Psychology: A history of racism
Psychology has a racist history. There are many examples: how the British Psychological Society’s early presidents had explicit ties to the eugenics movement. Or how Black civil rights activists were forcibly incarcerated under the pretense they were schizophrenic and “paronoid against the police” (Metzl, 2011). Or how intelligence research by psychologists was originally used to show Black people and immigrants should not have the same legal, political or social rights as more intelligent whites (see Phillippe Rushton’s work published in 1990 by The Psychologist).
Psychology’s racism today
Those of us in psychology today must be careful not to relegate our discipline’s racism to the past. Psychology still has a problem with racism. The people we include in our research, the authors and editors of journal articles we set are overwhelmingly White (Arnett, 2008; Heinrich, 2010).
Our reading that we set also tends to be overwhelming white, western and male (Jankowski et al., in prep). The problems with this should be obvious. With this reading, we’re overlooking BME psychologist’s work, we’re teaching content that is less likely to show how racism relates to health, development or our social world (or any of the stuff psychology professes to explain) and more simply we are not teaching the psychology of people but the psychology of white, western (and often male) people.
The ethnicity of the authors of the reading we set in our courses is only one proxy for racism in our discpline. Tokenistically including a reading because it is authored by a BME psychologist in our course is not enough. Our teaching of psychology needs to incorporate racism and its intersecting opressions into the curriculum that we teach. We will never be able to explain how people stay healthy or how a child develops or how mental health problems are caused without attending to structural oppressions like racism.
Myself and other Leeds Beckett colleagues have therefore set up a website signposting to BME psychological and anti-racist work. We know this is only one small step towards reducing racism in and beyond our discipline. And so we need help. If you know any of the many BME psychologists we have doubtlessly missed, please add them to our archive. If you are willing to share anti-racist teaching materials or would like to use them then please do.