Standing against racism
Read the BPS statement on racial injustice. See also our archive collection, and Chief Executive Sarb Bajwa on whether the Society is insitutionally racist.
Here, we gather some reflections from members / readers.
Enough is enough
Black lives have always mattered. In the last few weeks, it seems the world is experiencing a 'racial awakening', and only just catching up to the experiences and narratives Black individuals have been holding, long before another senseless death of an unarmed Black man.
We at the BACPG would like to reaffirm our position on our opposition to all forms of racism following the reported deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade and countless other people in the United States and the UK, including Belly Mujinga, Sarah Reed, Sheku Bayoh, Joy Gardner, Stephen Lawrence, Mark Duggan. In addition, we do not forget the deaths across the world that go unreported.
We also see the loss of so many lives in the healthcare sector and the ways in which Covid-19 has predominantly highlighted the ongoing structural, systemic and institutional racism that all people from ethnic minorities face at a disproportionate rate due to the nature of their roles and the manner in which they are exposed to Covid-19.
We are not conflating these separate incidences but highlight them together to demonstrate how racism permeates and impacts Black lives.
We would like to highlight the ongoing and enduring strain and emotional anguish that is felt by Black communities and how it aids in the causes of mental health issues and difficulties.
We stand in solidarity with all protesters in the US and the UK who have decidedly taken to the streets in protest during a pandemic, because in their words “No virus can harm us more than we are already being harmed", and we would like to register the pain in that statement of continuous existential threat.
During this time, we call for our Universities and training programs to specifically highlight the issues faced by minority ethnic communities in their training, so that we have an ongoing and ever-growing population of trainees and graduates who are aware and alert to the detrimental effects of these environmental oppressions when they appear in therapeutic spaces, and more importantly, how these issues can be tackled effectively.
We also call for our Universities and training programmes to look specifically at the ways in which their lecturers and educators are attuned to these issues, how they support their ethnic minority members of staff and trainees to deliver appropriate training and specifically dedicate continuous modules to non-western perspectives on mental health and psychotherapy.
We require an ongoing commitment to understanding our demographic breakdowns from applicant to graduate level across all training programmes in order to identify areas for development and to comprehensively commit to positive change so that more Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic trainees have access to qualification as Practitioner Psychologists and that they are supported throughout their training.
We also call for the BPS to review its own position with regards to race and racism following high profile incidents that took place at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 within the BPS, and how it plans to concretely address the learning outcomes of the investigations conducted at a structural level.
Of course, the responsibility is not just within our training organisations and the BPS, although they have a huge part to play, and we acknowledge the statement by Society President David Murphy. It also falls on seasoned practitioners in the way that they work with clients knowingly and unknowingly. Everyone needs to examine their actions and bias they hold in this arena. It is not the responsibility of the ethnic minority communities to effect shifts in the behaviours of many who perpetuate racial and cultural discrimination.
We reiterate our commitment to standing against racism and its damaging effects. This falls to all of us. Enough is enough.
- British Psychological Society's Division of Counselling Psychology Black and Asian Counselling Psychologists' Group
A deafening silence
During this time of unrest as a result of distress within the BAME community, the silence of my colleagues has been deafening. Despite the global impact of the tragedy that occurred in the United States over the past week, my non-BAME colleagues have been silent. I question whether this silence is an expression of scant regard for the trauma that is common within the BAME community; the more morbid, compliance with the injustice faced by the BAME community and those who commit these injustices or, whether it is merely a symptom of a larger illness, that being, a debilitating discomfort to communicate cross-racially that becomes more apparent in times of crisis. The media has covered much of what has been expressed by the black community but not much is publicized about the sentiments of those in white and mixed households. As for the work environment, what I do know is that almost two weeks later, there has been no official or unofficial mention of this significant psychological and social experience by my work ‘family’ - peers and supervisors alike. This is particularly troubling and here is why.
The tragedy in America has resonated in BAME communities everywhere including Britain. In Britain, we speak a lot about diversity at work, but this has felt like a checkbox activity. Traversing the British work environment is often marred by the reoccurring feeling of being placed in a position whereby my black/brown skin is being used to satisfy a quota for the gain of a system that does not truly benefit me. I will attempt to explain further.
When people of colour are placed in positions where there are clearly no avenues for development, or positions that are not meaningful and considerate of our specific needs, we know that we are there to fulfil a quota. We know that somewhere, someone is ticking a box to demonstrate to stakeholders that they have considered diversity and ‘yes’ they have BAME staff on board. When social issues that affect us are being fervently discussed in the media but ignored or given little priority at work, the underlying message received is that we as BAME staff are undeserving of anything further than our place on the organisation’s roster. We have already done that which we were needed to do – make the organisation appear diverse. From then onwards, we know that it is preferred that we shut up and work. The transaction between BAME staff and the organisation then is, work and optics in exchange for a salary. It is confusing to our non-BAME colleagues when we do raise issues of discontent because our purpose was not to have a voice and no further thought was given to our well-being as human beings in a workforce past allowing human resources to place that check mark in that diversity box. Is the proportion of BAME staff who appear before disciplinary boards not alarming? Have you ever considered, not assumed, but truly considered why this is?
Being black or brown is the sole determinant of our usefulness. Does that sound familiar? Is this why I have not heard from my white colleagues? Maybe they don’t know what to say to me. This is perhaps because they have not thought it important to get to know me well enough. How then can one feel comfortable checking in on me at such a sensitive time. Does this speak to an issue of organisational culture within Britain? Does it speak to an issue of the overall culture within Britain? Or, does it speak just to an issue of regard for ethnic minorities within Britain? Whatever it represents, the time has come when we should take note. My colleagues who hold the power in this dynamic should consider nurturing such relationships to exist both on and off written company policy. I am almost envious of the support that my white counterparts receive after a personal tragedy or a tough work experience. This only reminds me that this support exists, yet, why is it not offered to me in a meaningful way? What my colleagues do know about me is that I have brown/black skin, but my fears and anguish at a time such as now somehow seems foreign.
When I am used for my black/brown skin this says to me that who I am as a person is not important. It says that you do not care about my talent, ambition or my views and what you need is my body of black/brown skin with an ability to work; sound familiar? My first meeting as a registered psychologist was with a man who had a history of racist verbal abuse. This behaviour was well documented, yet this was the first person referred to me as a new registered psychologist. No one spoke to me about this, no one asked me how I felt after this meeting because these issues are not important in the eyes of my colleagues and my supervisor. It does not matter how many programs you think are available to me in the workplace; it is your support, thoughtfulness and understanding of my historical and present racial experiences that would be the most helpful. I require the same support that you give to those colleagues who look like you.
Your silence now reinforces our beliefs about how you think of your BAME colleagues and the purpose we serve in your organizations.
And if you wonder why this is anonymous; yes, today, I am a coward and I am afraid that my situation at work would only get worse. This lack of feeling safe to voice that which affects me is what keeps you stuck as ‘part of the problem’. Sound familiar?
- Anonymous Psychologist and Colleague
It happened four thousand miles away, some people and newspapers say.
However the oppression, brutalisation and trauma transcend time and space, and are relentlessly present in the lives of black people, here in the UK.
The time we and our ancestors have given, waiting for our humanity to be acknowledged and represented in social equality and change.
Yet, this continues to be a promise undelivered, denied, with conscious efforts made to keep black people and justice estranged.
So many are content to turn their eyes and hearts away from, or ‘justify’ our suffering and pain.
Systemic racism often moves in the shadows, at other times in plain sight of day.
It always inflicts indescribable pain and trauma along its way.
Its insidious roots and branches are deep and far reaching.
But for many our testimonies, calls and cries for action and change, are rejected and claimed to be unwarranted preaching.
Familiar words spoken, which ‘other’, change the focus, and assign to us the personal blame.
The searing silence and efforts of some to protect their fragility, privilege, and the systems that support it, that for them, things can remain the same.
George’s anguished face on the pavement, an image that cannot be shaken.
I stand weary, just how many more lives must be taken?
The perpetrators saw no value in his black life, enabling his humanity to be mercilessly forsaken.
We bear witness, hearts broken, our souls howl in pain.
The pain is so deep, raw and visceral, that it stirs our ancestors in their sacred resting plane.
We weep and ask ‘will things always be the same’?
How much longer will the ruling majority continue to stamp its foot on our necks, and sanction us being murdered and maimed?
While observing these historical patterns, our collective humanity bows its head in shame. It is hard not to fall into a dark pit of hopelessness and despair.
But my faith, my people and our allies lift my heart and spirit, as we speak up, show up and stand in mutual solidarity, while all committing to do our share.
I know for us equality, justice, freedom and peace will never be served up on a platter.
However our birth right inherently and unequivocally decrees that BLACK LIVES MATTER!!!
THIS MUST END
In honour of our ancestors and those most recently fallen – Rest in Power and Peace George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Ahbery & Belly Mujinga.
- Halina Bryan
A matter of public health and safeguarding
The Covid-19 pandemic, has affected everyone. No-one is untouched, but we are not all in the same boat. One pandemic has revealed another – that of inequality.
The stark inequalities in health and social conditions have become more transparent. The unfolding story of disproportionate deaths in Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities is disturbing. Whilst it is not completely clear why, social inequality and the impacts of racism are a big part of the story. The pattern of disproportionate deaths amongst people from Black and ethnic minorities has been repeated elsewhere, with brutal inequalities becoming visible in the USA.
Against the backdrop of the global pandemic, the recent killing of George Floyd has sparked a huge wave of global protest. The strength of feeling about his killing is enormous, and has been hugely affecting. It has been triggering for many people of colour, who are deeply distressed or angry about what is happening. Many people, myself included, are thinking about the impacts of racism in their own lives, both in the past, and in current, everyday life.
I am from a mixed heritage background, my parents married in the late 1960’s. Recent events have made me remember the racism they faced as a couple, and which we faced as children growing up. Racial slurring, stereotyping, acts of aggression, invisibility, hyper-visibility, and chronic fear of being in social spaces are corrosive experiences. Not being able to have these experiences acknowledged is corrosive, and not being properly understood by services which are meant to help you, is corrosive.
None of us alive today were born when racism was invented – or any other forms of oppression - such as sexism, homophobia or ableism. We are not personally responsible for creating these oppressive forces. However, we do have a responsibility to dismantle them, because they cause such harm. The responsibility for dismantling these harmful systems is a shared endeavour, not just the responsibility of people from BAME backgrounds. It involves engaging in an active commitment to anti-racist practice; in particular, paying attention to intersectionality, hierarchies of privilege and addressing the toxic effects of anti-blackness.
Whilst unconscious bias training may be useful to raising an awareness of stereotyping and heuristics, it is not proving sufficient to change inequalities for people from BAME communities, either as service-users or providers. Psychology has work to do to get its own house in order, as does the NHS, in terms of addressing workforce issues. Processes which may seem ‘fair’ simply cannot be, if we see continue to see a lack of proportionate representation of minoritised groups at senior or very senior levels of the NHS. This needs to change if we are going to serve the public in any meaningful way. Serving the public means serving the whole public, and asking who we are not seeing and taking active steps to improve access to, and acceptability of services. We await further detail regarding the controversial inquiry into the deaths of people from BAME communities during Covid, but questions are being asked about structural racism.
Reducing inequalities involves reducing racism and hate.
Racism impacts upon the physical and mental health of people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups. It impacts on life chances. Professor David Williams has written and spoken extensively on how racism makes people sick. Those who face racism are variously under-served, mis-served or harshly treated within public systems. For instance, there were 839 uses of stun guns against children under 18 years old in 2018; of these, a disproportionate number were children from BAME backgrounds, particularly in London. Recent reports into the disproportionate deaths of people from BAME backgrounds has shown an intersecting picture of low paid work, overcrowding and generally poorer health (IFS) and appears connected to a wider story about inequality and racism.
As applied psychologists, we have a responsibility to ensure that discriminatory processes and prejudiced narratives do not sit unnoticed or unchallenged within our institutions. This will involve processes which involve macro level or structural change, and actively engaging in work around improving equality and diversity, such as through NHS England’s Work Race Equality Standards (WRES).
But the work also requires personal and emotional labour. This means taking personal responsibility for educating ourselves about anti-racist practice, including the perspectives of writers such as bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Kimberlé Crenshaw and Angela Davis. It means an active engagement with thinking about whiteness and the hierarchies of relative privilege which that affords (see Robin DiAngelo for an introduction).
As psychologists, we can also focus on strategies which help with the ‘micro’ level stuff – micro-activism – to intervene when experiencing those relationally based incidences of discriminatory thinking, which when unchallenged, shape culture at an everyday level, and which can make spaces either inclusive or exclusionary (Islam & Rouf, in prep). In other words, developing strategies to disrupt and intervene in everyday racism which characterise the daily experience of people of colour. Micro-activism is rooted in our personal and professional values and ethics. It can disrupt and interrupt harmful narratives, show alliance and can change the embedded nature of racism, challenge micro-aggressions as an ally, and other intersecting prejudices which occur in the moment. People often experience such oppressions at an everyday level, in the social and work spaces which they move in. It is helpful to have strategies to break the silence around this, and to disrupt and interrupt unhealthy patterns, assumptions and decisions which are potentially injurious. This includes recognising the strategies and devices which power uses to protect itself – inertia; defensiveness; policing tone; distraction etc (see Saad, 2020: Me and white supremacy: how to recognise your privilege, combat racism and change the world).
And given the level of harm caused by racism – is it acknowledged as a cause of ill health or damage for people of colour?
Having scanned Working Together to Safeguard Children and Young People (2018), there is no mention of racism as a cause of potential harm to children and young people. Many documents often refer to cultural needs, some refer to British values; there does not appear to be a particular spotlighting on the damage which racism does, nor whether institutions are helpfully serving the needs of all communities. It is also of deep concern that the Public Sector Equality Duty has been suspended during Covid-19, and whilst there is a request for NHS trusts to report on equality data if possible – in reality, if it is not mandatory it is unlikely to happen.
We can’t hide from the impact of the pandemic, nor the truths it has revealed about who has been hit hardest. If we really believe that human beings are equal, and we value everyone, then we cannot be silent about racism and discrimination. The level of harm caused to people from BAME communities should be now be regarded as a matter of public health and safeguarding across the lifespan. It is a distressing time, but it is also one which has the opportunity for structural change, not surface change. We must not lose the moment.
Dr Khadija Rouf
Consultant Clinical Psychologist
Chair, BPS Safeguarding Advisory Group
With thanks to Dr Nargis Islam, Academic and Clinical Psychologist, Independent and Clinical Tutor at UEL, for her contributions on ‘micro-activism’ in the writing of this article.
Rename the Spearman Medal?
I was pleased to see the British Psychological Society's statement reaffirming its committent to anti-racism following the killing of George Floyd. It is clear that commitments to anti-racism within psychology, and to fighting racial injustice in society more broadly, are urgently needed.
As a small part of this, the BPS should rename one of its most prestigious prizes – the Spearman Medal – given that it is named after eugenicist Charles Spearman.
Spearman does not seem to have been a proudly overt racist like his UCL predecessors Francis Galton and Karl Pearson, but as a fellow of the Eugenics Society of London he certainly knowingly facilitated a lot of racist thinking that we are still battling today, while expressing some deeply troubling eugenist views ("One can even conceive the establishment of a minimum [intelligence] index to qualify for parliamentary vote, and, above all, for the right to have offspring", Hart and Spearman, 1912).
People from times past leave complex legacies, and it is left to subsequent generations to make sense of the fact they may have made contributions we all benefit from (for example, Spearman's statistical methods) while also being divisive and harmful.
Awards, however, should represent the best of what the Society wishes to promote. The current name is not fit for purpose and the award should carry a name that everyone would be proud to be associated with.
Dr Vaughan Bell, UCL
Hart B, Spearman C (1912) General ability, its existence and nature. British Journal of Psychology, 5, 51-84.
Editor's note: We sought a Society response only to Dr Bell's letter at this stage…
Society response: ‘We want to thank Dr Bell for raising this important issue, and for his constructive suggestion. We will be raising this with the relevant Society board and we continue to welcome further reflections from our members.’
Rachel Dufton, Director of Communications and Engagement
We must act to decolonise Psychology
In the last few decades, as light is shed on racial inequality throughout most of the globe, students and academics have organised debates on the decolonisation of the psychology curriculum to advocate for profound social change within the discipline. However, the discussion seems to fail to be transformed into concrete changes to the curriculum. It is a topic that is continually falling off the radar. During my educational and academic life, I have struggled with the lack of diversity in psychology. To this date as a lecturer, I ask myself whether psychology is for me. Can I make it in my field? As I look around me, there are still a few Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) academics in senior positions. From the research topic to the participants, psychology is not a welcoming environment for minorities.
Ramon Grosfoguel (2016) defines racism as ‘a dehumanisation related to the materiality of domination used by the world-system in the zone of non-being (violence and dispossession) as opposed to the materiality of domination in the zone of being (regulation and emancipation)'. How many institutions teach Frantz Fanon theory? How many courses teach the compliant history of psychology in oppressing minorities? How many courses debate the errors of psychological theory such as Drapetomania? The material domination of the curriculum in psychology is perpetuated by violently dispossessing learner from these and many other debates. Psychology students must be given the opportunity to engage with the political, socioeconomic and cultural contradictions that interact to diminish people's lives, such as systemic racism.
Psychology’s focus on implicit bias, small discriminatory acts are all too often understood as unconscious, offering a convenient and unwelcomed distraction to tackle prejudice. With discrimination as seen as implicit bias, regardless of whether the evidence to show that such behaviour is unconscious still contested. It is also a disturbing feature of everyday interaction.
The negative impact that psychological theories and practices have had on minority groups has been further exacerbated by the failure of the bodies that oversee the discipline to recognise the key, distinctive cultural and social determinants that contribute to forming the subject. As the British Psychological Society oversees the university's course for validation, the BPS could also ask for evidence as for what are psychology departments across the country doing to decolonise their curriculum. By decolonising the curriculum, I mean the fundamental reconsideration of who is teaching, what the subject matter is and how it is being taught. To illustrate, a report from the University and College Union stated that in the 2016-17 academic year 25 black women were recorded as working as professors compared to 14,000 white men.
Psychology practitioners, from therapy to teaching, must critically examine our assumptions about how the world is, such as, assumptions on racial and civilisational hierarchy that has informed the subject thinking. The interrogating of the assumptions, models and frameworks for specific biases within psychology is long overdue. Henrich, Heine and Norenzayan (2010) argued that individuals from Western, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic countries. make up the bulk of samples in psychological research. It forms distorted generalisations about human behaviour overall since although 80 per cent of research participants are from this context representing 12 per cent of the world's population.
The BPS could release guidelines to encourage psychology practitioners to be committed to cultural awareness and knowledge of both self and others. Psychologists must recognise their attitudes and beliefs, the importance of multicultural sensitivity and understanding, the value of researching persons from various ethnic, linguistic and racial minority backgrounds, and the importance of this cultural competence in clinical practice. The aim must be building a decolonised psychology curriculum, pedagogy, research, practice, and governance. A cultural shift must be institutional by promoting diversity in the representation in, research in, and the practice of psychology through faculties, publications, conferences, grants and the decolonisation of the curriculum.
Bruno De Oliveira - AFHEA, FRSA
M.A. in Community Psychology
University of Brighton
Barnes, B., & Siswana, A. (2018). Psychology and decolonisation: Introduction to the special issue. South African Journal of Psychology, 48(3), 297-298.
Bulhan, H. A. (2004). Frantz Fanon and the psychology of oppression. Springer Science & Business Media.
Fanon, F., Julien, I., Nash, M., & Salmon, C. (1995). Frantz Fanon: Black skin, white mask. San Francisco, Cal.: California Newsreel.
Greenwald, A. G., Banaji, M. R., & Nosek, B. A. (2015). Statistically small effects of the Implicit Association Test can have societally large effects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108(4), 553–561. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspa0000016
Grosfoguel, R. (2016). What is racism? Journal of World-Systems Research, 22(1), 9-15.
Henrich, J., Heine, S. J., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). Most people are not WEIRD. Nature, 466(7302), 29-29.
Keith, K. D. (Ed.). (2018). Culture across the curriculum: A psychology teacher's handbook. Cambridge University Press.
Reflections from a BAME psychologist working with diverse communities
Recent events and the Black Lives Matter movement has triggered a change of energy nationally, bringing it to the forefront of many people’s minds, including my own. It’s led me to reflect on my own practice, contributions and role as an Educational Psychologist working with diverse communities. Reflection is a key aspect of our work in promoting social justice and positive outcomes for children and young people. I don’t usually speak about my work on social media, but the recent events has encouraged us all to be brave, and so I wanted to share my insight as a BAME psychologist and some social and cultural implications from carrying out my doctorate research.
My research adopted a family resilience perspective to explore the views, stories and experiences of Black and Minority Ethnic parents raising a child with autism. Existing literature focuses predominantly on the negative experiences of culture and raising a child with autism in a Western society. In contrast, family resilience stems from positive psychology and shifts thinking to strength-based approaches that can reframe problem focused narratives around race and culture.
The research emphasised families’ strengths and processes that enabled them to thrive. The findings illustrated how pathways of resilience are dependent on the quality of relationships, a diverse set of values and beliefs, resources, obstacles and sense of purpose. They endorsed the belief that experiences are not culture free, and in order to effectively listen and understand different cultures, it is necessary to become more sensitised to others experiences and embed this understanding within our outlook and responses to others. It highlighted the importance of being culturally aware by having culturally sensitive and constructive conversations in order to work towards shared understandings. This is particularly relevant to an awareness of how our backgrounds may differ from people we interact with on a daily basis.
The research revealed that in order to go beyond a tokenistic glance at race and culture, reflection needs be applied at different levels. This is needed so that we can recognise and manage underlying power imbalances that might persist. We would need to recognise the impact race and culture has on our own decision making and responses. At a less conspicuous level, we need to be introspective, being aware of cultural assumptions and the nuances that exist, recognising our own biases and blind spots and therefore explicitly locating our position in relation to others. At a more active level, this would mean reading, listening and actively engaging in discussions with others, while adopting an explicitly self-aware, open minded and curious position throughout.
Implications from my research alongside the current discourse, has driven me to re- evaluate my contributions as a psychologist. It has reminded me of the value in encouraging, enabling and empowering individuals to share their views and perspectives. It has given me a chance to turn this experience into something meaningful by raising the awareness of cultural reflection and collaboration in order to strengthen school, family and community partnerships. It has opened up opportunities to work with schools to turn the disjointed and distant feelings from lockdown, to a chance to rebuild communities and develop resilience as they connect and recover.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and thanks to my partner and my parents for encouraging me to take the plunge and share my thoughts. As part of the psychologist community, I look forward to being able to reflect on these issues together.
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