BME psychology

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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).

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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.

The BME Psychology website

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.

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The regulation of the Black body – Marvina Newton’s Keynote at Gendered Bodies in Visible Spaces day

Marvina NewtonMarvina Newton is a Leeds-based activist who founded the charity Angels of Youth and is a board member of Nigerian Community Leeds. Her work focuses on helping diasdvantaged kids through community and participatory projects spanning justice issues such as climate change, racism, mental health issues and sexism. She gave a keynote at the Gendered Bodies in Visbile Spaces at Leeds Beckett University in June 2015 (see poster below). Her talk concerned the way in which Black women’s bodies are regulated including through skin bleaching and hair relaxing.

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Martin Luther King: “I am proud to be maladjusted”.

The civil rights leader Martin Luther King addressed the American Psychological Association at UCLA in 1967 at the APA’s Washington Conference in 1967:

It is particularly a great privilege to discuss these issues with members of the academic community, who are constantly writing about and dealing with the problems that we face and who have the tremendous responsibility of molding the minds of young men and women all over the country.

In the speech he criticizes psychology for medicalizing African American rational discontent with poverty and racism as “maladjustment”. He points out that “he is proud to be maladjusted” to racism and poverty and that the “salvation of society is in the hands of the creatively maladjusted”.

Although I can not find the actual recording of his speech, he said similar in 1963 at Western Michigan University:

In his APA speech, King goes onto to specifically outline the role of social scientists role in civil rights and justice. Importantly he shows that Whiteness as well as racism must also be analysed:

If the Negro needs social sciences for direction and for self-understanding, the white society is in even more urgent need. White America needs to understand that it is poisoned to its soul by racism and the understanding needs to be carefully documented and consequently more difficult to reject.

I think this is still very relevant to critical health psychologists and other social scientists.

Credits: The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change; APA

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Toward an epistemology of precarity: Critical theory and participatory methods in times of widening inequality gaps: Michelle Fine’s ISCHP’15 keynote

Michelle delivered one of the three keynotes at the last ISCHP conference in South Africa. It was a powerful talk concerning 6 or 7 types (Michelle admitted she isn’t big on numbers) of precarity. Her bio, taken from the ISCHP 15 conference website is below:


Michelle Fine
is a Distinguished Professor of Social Psychology, Women’s Studies and Urban Education at the Graduate Center, CUNY. Her work addresses theoretical questions of social injustice that sit the intersection of public policy and social research, particularly with respect to youth in schools and criminal justice. Fine’s work integrates critical psychological theory with feminist and post-colonial theory, participatory designs, qualitative and quantitative methods and strong commitments to research for social justice. Fine’s research is considered highly influential. Over the past decade, Fine’s scholarship has been recognized nationally and internationally with awards, fellowships and prestigious invited lectures. She is the founding faculty member of the Public Science Project. The Public Science Project designs and implements theoretically informed and historically enriched research with movements for educational justice and policy reform. The most influential report to be published by Public Science Project is Changing Minds, a participatory action research project conducted with women in and out of prison, studying the impact of college in prison on women, their children, the prison environment and post release outcomes. Fine is also a much sought after expert witness in gender and race discrimination education cases where her research and testimony has been influential in obtaining influential court victories.

Black & White photo of Michelle Fine leaning against brick wall

An audio recording of the majority of Michelle’s talk is below. Please note there’s a couple of points where the audio recording skips. I was sorry not to have recorded the other brilliant and humbling keynotes by Garth Stephens and Leslie Swartz.  In future I’ll definitely be much better prepared.

Michelle speaks for about 47 mins with the last 8-10 minutes left for questions. Enjoy.

For other recordings of Michelle’s keynotes see here and here.