-word prescription for better relationships between black men and black women: Respect yourself.
"Mental health is the science of self-respect," she told an enthusiastic audience of nearly 200 women Saturday at the Capital Hilton. "Black men and black women have to unlearn the negative attitudes we have about ourselves if we are going to produce harmonious relationships."
Welsing's workshop on black male-female relationships was part of the fifth annual black women's symposium sponsored by Howard University -- whose medical school dismissed Welsing from its staff in 1975. She is the author of a controversial theory of racial difference, which many hold to be a black supremacist doctrine, and her dismissal was interpreted by some as a reprimand for her tenets. She is now in private practice.
"How many people can say they know five happy black couples?" Welsing asked. When only a few hands were raised, she said, "We are in a critical situtation . . . Racism is the cause of our problem."
Noting her belief that the pressures of discrimination weigh most heavily on black men, she said, "Society says he has to be unemployed, on alcohol, on drugs, in prison." Women who are unsympathetic to the men's frustration "say they can't stand black men. They say they can live without black men and have a baby on their own.
"But what happens to the little male child she bears? What are the vibrations that will go into his upbringing?If we are in hate with black men we won't teach our sons the right lessons."
Understanding these pressures "will help us improve our relationships," said Welsing. "We have to let our men know that they are special and that we are special, too.
"We call the black man baby and he calls us mama. Language can be a powerful cultural tool. We have to think in terms of black men and black women, not babies and mamas. It's a question of self-respect."
Part of this self-respect, she said, comes in rejecting television's negative sterotypes of blacks. "Look at the Jeffersons. They're supposed to be the epitome of our arrival.
"You see black people calling each other names and a black man acting like a chimpanzee. When we look at those images and laugh, what are we telling out children? No wonder they call it television programming. But we have the power to turn the TV off."
Some blacks "have worked very hard to get white," she said. "We have our own formulas, like 'don't marry anyone darker than yourself.' What child didn't learn the rhyme 'black stay back . . . white all right.'
"We have to start liking ourselves. I tell my parents to look in the mirror and like what they see. That's a start."
Essence magazine editor Marcia Ann Gillespie stressed the strengthening of black communities through learning more about black culture.
"Black women are the culture keepers," she said. "We have to make a conscious effort to include our culture in our life.
"Read your history with each other. Talk to your children about what it was like to live in 1954 and 1963. They need to hear from you how it felt if you marched with Martin, and from the oldest person there what it was like growing up."
Children who learn through television "will never know that white people aren't the majority in the world," Gillespie said. "On your vacation take them some place where blacks are not the minority, and don't stay at the Hilton hotel.
"Find five pre-pubescent black girls and save them from becoming mothers at age 13. So much that is happening to our young children is an indictment on us. Help them see their value beyond the ability to reproduce."
In becoming integrated she said, "Blacks have walked away from important cultural values. We come from a tradition that stresses caring for other people.
"We cooked stews because we always tried to have enough, so if someone came by you could feed them. You can't feed them when you're only cooking steak. We've got to start speaking to each other again. We are a family."