American Psychological Society apologizes for perpetuating systemic racism

November 4, 2021 • 11:00 am

Self-abasing and self-flagellating apologies are becoming so common that I don’t want to deal with them any more. They’re part of the attempts of professional associations to come to a “racial reckoning”, like the American Medical Association’s embarrassing attempt to reform language highlighted by Jessie Singal the other day.

The American Psychological Association (APA) has gotten into the game, too, but it’s done it a damn sight better than the AMA. They have not only issued an apology in five parts—one that goes too far, to be sure—for racist practices in the past, but have done a lot more. Usually these are not only pro forma apologies but performative apologies, unlikely to help minorities or other disadvantaged groups. They flaunt virtue, but that’s about all. And they usually neglect class.

But the APA, comprising psychologists, has not only apologized for racist practices (first screenshot below), but listed where psychology in general (not just the APA) fell short in the past (second and third screenshot), gives specific instances of such acts (third screenshot) and, importantly, outlines a specific program about how it will create “equity” in the APA (second, fourth, and fifth screenshots).

It’s one thing to talk the talk, but the specific program commits the APA to certain actions, some of which have time deadlines. I also appreciate their citing specific instances of psychologists’ act of racism, though, as I said, I don’t see a need to reiterate the racist history of the whole discipline when it is only the APA who is apologizing for its acts.  Because they put considerable thought into these five documents, which go on for pages, and commit themselves to a program, I can’t fault the organization for its efforts. True, they do go too far sometimes, but this is more than performative.  I’ll give only two quotes.

Here’s their news bulletin about their apology, which is short.

And then the apology in extenso (below), which is a resolution with three pages of “wheras”s before the resolution is given.  They also say this:

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that APA acknowledges that an apology absent ameliorative action is without impact, and thus commits to the following immediate actions of remedy and repair, in addition to long-term actions specified above. These actions are anchored in creating immediate and real structural change for the organization.

  • APA will engage in a comprehensive audit of all its EDI [Equity, diversity, and inclusion] and other antiracism-related activities including ethnic representation of governance leaders and central office staff and policies, practices, and procedures currently underway and in use—to include how psychologists of color will have access to the results of the audit and its intended impact on society, to be concluded by the February 2022 meeting of the Council of Representatives.

Not later than August 2022, initial actions will be proposed for approval by Council, based on recommendations from members and ethnic groups, with respect to implementation of the following three priorities, though Council may offer different tactics than the examples noted below:  . . .

You can read the list of “tactics” yourself.

Below: the historical chronology of the APA’s (and psychology in general’s) racist acts or racism. This took a fair amount of work:

A list of transgressions followed by specific recommendations about how to fix them. Lots of “whereas”s here, too, with the areas of effort broken down into categories (“health care”, “science,” “education”, “early childhood development”, and so on):

Below: a shorter statement that is easier to read, about future efforts. Lots of “whereas”s in this one, too. I guess psychologists like this formal format.

As I said, this goes a lot farther than the usual performative apologies given by institutions and organizations without any program for repair. The prime example of such affirmations of virtue is the “land acknowledgment.”  More power to the APA if their program can really help the oppressed.

I have a single beef (you didn’t think my praise would be unstinting, did you?). The APA apparently wants to indict everybody engaged in “structural racism in the U.S.,” so they went over the top with this statement from the second document:

WHEREAS racist behaviors and ideologies are evidenced in the health inequities of pandemics and disease on Indigenous people (including over 570 Tribal Nations), Black/African American, Asian American, Pacific Islander American, Latina/o and Latinx, and AMENA peoples and communities; psychologists also provided ideological support for, and failed to speak out against, the colonial framework of the government-sponsored industrial (boarding) and day school systems for Indigenous youth (Cummings Center, 2021); the tragic hate crimes and killings of Black people at the hands of law enforcement; the surge in hate crimes against and ongoing harms perpetuated by “model minority” stereotyping of Asian Americans Americans (Yip, Cheah, Kiang & Hall, 2021); the inhumane treatment and systemic targeting and historical exclusion of immigrants of color from the civil rights granted by U.S. citizenship, through immigration policy and its aggressive enforcement and the mistreatment and criminalization of undocumented immigrants who lack access to a pathway to U.S. citizenship; the continuing hate crimes and speech perpetrated against AMENA people; and the overall climate of xenophobia in the U.S. These examples of racism are widespread and impact either directly or indirectly all individuals who belong to marginalized racial groups, including multiracial persons (APA, 2019, 2020a, 2020b, 2021a, 2021b).

Well, they got carried away. But unlike the many organizations that keep telling us they are racist without giving examples (e.g, The Evergreen State College, Williams College, Princeton, and so on, which in fact are not structurally racist), the APA has documented its unsavory history. How refreshing to see a self-indictment that is actually true!


6 thoughts on “American Psychological Society apologizes for perpetuating systemic racism

  1. In line with the comprehensiveness of the APA’s flagellation document, I was pleased to see mention of
    all three “Latina/o and Latinx” categories. But if all of these are recognized, why does APA not include
    Pacific Islander Americanx along with Pacific Islander American, and AMENAx along with AMENA? Come to that, who are the AMENA anyway? Reference to Google turned up only that it is a girl’s name in Arabic on the one hand, and on the other: “Amena is the queen-in-waiting for the throne of the Cantii tribe. She is married to the heir, Phelan, and to the son of a Gaulish prince, Lindon, at the Druids’ order.”
    Well, whoever the AMENA and AMENAx may be, apologies to them for the racist ideologies of whoever
    and whoeverx carried out microaggressions against them in history.

    1. I know someone who lives on Thetis Island. By chance, in an email earlier today I jokingly referred to him as a Pacific Islander. He is, of course, but the connotation most have is incorrect.

      1. Thanks for that. An old friend and colleague of mine lives in deep retirement on Salt Spring Island. I must try this on him. He will no doubt be gratified to be a member of a protected ethnic minority, rather than mere Canadianx.

  2. the “APA acknowledges that an apology absent ameliorative action is without impact,. . .”

    Give that team an “A”!

  3. Small point of nomenclature. There was an American Psychological Society (APS) formed out of a rebellion of the takeover of the APA by clinical interests. It later changed its name to the Association for Psychological Science (still APS). Thus your headline referring to “American Psychological Society” is a little confusing.

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