The Journey of Black Psychology: Starting from the Beginning
Author: Shanta Ricks
Editor: Mikalyn Rush
Black History tells us many stories of Black achievements, accomplishments, and contributions; however, some of these stories are untold or go unnoticed. For Black History Month, The Center for Advanced Hindsight would like to use our voice to share a significant piece of Black history that forever changed the way in which psychology works; the creation of Black psychology. Each week we will post mini blogs that each connect to the history of Black psychology and prominent figures within the field. For today’s blog post, let’s start from the beginning of how and why the field of Black Psychology began.
What is Black Psychology? No, it’s not merely Black Psychologists who study within the field of Psychology. It’s actually considered to be a distinct academic discipline! While there are a variety of ways to define the field, the commonalities among them emphasize the study of Black thought and behaviors using Black experiences to generate culturally tailored theories, concepts, and methods.
The need for Black psychology was catalyzed by an event that took place in 1968, where a group of over two hundred Black psychologists met at the American Psychological Association (APA) convention that was held in San Francisco, CA to discuss several concerns they had. Firstly, their aim was to discuss how problematic it was to use Eurocentric perspectives and racially biased curricula to understand Black experiences which approached understanding African Americans through a deficit perspective, presenting Black people as inferior. In other words, much of the conclusions reached in psychological research relied on the perspectives of White people in the U.S., often undergraduate students. People who then differed from this “norm” were seen as deficient. Secondly, the group also discussed the lack of Black people (students and professionals) within psychology and the APA. To make improvements, the Black psychologists expressed a need for the APA to incorporate more Black professionals within the APA and psychology sector as well as to adequately train psychologists on working with minority groups.
The needs of the Black psychologists were left unmet by the APA, so the Black psychologists decided to create their own organization, The Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi). The organization worked to generate greater representation and opportunities for Black professionals as well as to change the way psychological research of African Americans was conducted.
As a result, more Black people were earning degrees in psychology. Yet, Eurocentric perspectives were still being taught to the Black professionals that continued to expose them to the idea that Black people were inferior. This meant that the negative perspectives of Black people continued to be maintained. These issues were brought to greater attention by one of the founders of ABPsi, Joseph White, who’s considered to be the “Godfather of Black Psychology.”
In 1970 Joseph White wrote the first article titled “Toward a Black Psychology” which emphasized the need to have a psychology that studies Black lives in a “non-deficient” and unbiased manner. In his article, he referred to this type of psychology as “Black psychology” thus being the one who coined the term. White along with many other psychologists such as Wade Nobles (who introduced African philosophy to Black psychology) helped to drive the field of Black psychology forward.
Soon enough, the field of Black Psychology was formed in a systematic way to study and properly understand Black experiences. Within the field lies three schools of thought: traditional, reform, and radical. Briefly stated, the traditional school challenges Eurocentric psychology but uses the methodology with minor changes, the reform school essentially recognizes components of Eurocentric psychology that are useful and can be incorporated within Black psychology and the radical school constructs new theories to capture Black experience using African-based culturally tailored theories. Given the difference with each school, different methodology approaches are used. It should be noted that though each school is distinct from each other, there’s typically overlap. Regardless, each school importantly contributes to the field of Black Psychology.
In all, many Black psychologists including Joseph White advocated for the need of Black experiences, thoughts, and behaviors to be studied in a non-deficient manner. Together their efforts along with ABPsi helped to lay the foundation of Black Psychology.
Stay tuned for the upcoming blog posts to learn more about each school of thought within Black psychology and prominent Black scholars who contributed to those schools! Next week, the traditional school will be highlighted.
Cokley, K., & Garba. R. (2018). Speaking Truth to power: How Black/African Psychology Changed the Discipline of Psychology. Journal of Black Psychology, 44, 695 – 721
Jamison, D.F. (2018). Key Concepts, Theories, and Issues in African/Black Psychology: A view From the Bridge. Journal of Black Psychology, 44, 722 – 746.
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