APA Passes Historic Apology To People of Color
by Linda M. Woolf, STP President-Elect
During the early days of our discipline, psychological “research,” theory, and practice was central to the eugenics movement with destructive ideological beliefs grounded in social Darwinism. Psychologists involved in this movement helped craft policies, which led to forced sterilizations of “inferiors,” immigration quotas, race laws, and charted a path to genocide supported by “research” differentiating between those of White northwest European-based stock and “primitive man.” Psychologists endeavored to reify racist and colonialist beliefs through collections of invalid data, such as intelligence measures, based on anthropomorphic measures. Sadly, these ideas are not simply obscure elements of the past but have resurfaced regularly within the history of psychology.
In this brief article, I want to highlight the recent work of APA to address this history of harm and briefly discuss how we can use this work in our teaching of psychology. At the forefront of APA’s efforts is a historic apology of APA to Black, Indigenous, and other Peoples of Color.
The Council of Representatives (CoR) for the American Psychological Association (APA) met on October 29, 2021 and formally apologized for its role in past and ongoing racism against Peoples of Color (PoC). APA acknowledged that it “failed in its role leading the discipline of psychology, was complicit in contributing to systemic inequities, and hurt many through racism, racial discrimination, and denigration of communities of color, thereby falling short on its mission to benefit society and improve lives.” For many individuals, this apology was long overdue. Nonetheless, it represents a beginning; it outlines many of the historic harms, the importance of an apology, the apology, and potential next steps.
You can read the full text of the Apology to People of Color for APA’s Role in Promoting, Perpetuating, and Failing to Challenge Racism, Racial Discrimination, and Human Hierarchy in U.S.
This Apology Resolution does not stand alone as a finished product but rather represents a first step toward restorative justice. For example, the Resolution commits to future APA actions, which “could include targeted apologies and restorative processes for specific communities of color that extend beyond the content, format, and style of this formal Council resolution to be responsive to, and respectful of, the unique cultures and traditions of a given group, such as by the inclusion of elements respectful of the cultural traditions of Indigenous peoples."
Additionally, the Resolution includes the following, "Therefore, be it resolved that future APA actions could also include targeted interventions to benefit other groups that have experienced systems of oppression, including those based on religion, sex, class, sexual orientation and gender diversity, and disability identity."
As such, the Resolution acknowledges that more work needs to be done to address specific harms against the diversity of groups identified as PoC. Additionally, the Resolution recognizes that harms have occurred within psychology against other persons and peoples, which have been systematically marginalized by the discipline and profession.
At the October meeting, CoR passed two additional anti-racism resolutions. The second Resolution outlined a commitment and steps aimed at dismantling racism within the Association, the discipline of psychology, and within the United States. The third Resolution focused on a commitment to health equity for all persons and peoples of the United States and the role psychology will play in eliminating inequities. Together, these three Resolutions signal APA's and all of psychology's commitment to human rights and social justice for all both within the U.S. and as part of APA's global mission. The Resolutions build upon a February 2021 CoR Resolution, Harnessing Psychology to Combat Racism: Adopting a Uniform Definition and Understanding. This Resolution began efforts to define and address four levels of racism—internalized, interpersonal, institutional, and structural—and how APA can work to address these harms within the Association but also in the broader society.
It is important to note that the Association of Black Psychologists issued a response to the Apology Resolution. I urge everyone to read this letter as it highlights the pain, depth, and complexity of issues as APA begins this process.
So, what does this mean for our teaching and our students? I encourage us all to work to "decolonize" our courses, syllabi, research, etc. to make our classes and our disciplinary understanding more inclusive. Within our departments or collegial groups, we can have conversations about what we can do to learn from diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts related to the teaching of psychology and how to translate that information into our respective courses.
For more about STP’s work and DEI resources, see http://teachpsych.org and click on the Diversity tab. But don’t stop there! Throughout the website you will find eBooks, conference presentations, and a host of other resources aimed at not just creating more inclusive classrooms but integrating DEI materials into your courses. Check STP News for ongoing updates regarding the Task Force on Integration of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and International Initiatives Across STP. This DEI task force began work under the initiative of Past-President Amy Fineburg and has continued under the guidance of President Susan Nolan. These efforts will continue in 2022. The STP Diversity Committee chaired by Teceta Thomas Tormala with members, Jennifer L. Lovell, Viji Sathy, Sasha Cervantes, Leslie Berntsen, and Dina Gohar, supports and expands upon this work. You can find out more about this important committee here. at http://teachpsych.org/page-1537443. I also urge you to explore the APA Public Interest Directorate for more DEI materials for use in your courses.
What I like in particular about any of APA’s policy resolutions is that these documents contain a fountain of information and references you can use in your courses. For example, you not only can share and discuss these anti-Racism Resolutions with your students but you also can dig deeper to explore specific elements of these Resolutions and the materials cited. You also may want to share APA President Jennifer Kelly's opening video to CoR, which highlights the anti-Racism work of APA this past year.
I would be remiss if I did not tell you that part of the process of drafting the anti-Racism Resolutions, APA commissioned a historic review by the Cummings Center, the Psychology Archives/Museum in Akron. The Center put together a Historical Chronology examining Psychology’s Contributions to the Belief in Racial Hierarchy and Perpetuation of Inequality for People of Color in U.S. As noted in the Chronology, the document is incomplete, as the voices of oppressed victims rarely get to record their history and stories. Nonetheless, it is a concise overview not only of harms but also significant moments of DEI progress made by APA over the decades. And again, the references are a goldmine.
Finally, as we know, psychology has a diversity problem in relation to the pipeline from high school to undergraduate programs to graduate school and beyond. What can we do to help our students see themselves as future members of the psychology workforce or as psychologists and leaders in the field? From the Resolution:
APA will prioritize efforts in training, opening pathways, and workforce development, such as those that expand opportunities for students of color to pursue careers in psychology; promote mentorship of psychologists of color; improve psychology graduate education and training to include diverse, non-Western cultural perspectives; increase mechanisms, strategies, and practices to raise participation and success rates for psychologists of color in academia, publishing, and governmental licensing; increase representation of communities of color throughout APA’s elected and appointed leadership; expand opportunities for leadership and leadership training for psychologists of color; and enhance the visibility of psychologists of diverse backgrounds.
The Education Directorate as well as STP have been and will continue to be involved in such efforts.
I want to thank STP’s Council Representatives Maureen McCarthy and Jodie B. Ullman for their diligent efforts on Council. These are positions are often not visible to most STP members. Yet their work is essential for promoting educational interests within APA as well as broader policies such as these anti-Racism resolutions. Their leadership on CoR has been exemplary.