'Racism Pandemic' -- American Psychological Association Releases Recommendations

People protest in support of “Black Lives Matter” in New York, N.Y., June 30, 2020. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

The American Psychological Association has released recommendations on how to address the country’s “racism pandemic” amid national backlash and civil unrest over several high-profile deaths of black Americans at the hands of police.

“We are living in a racism pandemic, which is taking a heavy psychological toll on our African American citizens,” APA President Sandra Shullman said in May, adding that racism is associated with “a host of psychological consequences.”

In a post published on the APA website Monday, Zara Abrams, who describes herself as a “freelance science journalist,” discusses how the recent police killings have motivated the organization’s leaders to redouble their efforts to “dismantle institutional racism over the long term, including within APA and the field of psychology.” The post also approvingly quotes Theopia Jackson, the president of the Association of Black Psychologists, on the responsibility of psychologists to foster sweeping societal changes.

“Every institution in America is born from the blood of white supremacist ideology and capitalism—and that’s the disease,” Theopia said.

Abrams also cites a letter that Shullman and APA CEO Arthur Evans wrote to their colleagues in June making the case that psychologists are faced with an “urgent challenge” to offer their expertise to address the “address the range of underlying problems these events represent from discrimination to racism, which have resulted in long-standing social, economic, and political inequalities, from police brutality, to the disproportionate spread of the coronavirus among black and brown people, to the soaring unemployment rates among communities of color.”

The group, the largest professional organization of psychologists in the U.S., says it is taking a three-pronged approach to address the issue that involves “broadly communicating psychological science on bias and racism,” developing recommendations through an APA task force focused on racial disparities in policing, and working to “dismantle institutional racism over the long term,” including within the APA itself.

The APA recommended that the controversial concept of “implicit bias” be included in the training of police officers in order to prevent discrimination against minorities in encounters with law enforcement. Some research have shown that implicit bias training is not significantly effective, while other studies suggested it can even increase bias in the workplace.

The organization, which represents more than 121,000 scientists, educators, clinicians, consultants, and students across the country, also encouraged psychologists to be active politically, including by contacting their lawmakers, volunteering for a cause or candidate, and speaking out on social media.

The APA has also been vocal in recent months on transgender issues, recommending puberty-blocking hormones for children with gender dysphoria in order to “buy younger children time to explore their gender identities” and prescribing surgery or hormones to masculinize or feminize the bodies of adolescents who have decided they identify as transgender.

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