Racism and the American Psychological Association’s Response (or Unresponse)

Racism and the American Psychological Association’s Response (or Unresponse)

In recent years, the American Psychological Association (APA) has been working towards addressing societal issues regarding racial equality…including examining the racism the plagued the field’s history.  In October 2021, the APA issued a formal apology taking responsibility for how it has affected people and the field of psychology (you can find this apology here:  https://www.apa.org/about/policy/racism-apology).  


Here’s a brief history of some important moments the field of psychology’s journey towards racial justice:

  • 1892:  The APA was founded with 31 white male members

  • 1910:  The Eugenics Record Office was founded.  From 1910-1939, this research institute collected biological and social information about the American population.

  • 1916:  A revised version of the Stanford-Binet, an intelligence test, was used to justify educational segregation.

  • 1933:  Raymond Cattell, an American psychologist, argued for the dangers of “race mixing.”

  • 1954:  Brown v. Board of Education ~ This ruling ended educational segregation in public schools.  Several Black psychologists, including Mamie Phipps Clark and Kenneth Clark, provided testimony.  However, other psychologists lobbied against it.

  • 1966:  Kenneth Clark becomes the first Black president of the APA.

  • 1968:  75 Black psychologists leave the APA and form the Association of Black Psychologists.  These psychologists argued that the APA failed to address issues like poverty, racism, and racist and cultural biases in testing.  Other ethnic psychological associations (e.g., Asian American Psychological Association, National Hispanic Psychological Association, Society for Indian Psychologists) began to form.

  • 1974:  With a $1 million grant for the National Institute of Mental Health, the APA announced a Minority Fellowship Program.  This program has graduated over 2,200 people (so far).

  • 1978-1979:  Representatives from Ethnic Psychological Associations urged APA to work harder on cultural concerns.  The APA formed the APA office of Ethnic Minority Affairs in 1979.

  • 1992-2019:  APA begins to issue different guidelines regarding race and culture.

  • 2005:  Representatives from Ethnic Psychological Associations begin to attend the APA Council of Representatives but are only allowed to observe.  

  • 2020:  Finally, after a bylaw change failing to pass three times over 15 years, the APA approved voting seats for representatives from Ethnic Psychological Associations.  


Dr. Brian Smedley, APA’s former chief of psychology in the public interest said, “One of the things that was really eye-opening was to understand how powerfully our field has been shaped by destructive ideologies and forces.  When you understand that history, you start to realize that not only do I, as a psychologist, have personal and professional responsibilities, but my discipline and my association have responsibilities as well.”  


Many of these changes have occurred through the diligent work of many psychologists of color.  EDI, or ‘equity, diversity, and inclusion,’ in research has been focusing on inequalities, racism, poverty, gun violence, COVID-19 inequalities, and in many more areas.  For more information, check out:  https://www.apa.org/about/apa/equity-diversity-inclusion 



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