The Diverse Methodologies of Black Psychology
Author: Judson Bonick
Editor: Kahini Shah
In our final Black History Month blog post, the Center for Advanced Hindsight continues its celebration of the important work of Black Psychology and the influential individuals who have contributed to this field. As you may recall, our first post introduced the three schools of Black Psychology: traditional, reform, and radical. In the following two weeks, we examined the lives and works of two psychologists who helped build the field of Black Psychology, Dr. Kobi K. K. Kambon and Dr. William E. Cross.
In this post, we would like to delve into the three different methodologies that have been used by Black Psychologists to de-center the White/Eurocentric monopoly that has characterized the field since its inception: deconstruction, reconstruction, and construction. We’ve hinted at each of these methodologies in our previous blog posts. Each has a corresponding school of Black Psychology, but is also used in varying ways by all Black Psychologists.
The first methodological approach, deconstruction, corresponds most closely with the traditional school of Black Psychology. It identifies and deconstructs the weaknesses and flaws in White psychology, including the racist ways White psychology describes Blackness in deficit terms. A notable example of this approach is Dr. Curtis Bank’s refutation of the supposed preference for White individuals amongst Black individuals, in which he demonstrated that the body of research used to assert White preference in Black individuals was flawed both methodologically and statistically. Specifically, Banks showed in 33 studies that White preference in Black individuals was statistically no different than what would be expected by chance.
Another example is Dr. Robert Williams’ disproof of White-centered intelligence tests. White individuals reliably scored higher in these tests than Black individuals, and this fact was often used in arguments trying to “prove” the genetic inferiority of Black individuals. Williams argued that these intelligence tests were culturally biased towards Whites, and measured culture rather than cognitive ability. He created the Black Intelligence Test of Cultural Homogeneity, an intelligence assessment that used primarily Black cultural experiences instead of White ones. When he tested this assessment, Black participants scored much higher than White participants, demonstrating that content in intelligence tests matters and can lead to culturally-biased, spurious results.
Dr. Robert L. Williams II
The second methodological approach, reconstruction, relates most closely to the reform school of Black Psychology. It endeavors to correct the errors and outright falsehoods promulgated by White psychology when describing Black behaviors and attitudes. It reconstructs the theories of White psychology into culturally-sensitive models of Blackness. As we learned last week, Dr. William E. Cross, Jr.’s work on nigrescence, the process of becoming Black, falls into this methodological framework – it takes a theory developed by White psychology, the idea of a self-concept, and molds it to form a new theory of Black self-concept.Another example of this approach is the work done by Dr. Robert Sellers and his colleagues. They created the Multidimensional Model of Racial Identity (MMRI), which is an identity model based on the assertion that race is one of several salient social identities for Black individuals. Among other questions, the MMRI asks, “How important is race in the individual’s perception of self?” and “What does it mean to be a member of this racial group?”
The third methodological approach, construction, corresponds most closely with the radical school of Black Psychology. It aims to construct entirely new psychological theories for understanding Blackness, seeing little to no value in White/Eurocentric theories of Black behavior. Our week 2 blog post about Dr. Kobi K. K. Kambon gives a good example of this approach in its discussion of the concept of African Self Extension Orientation – the unconscious but deeply felt experience of Blackness – which is mirrored on the conscious level by African Self Consciousness – an acknowledgment of oneself as African alongside commitment to the liberation, improvement, and respect of other African individuals and the larger African community. These are novel theories of the African self.
Another example of this technique is the concept of an Black/African worldview put forward by Dr. Linda James Myers. She argued that there are two worldviews: an African, “optimal” worldview that is based on the infinite, the Divine, and an internal compass, and a White/Eurocentric worldview, which is largely based on the finite, the materials, and external appearances. In her book Understanding an Afrocentric World View: Introduction to an Optimal Psychology, Myers conceptualized a worldview that is not only for Africans, but for all oppressed people. She noted that, regardless of race, an individual’s perspective is influenced in large part by how they perceive the world. In addition, the world that is perceived by a person is not an external world per se, but one’s projection of reality. Consequently, understanding how the world is perceived is of critical importance, and can ultimately lead to the transcendence of suboptimal worldviews and an increase in individual and social well-being.
As you can see, each of the Black Psychology methodological approaches intersects with and complements the others. These approaches, their corresponding schools, as well as the individuals who created and molded them, form a rich and rigorous scholarship of Black Psychology. This scholarship benefits not only Black individuals, but all people and the fields of psychology in general. We owe a debt to those who decided to pioneer a new psychology after having their voices unheard all those many years ago at the American Psychological Association convention of 1968. We at the Center for Advanced Hindsight salute these brave and insightful individuals.
We hope that you enjoyed our blog posts about Black Psychology and its influential members. We also hope that you learned a thing or two about its history, theories, and insights. Most importantly, we hope you can take something you learned here and apply it in your own life. Thank you so much for reading!
Cokley, K., & Garba, R. (2018). Speaking Truth to Power: How Black/African Psychology Changed the Discipline of Psychology. Journal of Black Psychology, 44(8), 695–721. https://doi.org/10.1177/0095798418810592