Chapter 1 African-Centered Psychology in the Modern Era
The guiding principle to the book is African Americans have a unique, coherent, and persistent psychological perspective or worldview. The book is not anti-white, nor does it claim all black people are the same. In addition, African Americans have a unique culture influenced by its African roots, not white oppression.
The African worldview starts with a holistic view of the human condition. The view asserts there is no mind/body duality, and the basic unit is the tribe. Africans live in the present moment with a reverence for the past. In African languages, there is no term for the distant future. Africans revere the spoken word along with their ancestors. Ancestor worship and reverence leads Africans to view death as another stage of life. Living in harmony with nature undergirds their value system.
The study of psychology started in Africa, but it was very different than its modern conception. In Africa, the study of psychology was the study of spirit, defined as will and intent. Western Psychology is a perverted version of the original and focuses on quantifiable human behavior. When one starts by measuring behavior without understanding underlying motivations, differences are seen as deficiencies. Dr. Parham believes that a fundamental misunderstanding of what culture is could be to blame. Culture is a complex constellation of mores, values, customs, traditions, and practices that guide and influence a people’s cognitive, affective, and behavioral responses to life circumstances. Many have inappropriately equated culture with food, music, and clothing.
Because many white psychologists don’t understand culture and how their own culture affects their behavior, they can’t understand the difference between the behavior of blacks and whites. This misunderstanding leads to the presumption that blacks are deficient instead of different. Some white analysts believed that blacks were inferior due to genetics and the inferiority could not be corrected. Others believed blacks were inferior because of oppression and could be reformed with proper rehabilitation. Dr. Parham takes the multi-cultural perspective that all groups have strengths and weaknesses.
Psychological health for black people is dependent on understanding and living your true African nature.
Chapter 2: The African American Family
As stated in the earlier chapter, psychology generally judged blacks by how closely they resembled whites. The family was no different. The black family was considered dysfunctional and a hotbed of various pathologies.
No one evaluated how black families developed in light of the different conditions that they faced. It is no secret that the black family is statistically more likely to be headed by a single parent, usually the mother. However, no one looked at how black extended family networks often shoulder the load of a missing parent. The community generally is more collaborative in child-rearing. The tendency toward collective struggle originated in Africa and never left our community.
Dr. Parham questions whether the white researchers weren’t purposefully painting the black family in a negative light to justify blacks inferior social position. Propagating the idea that blacks were inherently inferior would justify not implementing social policies to help black people. In reality, all families should be judged how they help members build a positive self-concept and face the burdens of life.
Chapter 3: The Struggle for Identity Congruence in African Americans
To create a realistic and positive concept of self, one must ask three questions:
- Who am I?
- Am I who I say I am?
- Am I who I ought to be?
Western Psychology has not aided black people in asking these three questions. Originating with the Clark Doll test of the 1940s, psychology has viewed black people as self-haters. A group of people that have fundamental low self-esteem because whites won’t validate them.
The problem with the early “self-hate” models is that it assumed that black people only seek the validation of whites. Many blacks value the opinion of their peers above any outsider. The identity of black people is not totally the result of oppression. Much of what makes blacks unique can be traced to Africa. However, many black people need to grow into the knowledge of themselves.
The process of becoming black is called “Nigrescence.” The word Nigrescence derives from French and means “becoming black.” The theory states that people grow in the knowledge of self in several stages. The stages are listed as:
- Pre-encounter: a person has never been faced with the race problem and sees themselves as part of mainstream America. Their orientation is pro-white and anti-black. They downplay their uniqueness to assimilate into mainstream culture.
- Encounter: one is confronted with race through discrimination. A person realizes the world will not simply see them as a human being. If psychological defense against adverse stimuli is low, a person is more likely to move to the next stage. If it is high, a person could need many more encounter experiences to move to the next stage.
- Immersion-Emmersion: one immerses themselves in black culture to emerge a new person. The Immersion-Emmersion stage can manifest as joining black political and cultural movements or just going to black spaces.
- Internalization: one accepts their ethnic identities with all their other identities and saliences. One can continue to stay in black groups and space, but one is also comfortable venturing out into the rest of the world. Security and confidence fortify their identity, and adverse stimuli do not cause much psychological damage.
Dr. William Cross created the original theory. Dr. Parham made a few adjustments to the original theory. They are:
- Everyone doesn’t start at Pro-white anti-black. Many in culturally supportive environments can start at pro-black
- It is possible that people stagnate in one phase, move up in stages in a linear fashion, or recycle through phase serval times in life as they face new encounter situations.
Parham also states that a person in the pre-encounter should not be given a black therapist. Those in pre-encounter don’t believe other black people could have the expertise or ability to treat them.
Once a person develops a healthy understanding of their ethnicity, they will naturally want to aid in the freedom struggle of their people. The African idea of consubstantiation, the principle that all things are of the same substance, will permeate their life. All acts of transgression to other people will be seen as an act of transgression against self. A healthy, supportive lifestyle will result from a healthy self-concept.
Chapter 4: Blacks and Education
It is no secret blacks lag far behind in statistics on education. At the same time, tests show that black and white children have similar cognitively, sensory, and motor skills early in life. So the question then becomes how and in what ways is the current education system underserving the black community.
Education is a collaborative effort between the school, parents, and the greater community. Dr. Parham has a prescription for improving institutions that educate black children.
The school should work with teachers to help them understand how their exceptions of students affect the students’ success. According to several studies, when teachers believe students have ability, they are more patient and attentive. Other studies show that teachers that believe boys are smarter than girl have boys that outperform girls. When teachers believe boys and girls have equal intelligence, both genders perform equally. So teachers’ beliefs can manifest in class performance due to their level of attentiveness to the students.
However, one study was alarming. The researchers paired 66 teachers with four students each: One gifted black student, one average black student, one gifted white student, and an average white student. The researchers then evaluated the teachers’ interaction with each student. They found the most gifted white student was treated the best followed by the average white student. Third was the average black student. The gifted black student got the worst treatment. So it is possible that gifted black children are punished for their ability.
Parents are also crucial to educational development. It is essential for parents to set healthy boundaries for their children. For example, ensuring homework is done before any recreation. Black households statistically watch more TV than whites. By making recreation subordinate to eduction, the child will develop the life skills needed in the future.
The community can hold the school system accountable. Dr. Parham has a school system report card template that can grade the school. If the school is insufficient, the local government can be lobbied to make changes.
The community can also supplement students’ education. The government will not be willing or unable to teach things like black pride. So community efforts are needed to teach students that success is rooted in their African ancestry. We can work to obliterate the notion that scholastic success is the same as acting white.