Magazine article Free Inquiry

How Psychic Hotlines Exploit African Americans

Magazine article Free Inquiry

How Psychic Hotlines Exploit African Americans

Article excerpt

For years, many highly influential black leaders, thinkers, and intellectuals have bemoaned targeting black consumers in advertising such unhealthy products as pork, tobacco, and malt liquor, or high-risk opportunities such as lotteries. But only a few have given attention to the hawking of such dubious services as faith healing or psychic hotlines.

Psychic hotlines, which include the Psychic Readers Network, the Psychic Believers Network, and the Psychic Encounters Network, are wildly popular among large numbers of blacks. Black celebrities promoting the hotlines are featured in commercials on programs viewed by large numbers of blacks, and in black media such as Black Entertainment Television (BET). Some hotlines are also hosted by blacks although one, Dionne Warwick's Psychic Friends Network, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The hotlines are big business. Financial analysts predict the psychic phone networks to earn up to $2 billion by the end of 1999. Yet their success is due to support from those who can ill afford it. Although African Americans as a group are near the bottom of America's economic ladder, some African Americans are willing to pay $3.99 per minute for psychics' advice.

Many factors account for blacks' heavy patronage of the hotlines. Blacks on average tend to be less educated than whites. Moreover, many blacks have been so pathologically dependent upon religion for so long that it would be surprising if they were not also attracted to other irrational beliefs, such as psychic phenomena.

The black media - much of which is highly dependent upon religious programming and advertising - often take an uncritical view of psychic phenomena. Many black newspapers such as the now defunct City Sun of Brooklyn, New York, the Capital Spotlight of Washington, D.C., and the Challenger of Buffalo, New York, have featured uncritical stories on psychic phenomena. For example, in the January 7, 1998, issue of the Challenger, it was reported that the Reverend Hazel Cassell, "a metaphysician based in Dale City, VA," made numerous alarming predictions for 1998, including the following:

* Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein will cause international panic by setting off toxic weapons before he is permanently disarmed.

* Basketball superstar Shaquille O'Neal will retire.

* A massive electrical power outage will affect one-third of the earth and last three days.

* Acts of terrorism will occur in California, Connecticut, and Delaware. Many people will be killed or injured.

Although predictions such as these could "cause international panic," Challenger readers were inclined to accept them uncritically.

Popular black talk-show hosts such as Oprah Winfrey, Montel Williams, and Bev Smith of BET's "Our Voices" often feature so-called psychics on their programs without even bothering to feign skepticism.

But even some African American scholars promote a belief in psychic phenomena. For example, some Afrocentrists have promoted the idea that melanin pigment endows certain blacks with psi powers. Some have argued that the ancient Egyptians were able to move huge stones for the construction of pyramids via telekinesis.

One Afrocentrist, Washington, D.C., psychiatrist Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, even believes that melanin helps blacks scientifically. On page 233 of her collection of essays titled The Isis Papers, she writes:

In 1987, at the first Melanin Conference I discussed The Cress Theory on the George Washington Carver Phenomenon, suggesting that the skin melanocytes of this very Black-skinned scientist (high level concentration of melanin skin pigment) enabled him to communicate with the energy frequencies emanating from plants. Thus he was able to learn their secrets and purposes.

Welsing also believes in "the Geller Effect," or the idea that the self-proclaimed psychic Uri Geller has extraordinary psychic power due to the concentrations of melanin in his dark hair and eyes. …

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