APA Historical Chronology of Psychology’s Contributions to the Belief in Racial Hierarchy and Perpetuation of Inequality for People of Color in U.S.

To accompany its historic October 29th “Apology to People of Color for APA’s Role in Promoting, Perpetuating, and Failing to Challenge Racism, Racial Discrimination, and Human Hierarchy in U.S.” the American Psychological Association has produced a historical chronology of “how psychology and APA have harmed people of color since the formal institutionalization of U.S. psychology in the late 1800s.” This chronology, as the Overview and Approach notes,

…was conducted by a writing group and a working group with psychologists from across the country. The writing group is comprised of Cummings Center staff and faculty, including three historians of psychology and an archives assistant with a background in American history and archival theory and practice. We have relied on primary and secondary sources in the history of psychology and related human sciences.

The writing group has relied on feedback from and discussion with a working group comprised of seven academics, including historians of psychology and psychologists with long and valuable experience with the field and its historical and present relationship with people of color. This working group represents many communities of color and has lived and studied psychology’s history in relation to race, culture, ethnicity, class, and social and political issues. They have worked to create, preserve, and advance psychologies that emanate from, attend to, and serve communities of color.

The following review begins with a summary of our findings, followed by a chronology representing the historical data used to inform those findings. It is important to note that silences—moments when the field could have spoken or acted on behalf of communities of color but failed to do so—were difficult to demonstrate with historical actions, particularly in a timeline format. We fully acknowledge that silences, omissions, and failures to act are underrepresented in this account.

It is also important to note that the data in the chronology are necessarily incomplete. It is nearly impossible to document every instance of harm in one chronology. The historical data are comprised of examples of harm that we and other historians have deemed most salient and impactful based on our assessment of the extent to which they serve as exemplars of repeated and prominent trends in the field’s history and their degree of direct connection with organized psychology. We stress, however, that these specific harms are part of a larger problematic culture in psychology, rooted in oppressive and exclusionary psychological science and practice.

The full historical chronology can be found online here.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.