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Why the APA’s apologies for promoting white supremacy fail


In late October, the American Psychological Association issued an official apology for being “an accomplice in contributing to systemic inequalities, and [having] hurt greatly by racism, racial discrimination and denigration of people of color. The apology was intended to comprehensively denounce the history of the prominent white supremacist institution in the United States and to position the association to effectively remedy this damage through commitments to anti-racist psychological practices. . The APA also noted that black psychologists were ignored when they attempted to raise these questions over half a century ago.

The apology was intended to comprehensively denounce the history of the prominent white supremacist institution in the United States.

These more than 200 black psychologists would go on to found the first and oldest independent association of ethnic psychology in the country, the Association of Black Psychologists, in 1968. As members of this association, we feel the need to take over. word. The APA’s apology falls short of what is needed. We cannot expect the association to truly right its wrongs and end damaging practices in psychology when it leaves much of the ongoing damage unexamined and chooses its path through history. It actually risks perpetuating the past damage that the association is now trying to repair.

While the apology details many past racist practices in psychology, it largely omits a key part of this story: how the fields of psychology and psychiatry colluded with the state to suppress rights, freedoms and, in in many cases, political freedom. Much of this resembled the establishment and maintenance of public hospitals that often disproportionately and indefinitely confined blacks in particular. Indeed, this story led former ABPSi president-elect Bobby Wright to conclude that the discipline had historically been used to wage war on black communities.

Based on the belief that a black person’s desire for freedom was evidence of mental illness, hospitals were built across the country to impose social control on blacks. For example, the Central Lunatic Asylum for Colored Insane, the first state mental hospital for blacks, forcibly institutionalized thousands of blacks in Virginia starting in 1870. Hospital records revealed that blacks were removed. of their communities and enslaved on the belief that freedom produced mania and forced labor was adequate treatment.

A century later, these practices were still common. For example, the Ionia State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Michigan justified the life-long confinement of black men with diagnoses of “protest psychosis” until it closed in 1977. Beyond the Disruption of freedom and humanity of generations of blacks, the legacy of these institutions further contributes to medical mistrust within our communities.

The inability to challenge the damage caused by such psychiatric institutions has allowed many of these practices to continue. To date, the APA provides training accreditation to public and forensic hospitals where patients, particularly black patients, experience misdiagnosis and marginalization. Forensic mental hospitals in particular still disproportionately confine blacks. Not only does this deprive black patients of their freedom, but it also puts these communities at increased risk of death or serious illness at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Additionally, the APA’s decision to limit its apologies to the United States ignores how the terrain has been used to harm people across the world. For example, the apology refuses to acknowledge the 2015 Hoffman report, which accused the APA of helping the Bush administration optimize torture techniques for Guantanamo Bay detainees. These techniques have traumatized hundreds of individuals while the APA has largely ignored the escalation of Islamophobia and bigotry experienced by the Arab, Middle Eastern and North African peoples in the United States. the APA has limited its ability to remedy the harm done.

Over the past few years, we have seen suicide rates among black youth increase steadily. At the same time, the desire for culturally based mental health support is on the rise. Against this background, the inability of the APA to fully address its history and how it continues, in its silence, to maintain racial inequality in access, misdiagnosis and abuse in mental health care is more than troubling.

Despite this history, the APA continues to be the primary organization responsible for establishing codes of ethics, lobbying state licensing boards, certifying, educating and training clinicians. in the field of psychology. Instead of continuing to modify this organization’s response to its own damage, it is time for the APA and government agencies to recognize the authority of other psychological associations, especially when it comes to working with populations. underserved.

We are at a time when cultural concerns about understanding the historical and contemporary role of racism in American society are a defining factor in elections and other forms of social and civic engagement. As psychologists tasked with ensuring the mental health of our communities, we and our peers must hold ourselves and our peers to higher standards. As we move away from these stories of denigrating and dehumanizing practices, we should take this opportunity to co-create the types of healing practices, geopolitical understandings, and psycho-cultural social systems that can guide us into a more humanizing realm. It’s time to take stock – and everyone is needed in the non-hierarchical planning of our catering.


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