Signposting to BME psychological and anti-racist work

Glen Jankowski argues that we are overlooking BME psychologists and their work.

Many of us are aware of psychology’s historical racism.

For example, in May 1990 The Psychologist published Phillipe Rushton’s research purporting to show Black people were less intelligent, less law abiding and had greater STIs compared to other races. But we must be careful not to assume our discipline’s racism is a thing of the past. Today most published psychology papers are edited by westerners (99%) written by westerners (99%) and use only westerners as participants (93%; Arnett, 2008; Heinrich et al., 2010).

Even our teaching is overwhelmingly white and western. Recently I and colleagues at Leeds Beckett University coded the ethnicity, nationality and gender of every author of every reading we set from the module handbooks of our BSc Psychology Hons course. Across the three years of our course we set 215 readings written by 380 authors in the 2015-16 academic year.

What we found was disturbing. Our reading was overwhelming White (96%), Western (99%) and/or male (64%).

The module that I set reading for was no better than any other. As a senior lecturer in the department who thought himself critical of psychology including its racism, it seemed I was more talk than action.

Our course team works hard for our students. We teach both innovative (more mainstream) psychology as well as critical psychology and I have come to see the presence of both as a gift to our students. We have a strong feminist foundation (which the above content analysis highlighted the importance of, 64% of authors were male) and staff that generally strive to be sensitive to structural oppression regardless of what they teach.

So to be clear then this is by no means a problem specific to our institution. Indeed there is a whole movement, Why Is My Curriculum White, dedicated to highlighting and decolonizing whiteness in higher education globally.

The problems with this should be obvious. With this reading, we’re overlooking BME psychologist’s work, we’re teaching content that is less likely to show how racism relates to health, development or our social world (or any of the stuff psychology professes to explain) and more simply we are not teaching the psychology of people but the psychology of white, western (and often male) people.

Brilliant work by BME psychologists like Mamie and Kenneth Clark’s (1939) doll study on education segregation or Claude Steele’s and Joshua Aronson’s (1995) stereotype threat research uses psychology to show how racism affects learning, development, performance and other psychology related topics.

Myself and other Leeds Beckett colleagues have therefore set up a website (www.bmepsychology.com) signposting to such BME psychological and anti-racist work. But we need help. If you know any of the many BME psychologists we have doubtlessly missed, please add them to our archive. If you are willing to share anti-racist teaching materials or would like to use them then please do.

Glen Jankowski

Leeds Beckett University

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thanks for raising this issue Glen,Prof. Nimisha Patel has been raising this issue for years at UEL and we have a recent publication in the SAJP on this: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0081246317722099 Dr. Nicholas Wood