American Psychological Association Apologizes For Its Role In Perpetuating Systemic Racism

American Psychological Association Apologizes For Its Role In Perpetuating Systemic Racism

American Psychological Association

In this March 29, 1968, file photo, striking Memphis sanitation workers march past Tennessee National Guard troops with fixed bayonets during a 20-block march to City Hall in Memphis, Tenn., continuing a decades-old tradition of the American labor rights movement. (AP Photo/Charlie Kelly, File)

The American Psychological Association (APA) wants to make amends for its historical wrongs, issuing a formal apology to people of color for its role in perpetuating systemic racism and discrimination in the U.S.

The association’s governing council adopted an apology acknowledging that APA “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.”

The professional association was founded in 1892 with the goal of advancing psychology as a science, but in its efforts to expand the field, it was also complicit in the denigration of communities of color, the resolution said.

The apology chronicled the association’s nearly 130-year history with racism, starting with its promotion of eugenics – the practice of selective breeding among humans to improve the species. Developed in the 1800s, eugenics has since been denounced for enforcing racial hierarchy.

“APA was established by white male leadership, many of whom contributed to scientific inquiry and methods that perpetuated systemic racial oppression,” the resolution said.

In the resolution, the APA said it rejects “hegemonic science —that is, research focused on identifying and reinforcing supposed hierarchies of human value based on a white default—and will continue to oppose it through culturally responsive training, ethical/equity-focused approaches, peer review, and publications.”

The apology pointed out psychologists’ support for and failure to speak out against state-sanctioned lynchings of Black people, forced assimilation of Indigenous people, criminalization of undocumented immigrants and violence of the “model minority” myth often used against Asian Americans.  

“APA sincerely and formally apologizes to communities of color for these actions and inactions,” the apology read. 

As of 2015, 86 percent of U.S. psychologists were white, 5 percent were Asian, 5 percent were Hispanic, 4 percent were black/African-American and 1 percent were multiracial, according to a 2018 APA report. The U.S. population is 62 percent white and 13.4 percent Black, according to the U.S. Census.

APA said that its previous attempts to apologize for failing in its role as the leader in the discipline of psychology were “unsuccessful”.

“For the first time, APA and American psychology are systematically and intentionally examining, acknowledging and charting a path forward to address their roles in perpetuating racism,” APA President Jennifer F. Kelly said in the statement

“The governing body within APA should have apologized to people of color before today. APA, and many in psychology, have long considered such an apology, but failed to accept responsibility.”

The apology is one of the first steps the APA plans to take to delve more deeply into the effects of systemic racism in the field of psychology throughout history.

The association created a chronological history of racism in the field of psychology, which has been made available online.

It also began holding “listening sessions” earlier this year to hear from Black people and people of color firsthand and to better understand how psychology has harmed these communities throughout history.

“In offering an apology for these harms, APA acknowledges that recognition and apology only ring true when accompanied by action; by not only bringing awareness of the past into the present but in acting to ensure reconciliation, repair, and renewal,” the resolution reads.

“We stand committed to purposeful intervention, and to ensuring that APA, the field of psychology, and individual psychologists are leaders in both benefiting society and improving lives.”

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