Black psychology

Black psychology (also called African psychology) is an African cosmological lens applied to social or psychological phenomena.[1] This is approached from two perspectives:

Both perspectives agree that African American psychology is a science and that it is structured and organized.[1] Both African and African American psychologies study the thoughts, behaviors, feelings, beliefs, attitudes, interactions, and well-being of African Americans.[1]

Black psychology has critiqued or rejected white psychology, developed afrocentric models of study and therapy, and intervened in the social struggle for more Black and human environments.[3]

The history of early Black psychologists is lost to many students due the minimal coverage in courses.[2] However, research performed by early Black scholars on the effects of segregation and other racial matters played an important role in American history, like the research by Kenneth Bancroft Clark that was cited in Brown v. Board of Education by the U.S. Supreme Court.[4]

Early history

African American Psychology can be traced to ancient Egypt in 3200 B.C.[5] Ancient Egypt was known as Kemet during this time period. The Kemites, the people ancient Egypt, studied the sophistication of the human psyche or soul and the higher mental processes as a holistic environment.[6] From their perspective, they believed that there was a continuity and harmony between nature and God. The Kemites had three levels: components of being which were mental, physical, and spiritual. It was based on religion. The mental and Physical levels were needed to satisfy the spiritual component.[6] God is the spirit and nature is physical.[6]

Influences on psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis can be traced back to ancient Egypt.[7] This field served as a foundation for other psychology fields such as humanistic psychology. Much of early psychoanalysis revolved around the belief of the transmigration of the soul.[7] This philosophical thought influenced Plato and other Greek philosophers. Most of Plato’s understanding of human characteristics came from Black Egyptian cosmology.[7] Plato had spent thirteen years in Egypt, which explains his philosophical thinking.[7] His thoughts about “eros” (life of spiritual forces) originated in Egypt. Freud, who was a follower of Plato, was known for the concepts of the superego, the id, and the ego. The id was originally called the Ba, which is the sensitive emotional part of personality.[7] The ego was originally called the ka, which is the rational aspect of personality.[7] The superego was originally called the nun, which is the idealistic aspect of personality.[7] The names that are unknown came from Egyptian cosmology. All of these personality aspects were also originated in ancient Egypt.[7]

Emergence of psychology programs in Black colleges

Rise of Black colleges

Following the end of the Civil War a push for education began to occur in the Black community. Moving away from secret night schools held during the time of slavery, a variety of learning centers and colleges began to open. Many of these schools were established by missionary associations and various Freedman societies. Federal government land grants such as the Morrill Act of 1862[8] helped to support these institutions and the additional aid of religious denominations allowed for the support of these schools. The years following saw the founding of Black colleges across the country including notable institutions such as the first historically black college Lincoln University (1854), Fisk University (1865), Howard University (1867), Morehouse College (1867) and Spelman College (1881).[8] By 1940 there were more than one hundred Black colleges in the seventeen southern states offering a variety of degrees with many of the earned degrees in social sciences and education.

Rise of the psychology program

Psychology courses became both popular and integral courses in Black colleges, with at least one course appearing as early as 1906. Formally trained professors (both Black and White) taught courses. Although many universities had programs of great influence, the most prominent was located at Howard University. Howard's successes were due largely to the efforts of Francis Cecil Sumner. Often considered the father of Black psychologists, Sumner structured the psychology program, teaching not only the ideas of Edward Titchener, John Watson, and Sigmund Freud, but a myriad of courses in topics such as learning, personality, mental hygiene, and experimental psychology.[9] The experimental focus reflected Sumner's three objectives: to provide students preparation in professional fields, stress the cultural significance of psychology, and prepare students who wish to pursue graduate study. This not only made Howard different from other Black universities, but created a strong program that carried over to graduate studies. Although Howard only offered master's degrees, it offered a strong foundation for those who went on to pursue doctoral degrees.[10]

Although psychology was a popular course in Black colleges, only Howard and three other Black colleges offered an undergraduate psychology degree by the late 1930s. Emphasis was usually on educational psychology, leaving statistics and experimental focuses by the wayside. This led to a survey conducted by Herman George Canady between 1930 and 1940 concerning the nature of undergraduate courses, research in psychology, and other areas of concern in Black colleges. The survey revealed that fourteen of fifty colleges had a department in psychology and that theoretical and lab courses were rare. Psychology courses were primarily offered by departments of education, allowing the development of educational psychology and emphasizing the focus on practical applications of education.[11]

Differences compared to White colleges

Naturally, psychology was taught differently in White and Black colleges due to differences in available funds and materials. Black colleges tended to focus on practical matters due to the need to train students for trades or teaching posts. Conversely, White colleges taught psychology as laboratory science that was very focused on research and instrumentation. Much of the focus in psychology in Black colleges laid in studying similarities among people instead of differences. Professors emphasized that situation and environmental circumstances, not skin color, affected intelligence. This contrasts White colleges and professionals who studied IQ scores and other psychometric methods to prove that differences between races laid in skin color. The idea that environmental factors affect intelligence not only helped to remove the stigma in Black communities, but it led to groundbreaking work by Black psychologists later in the 20th century.[12]

Graduate studies and beyond

Between 1920 and 1970, Black colleges around the nation produced more than 1,300 bachelor's degree graduates who eventually earned a doctorate in psychology. However, difficulties were encountered in attempts to obtain the degree. Many Black students were denied acceptance into southern White schools and looked north for educational opportunities. Clark University was the foremost in graduating Black scholars at the time; its notable alumni include Sumner and J. Henry Alston. This was not the norm for other schools. Beyond acceptance or provisions that required Black students to take on an extra year of undergraduate work to prove their caliber to attending White schools, finances was the most troubling factor. Fees toward tuition, living maintenance, and other expenses caused many to delay or to give up pursuing graduate studies for dependable wages in menial positions. The combination of these factors meant that out of the 3,767 doctorates awarded in psychology between 1920 and 1966 from the ten most prestigious universities in the nation, only eight were awarded to Black candidates.[13]

Criticism toward African Americans

Many of the African contributions were ignored about its origin, taken by Greek cosmologists, and used by the early pioneers of psychology, but even after that the African Americans received more racism instead of credibility. Most of this took place after the Civil war, when Jim Crow emerged.[14] Even the Rat was White, a book published in 1976, encouraged African American psychology. A second edition of this book was published in 1996. The author Robert V. Guthrie explains the different ways that white American scientists contributed to racists criticism against African Americans. Many of these explained that African Americans are inferior to white Americans. Many scientists did intelligence testing on African Americans and white Americans which resulted in African Americans being the inferior race.[15] Charles Darwin’s natural selection theory was published in 1859. The assumption of this theory was that only the strongest and intelligent individuals or organisms could survive. In the 20th century many studies were done to compare the differences in African Americans and white Americans. The results mainly showed that African Americans were inferior.[16] Sir Francis Galton’s studies in the 19th century attributed the racial inferiority of African Americans' intelligence to inheritance. Through his theory he predicted that if intelligence is inherited, then it would not be expected for lower intelligence to be improved through ability. Galton thought that through selective mating, the improvement of race could be done controlling the inferior intelligence genetically. The results showed that African Americans and other minorities were considered to be those who were unfit and inferior and white Americans as superior.[17] Anthropology studies were done in 18th and 19th century that compared African Americans' and White Americans' physical characteristics. Qualities such as skin color, hair texture, posture, face structure, and skull structure were assessed in favor of white Americans.[18] William McDougall's theory of instinct created many racist concepts about African Americans. One of his studies characterized African Americans as easygoing, happy, and lazy. Another study was done that tested hearing, vision, taste, acuity, pain, and motor speed of African Americans. The result was that minorities, such as, African American were inferior to white Americans.

Successes of African Americans

In 1968, the Association of Black Psychologists was formed as a protest toward the American Psychological Association’s lack of interest in African American Psychologists. In 1974, the Association of Black Psychologists created their official journal called The Journal of Black Psychology. This journal is directed toward understanding of experiences and behavior of African American populations. It covers many issues in the African American society, such as, HIV, sickle cell disease, racial identity, African American children, and substance abuse prevention. Psychology fields that are covered in this journal are counseling, clinical, social, cognitive, educational, and organizational psychology.[14]

Notable African-American psychologists

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Belgrave, F.Z. & Allison, K.W. (2010) p. 5.
  2. 1 2 Whitten, L. (1993).
  3. Black Psychology From Introduction to Black Studies by Maulena Karenga, 1993.
  4. Guthrie, R.V. (1998). p. 190.
  5. Belgrave, F.Z. & Allison, K.W. (2010) p. 7.
  6. 1 2 3 Cusumano,D (2008) p. 1.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Oshodi, J.E. (1996) p.2.
  8. 1 2 Guthrie, R.V. (1998). p. 120.
  9. Guthrie, R.V. (1998). pp. 155–156.
  10. Guthrie, R.V. (1998) pp. 159–160.
  11. Guthrie, R.V. (1998) p. 126.
  12. Guthrie, R.V. (1998). pp. 123–124.
  13. Guthrie, R.V. (1998). p. 136.
  14. 1 2 Holliday, B.G. (2009). p. 318.
  15. Belgrave, F.Z. & Allison, K.W. (2010). p. 8.
  16. Belgrave, F.Z. & Allison, K.W. (2010). p. 8-9.
  17. Belgrave, F.Z. & Allison, K.W. (2010). p. 9
  18. Belgrave, F.Z. & Allison, K.W. (2010). p. 8


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