American Psychological Association apologizes for role in perpetuating systemic racism

American Psychological Association apologizes

The American Psychological Association (APA) has issued a formal apology over its contribution to systemic racism in a resolution published on Friday. 

Why this matters: With over 122,000 members, the APA is the largest scientific and professional organization dedicated to psychology in the U.S. It was founded in July 1892 on white male leadership, many of whom “contributed to scientific inquiry and methods that perpetuated systemic racial oppression.”

  • Among such methods was the promotion of eugenics, which argues that racial differences and hierarchies are biologically based and fixed, according to the Cummings Center for the History of Psychology at the University of Akron. Eugenic principles were used to support discriminatory measures such as segregation, sterilization and anti-marriage laws.
  • The APA commissioned the Cummings Center to conduct historical research on harms committed against communities of color in the field of psychology. In its review, the center found that psychologists “created, sustained and promulgated ideas of human hierarchy through the construction, study and interpretation of racial difference,” which eventually contributed to disadvantages experienced by these communities.

What they’re saying: In its resolution, the APA acknowledged its role and that of psychology in promoting, perpetuating and failing to challenge racism. The organization also vowed to address the problem with multiple solutions, because “an apology absent ameliorative action is without impact.”

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  • “The American Psychological Association failed in its role leading the discipline of psychology, was complicit in contributing to systemic inequities, and hurt many through racism, racial discrimination, and denigration of people of color, thereby falling short on its mission to benefit society and improve lives,” the organization said. “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 APA said it will run a comprehensive audit of its equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) framework, as well as other anti-racism activities. Psychologists of color will have access to audit results and their intended impact on society.
  • The organization said it will prioritize efforts in knowledge production and scholarship, particularly those that improve psychology’s scientific methods with a culturally-diverse basis. It will also start acknowledging all racial and ethnic groups instead of lumping smaller ones altogether as “other.”
  • The group will also prioritize efforts in training, opening pathways and workforce development. Students of color will have expanded opportunities to pursue careers in psychology, while psychologists of color will have access to better mentorship.
  • Efforts in clinical practice and health equity, such as the improvement of culturally-competent care models, will also be prioritized. The group said foundational work in the area has already begun and is outlined in a separate resolution, which was also released on Friday.
  • A third resolution identifies APA and psychology’s role in helping expose, understand and dismantle racism in society. It also mandates the organization’s chief executive officer to prioritize, operationalize and ensure accountability for achieving relevant goals in 2022.

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