Courtesy of APA

The American Psychological Association (APA) apologized to people of color in a written resolution detailing how it failed in its role by contributing to systemic inequities, racism, racial discrimination and denigration of people of color through the discipline of psychology.

The APA said this apology comes as part of the nation’s historic reckoning on racism where U.S. corporations and organizations acknowledge and atone for their harmful and discriminatory actions toward non-whites.

“APA is profoundly sorry, accepts responsibility for, and owns the actions and inactions of APA itself, the discipline of psychology and individual psychologists who stood as leaders for the organization and field,” the body said in a statement.

The APA’s Council of Representatives unanimously adopted the resolution on Oct. 29. The APA has attempted to apologize to people of color several times, including indigenous people. Still, it never materialized until now because many in the past refused to take responsibility.

The apology comes with the commitment to assess the harms and forge a path toward “healing and reconciliation.”

The initiative started in February with the APA commissioning historical research by the Cummings Center for the History of Psychology at the University of Akron, which included existing historical records and narratives, oral histories and the lived experiences of communities of color.

The APA said the narrative that emerged from the listening sessions, surveys and historical findings made the impact of well-known and lesser-known actions abundantly clear.

“It leaves us, as APA leaders, with profound regret and deep remorse for the long-term impact of our failures as an association, a discipline and as individual psychologists,” the APA said. “We know too well that history can repeat itself, that the past informs the present and that many harms will continue to be perpetuated absent purposeful intervention.”

Since its origins in the mid-19th century, psychology has contributed to the dispossession and exploitation of communities of color through acts of commission and omission, said the APA’s resolution.

This early history of psychology, rooted in oppressive psychological science to protect whiteness, white people and white epistemologies, reflected the social and political landscape of the U.S. at that time.

Psychology developed under these conditions helped to create, express and sustain them, continues to bear their indelible imprint and often continues to publish research that conforms with white racial hierarchy, the resolution said.

It continued that the APA was established by white male leadership, many of whom contributed to scientific inquiry and methods that perpetuated systemic racial oppression, including promoting the ideas of early 20th-century eugenics.

Eugenics is defined as racial differences and hierarchies being biologically based and fixed and was used to support segregation, sterilization and anti-marriage laws.

The resolution said psychologists created, sustained and promulgated ideas of human hierarchy through the construction, study and interpretation of racial difference and therefore contributed to the financial wealth gap and social class disparities experienced by many communities of color.

At the same Oct. 29 meeting, the Council of Representatives adopted two other resolutions, one delineating the APA’s and psychology’s role going forward in dismantling systemic racism in the U.S. and the other pledging to work to advance health equity in psychology.

The former directs APA’s CEO to develop a long-term plan for achieving the goals identified in the resolution. Then, the CEO will present the project to the Council by August 2022.

“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,” said APA President Dr. Jennifer F. Kelly.

“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,” she said.

Sarafina Wright is a staff writer at the Washington Informer where she covers business, community events, education, health and politics. She also serves as the editor-in-chief of the WI Bridge, the Informer’s...

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