If you’re wondering how swiftly and thoroughly the new ideology of antiracism has permeated American culture, the American Psychological Association offers a useful case study. This week, the organization issued a lengthy statement about what its president, Sandra Shullman, calls the “racism pandemic” in the United States.
It’s not the first time the APA has claimed the existence of such a pandemic. In a hyperbole-laden statement released just after the killing of George Floyd in May, Schullman said, “If you’re black in America—and especially if you are a black male—it’s not safe to go birding in Central Park, to meet friends at a Philadelphia Starbucks, to pick up trash in front of your own home in Colorado or to go shopping almost anywhere.”
Theopia Jackson, president of the Association of Black Psychologists, goes even further in the new statement, indicting not only Americans’ views on race but also the nation’s economic system: “Every institution in America is born from the blood of white supremacist ideology and capitalism—and that’s the disease,” she said. Capitalism as a disease is an interesting argument for someone like Jackson, who has made her living as a psychologist in private practice, an academic at a private graduate university, and a paid consultant and “trainer” on matters related to race, to make.
Then again, America has been a target-rich environment for psychologists seeking evidence of wrong-thinking lately. Last year, the APA decried the scourge of so-called “toxic masculinity” and urged the nation’s psychologists to do their best to combat “traditional masculinity” and all of the “heteronormative assumptions” that supposedly go with it.
For several years now, the APA has doubled down on ideologically inflected claims about race. APA videos about race feature people complaining about “microaggressions” and “stress” related to what they view as their “systemic” mistreatment, with little in the way of evidence to back those charges up. Individuals who experience such things are repeatedly told that they have little agency or responsibility for what happens to them: “[R]esponsibility for the alleviation of race-related stress is not within the individuals who experience it … this is our problem, all of us,” one psychologist says in an APA video.
As for people who might raise questions about the ideological overtones of such messaging or skepticism about some of the sweeping claims? The APA warns psychologists in its accompanying Instructor Discussion Guide about “underlying dynamics” such as “defensiveness about issues of privilege,” and “fear of responsibility for taking steps to end oppression.”
The APA goes so far as to state that “politeness” and “colorblindness”—the latter the principle for which civil rights activists like Martin Luther King, Jr., fought— should now be considered “social norms that can prevent open dialogue” about race. They describe colorblindness as “a powerful social norm focusing on the commonalities and sameness of all; however, this belief can diminish the value of those aspects of experience and identity that are shaped and informed by race.”
The APA’s hyperbole is part of a broader strategy pursued by the organization to use woke psychology to reeducate Americans about their racism. It’s a war with many fronts, evidently: The APA claims to be “cataloging and distributing literature and tools on racial bias to psychologists in a variety of roles, including instructors, clinicians, and school and organizational psychologists.” Their use of martial language is no accident: “Psychologists in the field need ammunition to fight racism,” Garrett-Akinsanya says. “And psychology has those answers.”
What practical effects do such programs have on their intended audience? Here’s an example of one APA-approved training program aimed at law enforcement: Psychologists, the APA claims, “help shape officer training programs, which should include guidance on how to demonstrate respect in a cultural context.” One psychologist who is paid to advise the Minneapolis Police Department “on issues of bias, critical incident support and mental health,” claimed, “eye contact is seen as respectful in some cultures and disrespectful in others.”
APA’s task force on race has also vowed: “to craft guidelines on how organizations can leverage psychological insights to conduct effective anti-racism training, which is likely to be a top priority.” Shawn Garrison, who directs consoling services at Morehouse School of Medicine, said, “That should include being very clear about systemic racism and how this system is designed specifically to be invisible to white people.”
The APA also encourages black Americans to see themselves as victims of “cultural trauma that has been going on for the past several hundred years,” and calls on psychologists to help with what California psychologist Myra Miller called the “transgenerational trauma within families.”
There is nothing wrong with encouraging psychologists to be as sensitive as possible to the concerns and needs of their patients, of course. But it’s an odd time for a professional organization like the APA to be amplifying collective guilt over the nation’s racial past when there is a dire need to help Americans of all races in the present.
The nation is reeling from the effects of a pandemic and resultant lockdowns that have left many Americans physically and economically at risk. It’s taken a terrible toll on mental health as well. A survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control this summer found a worrisome increase in substance abuse and suicidal ideation, and a decline in measures of mental well-being among Americans.
As for the APA’s claim that capitalism is part of the problem: Many businesses will never recover from the damage they’ve sustained, particularly in the cities where they had to endure not only pandemic-related lockdowns but also destructive rioters and looters. Those that might be able to crawl their way back will do so only because of America’s dedication to a system of free enterprise. A sclerotic and polarized federal government bloated by debt can only prop up the nation’s economy for so long.
In the midst of these crises, we should be emphasizing our commonalities as human beings and as Americans—not fetishizing our differences and viewing each other with the suspicion fostered by radical theories of race. Stoking division and encouraging collective guilt is not the way forward. For a professional organization that claims to have insight into how the mind works, the APA seems to have missed entirely the lessons of human nature.