American Psychological Association apologizes for role in perpetuating systemic racism

The American Psychological Association has issued a statement apologizing to people of color for the scientific and professional organization's role — and the role of psychology — in promoting, perpetuating and failing to challenge racism.

"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 apology states. "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 American Psychological Association's Council of Representatives adopted a resolution Oct. 29 that "focuses on acknowledging the roles of psychology and APA in promoting, perpetuating and failing to challenge racism, and the harms that have been inflicted on communities of color as a result."

The apology acknowledges that "since its origins as a scientific discipline in the mid-19th century, psychology has, through acts of commission and omission, contributed to the dispossession, displacement and exploitation of communities of color." It also acknowledged that many white male leaders who established the American Psychological Association "contributed to scientific inquiry and methods that perpetuated systemic racial oppression, including promoting the ideas of early 20th century eugenics; Eugenics is defined as the idea that racial differences and hierarchies are biologically based and fixed, and was used to support segregation, sterilization and antimarriage laws."

The American Psychological Association said its Council of Representatives also adopted two additional resolutions Oct. 29, one related to the organization's and psychology's role moving forward in dismantling systemic racism and another related to advancing health equity in psychology. The organization is directing its CEO "to develop a plan to prioritize, operationalize and ensure accountability for achieving the goals" identified in the former resolution. The plan is expected to be presented to the Council of Representatives by August 2022.

"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, PhD, said in a news release. "These resolutions are just the first steps in a long process of reconciliation and healing. 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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