Black psychology in itself is a rich existing area field. Although many argue that it does not exist, the reality is different. Black psychology is as defined by Karenga "...essentially the science that systematically studies behavior in its relationship to the complexity of mental, emotional, physical and environmental factors that shape it." (pg.439) Bottom line, it is the way Black people think, act, and socialize. In the context of this paper I will discuss what Black psychology is, its origins, the various schools of thought and the contributors to the field.
Black psychology is the project of overall Black understanding of self, society, and the world. It not only focuses on the arrangement and functioning of personality but also points to the possibilities of its unlimited expansion/interaction on a social level. The interest of Black psychology revolve around the development of a field that studies the behavioral patterns of Black persons and seeks to alter them into self-conscious agents of their mental liberation. The above stated came forth through an acute critique and rejection of white psychology in terms of its methodological conclusions and the ideological premises it tests.
Black psychology has its origins in the 1920’s when Francis Summer became the first Black Ph.D. in psychology. Blacks were fed up with the racist charges of inferiority and felt they needed to make a change, they began to publish research to disprove those charges. Black psychologists began to push for stronger departments of psychology in Black schools, in an attempt to provide better psychological knowledge and services to the Black community. The Black psychologists caucus was established with the goals of promoting and teaching psychology in Black schools, to encourage study, to explore and exchange, to set up credentials for psychology teachers, and to aid Black institutions in training and selecting psychologists. In the 60’s the resurgence of Black Nationalism and its Black Power expression encouraged Black caucuses within traditionally white oriented professional institutions. In 1968 the association of Black Psychologists (ABP) was founded because of the criticism of the American Psychological Association (APA). The APA was said to have a limited vision and an unconscious cooperation of the racially prejudiced character of American society. In the 1970s the first publications in the area of Black psychology appeared. They felt that; "Black psychologist...have finally broken the symbolic relationship with white psychology." (Pg. 443) Black psychology has set forth new definitions, conceptual models, and test theories that come from the heart of the Black experience. The history of the Association of Black Psychologist (ABP) indicate the development of divergent but overlapping schools of Black psychology, these schools are the traditional, reformist, and radical schools.
There are three major schools of thought; I will discuss each thought and its major contributors. The traditional school is classified by its vigilant and reactive position, its lack of solicitude/concern for the advancement of Black psychology and its continual collaboration with the Euro-centric model (with minor changes). The schools concern with altering white attitudes, and its being fundamentally significant without offering substantive correctives. The major contributors to this field are; Kenneth Clark, William Grier and Price Cobbs, and Alvin Poussaint. K. Clark was the first and only Black man to be president of the APA, he established himself with the citation of his work on the destructive effects of segregation by the U.S. Supreme Court in its historical Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954. W. Grier and P. Cobbs are most popular for their work Black Rage; it proposes some of the basic contentions of the traditionalist school. They established the notion of Black rage, and later rationalized its origins and expressions. The effects of what Grier and Cobbs call the shadows of the past (i.e. slavery) were established, they claim that by means of oppression the psyche of Black men is now distorted. They declare that Black men have survived through adoptions of both positive and negative dimensions in society. Finally, Alvin Poussaint investigated the topics of Black suicide, Black sexuality, Black Power, and the proposition to white parents on how to raise their children free of prejudice. He uncovered his thoughts in his work, Why Blacks Kill Blacks, where he goes on to give reason for Black on Black crime. Poussaint believes there are four major reasons for this type of crime; "1) The American cultural experience that teaches ‘crime and violence as a way to success and manhood;’ 2)the fact that ‘Americans respect violence and often will not respond to just demands except through violence; as with the revolts; 3) the sense of power that violence gives the oppressed; and 4) dehumanizing transformation in incarceration which perpetuates the cycle of violence."(Pg. 445)
The next school is the reformist school; it represents a period of historical evolution as well as current bearing. It sustains some concern for white attitudes and behavior but concentrates more on the change in public policy than on simply attitudinal change. This school originated to encourage an Afro-centric psychology but still combines it with traditional focus on appeal for change that ostensibly benefits Blacks, whites, and society overall. Some of the major contributors to this school are; Charles Thomas, Joseph White, and William Cross. C. Thomas is one of the founders of the ABP, he played a major role in shaping the early moves of Black psychology from the negatives of traditional school. He emphasizes that social scientist have a responsibility for changing Black conditions, also he argues the significance of the ethnocentrism factor (the focus and pride in a persons bio-social identity). Thomas poses deficient deficit modeling as an important setback of Black psychology in terms of its implications for public policy and self-actualization. J. White wrote a very important piece of literature in the 70’s he argues that traditional psychology uses an Anglo middle-class frame of reference, which is true. This led him to believe that a Black frame of reference was needed and it would enable Black psychologist to come up with a more accurate explanation for "Black life". The final contributor to the reformist school of psychology is W. Cross; he was concerned with the notion of "Negro-to-Black" conversion, in other words the process of becoming Black.
The Radical school is the last I will discuss; this school makes no appeal to whites and directs their attention to Black people in terms treatment and transformation. They are developing a psychology that has its roots in the African worldview which is opposite to the European worldview. The members of this school are socially conscious theorists who advocate self-conscious participation of Black psychologists and Black people. Some contributors to this field are; Na’im Akbar, Joseph Baldwin, Linda James Myers, Wade Nobles, Frances Cress Wesling, Amos Wilson, and Bobby Wright. All of these psychologists go on to show their view of psychology and apply/trace them back to African culture. "Her thrust is to define and implement as a critical framework for understanding and achieving maximum mental health a theory of psychology rooted in and reflective of African culture."(Pg 455) Everything is correlated with Afro-centrisism and African Philosophy; Wilson poses that the study of Blacks should begin in Africa not slavery.
In conclusion, even though many argue against the existence of Black psychology, it is very much so existent-and Karenga proves it. Through the presentation of the three schools of psychology and their major contributors, there is no doubt that the field of Black psychology exists.