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Top psychologist group apologizes for its role in perpetuating racism

“APA sincerely and formally apologizes to communities of color for these actions and inactions,” the apology read.

The American Psychological Association issued an apology to people of color on Friday for its role in perpetuating systemic racism and discrimination in the U.S. 

“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,” APA President Jennifer F. Kelly said in a statement

The association called past attempts to apologize for its responsibility in upholding racism “unsuccessful.”

The resolution was adopted by APA's legislative body, which is made up of its board of directors, APA members representing various states and members who represent ethnic psychological associations.

"The governing body within APA should have apologized to people of color before today," the resolution stated. "The work done to make this apology to people of color a reality was led by the people and voices of a broad cross-section of today's APA—members, APA's elected and appointed leaders, and staff."

The resolution said APA leaders and staff are taking their “collective learnings” and assessments of the association’s past to issue an apology that will actually effect change. 

The resolution acknowledged that the origins of the discipline are rooted in “oppressive psychological science to protect Whiteness, White people and White epistemologies” and that in many ways the field was complacent in the exploitation of people of color. 

The professional association was founded in 1892 with the goal of advancing psychology as a science, but in its efforts to expand the field, it was also complicit in the denigration of communities of color, the resolution said. 

To address this, the apology chronicled the association’s nearly 130-year history with racism, starting with its promotion of eugenics. 

“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,” the resolution said. 

Developed in the 19th century, eugenics is a since-denounced practice that enforces a racial hierarchy. 

“APA rejects 'hegemonic science'—that is, research focused on identifying and reinforcing supposed hierarchies of human value based on a White-default—and will continue to oppose it through culturally responsive training, ethical/equity-focused approaches, peer review, and publications,” the resolution read. 

The apology later pointed out psychologists' support for and failure to speak out against the state-sanctioned lynchings of Black people, forced assimilation of Indigenous people, the criminalization of undocumented immigrants and the violence perpetuated by the "model minority" myth often used against Asian Americans.  

“APA sincerely and formally apologizes to communities of color for these actions and inactions,” the apology read. 

The association said it has committed to decentering whiteness in its “science, scholarship, and practice.” To back this up, APA will participate in an audit of all its equity, diversity and inclusion efforts, plus its staff, policies and practices, it said. The audit is set to conclude by early next year.

“In offering an apology for these harms, APA acknowledges that recognition and apology only ring true when accompanied by action; by not only bringing awareness of the past into the present but in acting to ensure reconciliation, repair, and renewal,” it read. 

The association said its three priorities when considering action steps include: culturally diverse knowledge production and scholarship, expanding opportunities for students and scholars of color and elevating clinical and health equity practices. 

“These resolutions are just the first steps in a long process of reconciliation and healing,” Kelly said. “This important work will set the path for us to make real change and guide the association and psychology moving forward.”

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