Turning reflection into meaningful action

Maia Thornton, Mary Keeling and Christine Ramsey-Wade on racism.

Since the murder of George Floyd, there has been time to reflect and educate ourselves. We must now turn these learnings into long-term, meaningful action, and commit to sustained change. 

Letters published in The Psychologist highlight the personal and professional impact of systemic racism and the depth of the issue within psychology. Although the Chief Executive’s statement held important reflections, there was a notable absence of any discussion of racial inequality in summer edition of The Psychologist. This suggests much more must be done to ensure this is not just a moment in history but, a sustained movement for change. 

Together we must examine and deconstruct racist systems across all areas of psychology. Efforts must be underpinned by the need to achieve equality of opportunity for and representation of racial minorities. Within this, an understanding of intersectionality must be integrated to make psychology an inclusive space for all. 

Academic institutions demonstrate enormous disparity in opportunities afforded white compared with BAME individuals. The majority of our Psychology departments are white; as such, aspiring psychologists of other ethnicities do not see themselves represented. This has to change. To diversify our departments, we must consider pathways into academic careers, identify existing systemically racist barriers and deconstruct them. 

In research, our regular processes must be redesigned. From conception to dissemination, energies should focus on making research accessible to and representative of minority groups, who are often excluded. It is important to commit to tangible changes across all stages of the research process. 

The concept of decolonising the curriculum will now be familiar to many. Diversifying the content of teaching and training is hugely important. When we considered who is currently represented in our teaching: the authors, theorists and populations under study, we see a whitewashed image. We must therefore rethink how we teach psychology. 

Many teaching structures are based on colonial hierarchical systems. These systems represent power imbalances between lecturer and student. When there is minimal, racial diversity represented within these positions of power, what message does this send to students from BAME backgrounds? 

The Chief Executive acknowledged the important work by the UCL clinical trainees around issues of race, power and privilege. Psychologists however, practice in many disciplines: counselling, clinical, health, forensic, educational, occupational, sports and consultancy. Our discussions about race and privilege should happen in all disciplines. 

Health inequalities were recently brought into sharp focus and it was particularly disappointing not to see a discussion of the disproportionate impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on BAME communities in the recent issue of The Psychologist. Psychologists must be engaged in this discussion and taking action. We can start by identifying barriers for BAME patients accessing and engaging with services (e.g. availability of services, lack of racial representation within healthcare teams) and then deconstruct and rebuild. 

We have a lot of work to do. It is imperative that we take this opportunity as a group of professionals and people to do better. The British Psychological Society is the representing society for psychologists in the UK. Therefore, across all our divisions, sections, groups and taskforces we must stand up and be accountable to make change happen. 

Maia Thornton, MBPsS

University of the West of England

Mary Keeling, CPsychol 

Christine Ramsey-Wade, CPsychol AFBPsS

Editor’s reply: In terms of the summer edition, early on in lockdown it was clear that it was going to be a real challenge to produce any issue at all, but we made the decision to attempt a combined July and August one which focused 100 per cent on the theme of ‘towards a new normal, and beyond’. Quite late on in that process, the killing of George Floyd and the protests happened. We decided to reflect BPS statements and some perspectives we received, along with a collection of archive links, at https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/standing-against-racism

 We did refer to BAME groups in the context of the pandemic a few times in that issue, but decided to delay broader coverage around racism until the September edition. Partly that was because it’s so important to get it right… and I’m far from convinced we’ve done that. This issue is an attempt to (re)ignite the conversation, and I get how frustrating that is for many people, i.e. ‘it’s just more talk’. We need people to come forward, with evidence-based and constructive contributions which move the conversation on. As you say, long-term, meaningful action and a sustained movement for change is key. But perhaps to get to that stage, it remains important (and acceptable?) to pause, reflect, listen; to consider what can be done from a specifically psychological perspective, as we redouble efforts to eliminate racism from our society.

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