Recently, the American Psychological Association, after the meeting on 29th October 2021, tweeted an apology, especially to people of color, confessing its role—and the role of psychology—in contributing to the systemic racism that has hurt people through their racist practices and racial discrimination.
“APA failed in its role leading the discipline of psychology, was complicit in contributing to systemic inequalities, & hurt many through racism, racial discrimination & denigration of communities of color…falling short on its mission to benefit society and improve lives.”
The Council of Representatives not only apologized but also ensured to adopt “additional resolutions” that would particularize and specify the role of APA and psychology to deconstruct and reduce systemic racism and pledged “to work to advance health equity in psychology.”
“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… These resolutions are just the first steps in a long process of reconciliation and healing. This important work will set the path for us to make real change and guide the association and psychology moving forward.”
— APA President, Jennifer F. Kelly
This incident certainly highlights a major problem that has been existed in this field for a long time— a struggle to remain inclusive and non-discriminant when it comes to psychological research. This write-up will focus on two major articles that tried to analyze this issue in-depth and provide possible solutions.
RACIAL INEQUALITY IN PSYCHOLOGICAL RESEARCH: A STUDY BY A STANFORD UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR
A study was led by Steven O. Roberts, an assistant professor of Psychology in the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford that was published in Perspectives on Psychological Science on 23rd June 2020 titled “Racial Inequality in Psychological Research: Trends of the Past and Recommendations for the Future.” The study revealed that even though race and the experiences we get as a result of belonging to a particular ethnicity do play a critical role in shaping a person and their thoughts, feelings, and behavior, in the 50 years of research we have seen in the field of psychology, there are very few publications that discuss race. Moreover, even when the issue is discussed, it is generally dominated by white scholars. There has been a critical lack of diversity when it comes to representation in psychological research.
The study shared three important findings:
- Firstly, psychological publications that highlight race have been rare across the past five decades. Although they have increased in the fields of developmental and social psychology, they have remained virtually nonexistent in cognitive psychology.
- Secondly, most publications have been edited by White editors, under which there have been significantly fewer publications that highlight race.
- Thirdly, many of the publications that highlight race have been written by White authors who employed significantly fewer participants of color.
The study even quoted another study by DeJesus, Callanan, Solis, and Gelman (2019) that revealed that across nearly 1,149 articles published in 2015 & 2016 in eleven psychology journals, 73% of articles never once mentioned the race of their participants.
This study suggests tackling the problem of racism through diversification of psychological research, which can be done through the inclusion of people of color in review panels, supporting researchers of color, and funding and encouraging projects that provide diverse samples.
AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION’S VIEWS ON RACISM IN RESEARCH
In a special report by the American Psychological Association on 1st April 2021 titled Psychology’s Urgent Need to Dismantle Racism, it acknowledged that Psychology needs to counter the pervasive and damaging effects of racism. To advance this field, Psychology needs to diversify the discipline and pursue anti-racism. Research on Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color (BIPOC) is rare. Most of the standardization samples in psychological research are made of a group that usually belongs to western, educated, and rich democratic societies.
According to Mitch Prinstein, APA’s Chief Science Officer, “Science is the pursuit of truth, and until we can embark on scientific practices that are not dominated by White supremacy, we are only going to be getting part of the truth… This is urgent. This is mandatory. This is long overdue.”
No doubt, psychology has played a crucial role in understanding how the human brain functions and the behavior of people. Psychology has helped change this society for the better. However, the role Psychology played to uphold systems of oppression cannot be denied.
According to APA’s Race and Ethnicity guidelines, psychologists must be self-aware of their biases, privileges, and racial socialization. But bringing about this kind of self-awareness is far more complex than it sounds, especially for White psychologists. The journey of moving past systemic racism might evoke feelings of racial anxiety and guilt. It is an uncomfortable job but an important one, and according to Lisa Spanierman, Ph.D., and a professor at Arizona State University, “Guilt, when paired with true empathy & understanding of the structures of White supremacy and how they function in society, can motivate White people to action.”
Psychologists also need to build their multicultural competence to overcome their biases. In fact, Several state licensing boards in the USA specifically require courses in cultural diversity for license renewal.
HOW TO IMPROVE THE ISSUE OF RACISM IN RESEARCH?
Buchanan and his colleagues, in their paper “Upending Racism in Psychological Science,” have provided 25 recommendations to dismantle white supremacy in the conduct and review of psychological science. Their paper recommends a diversity accountability index that breaks recommendations into concrete action steps for authors and reviewers to counter racism in psychological science. Idia Thurston, one of the co-authors, suggests using system-centered language to describe the structural factors that maintain racism. This means rather than simply stating an observation (for example, Blacks have a higher blood pressure than the Whites), the researchers should focus on why that result has occurred (for example, personal experiences and environmental stressors that contribute to the high blood pressure in Blacks).
Another suggestion was by Monnica Williams, a Ph.D. and Director for Culture and Mental Health Disparities, University of Ottawa. He urges mandating authors to describe their sample’s ethnic and racial diversity.
“Number 1: If people do not describe the race and ethnicity of the sample, we do not know what it is and can’t look at differences in outcomes by race and ethnicity. Number 2: A lot of research overrepresents White people, and we do not really have a good idea of how large the problem is if people are not telling us who is in their sample.”
Psychology must learn to embrace the rich and nuanced diversity of society. Although many scholars have acknowledged the latent racism that exists in psychological research, it is a fairly recent realization. There hasn’t been satisfactory research conducted on the extent to which it has affected psychological studies. It is a long way before some concrete steps can be taken in the right direction.
Written by: Aashna