Chapter 5: Approaches to Developmental Psychology African American Perspectives

Developmental Psychology asks four basic questions:

  1. What is the basic nature of humans?
  2. Is developmental qualitative or quantitative?
  3. How does nature contribute to development?
  4. What is it that develops?

All the developmental models fall into one of five theoretical approaches.

  1. Organismic: insists development is qualitative, not quantitative. Also, the process is unidirectional and irreversible. (Piaget)
  2. Psychoanalytic: insists development is qualitative and stage-like, proceeding through conflict resolution from one stage to the next. Progression is linear, but regression is also possible. (Freud, Erikson, Jung)
  3. Mechanistic: humans are machinelike composed of disparate yet interrelated parts. Environmental forces are the chief driver of behavior. Ultimately, the organism is a passive member in an active environment.
  4. Contextual: insists that the organism and environment are mutually effectual and symbiotic. The basic impetus is social-cultural or historical events. (George H Mead and Charles Sanders Pierce)
  5. Dialectical: insists that development happens in the context of contradiction or conflict. Once development begins, it is a continuous process of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. The change also occurs on multiple levels. (Marx and Hagel)

Parham’s research has found three fundamental flaws with our current perception of human development that necessitate the need for black psychology.

  1. The first three forms of developmental psychology do not account for culture in the development of the theory. By not accounting for culture the theorist cannot account for their own cultural bias
  2. The first three approaches assume cultural universality. Again they saw the European perspective as the standard. Cultural strengths of those in other communities are not acknowledged.
  3. The ones that do account for culture view it as just another variable among others to be controlled.

Now everyone in the black psychology community does not agree on all aspects of the theory. For example, Dr. Joesph White, the father of black psychology, believes the methods should be rooted in the experience of blacks in America. Dr. Wade Nobles believes methodology should be rooted in African culture.

Whether rooted in Africa or the Black American experience, nine principles undergrid Black culture philosophically.

  1. Spirituality: The belief life is vitalist and non-material forces influence people everyday
  2. Harmony: living in a manner conducive with nature
  3. Movement: the idea percussive music and dance are vital to psychological health.
  4. Verve: the propensity of relative high level of stimulation energetic and lively action
  5. Emotional Expressivism: communicating one’s emotions because emotions are not viewed negatively.
  6. Communalism: social connectedness more important than individual privileges
  7. Expressive Individualism: proclivity for spontaneous, genuine personal expression
  8. Oral Tradition: speaking and listening in a charismatic tone, seen as a performance
  9. Social Time Perspective: the idea that time is passing through a social space not a material one. Time is to be enjoyed in the present.

Along with the communal/emotive/physical disposition, blacks have to navigate a world not designed for them. Triple Quandary Theory best expresses the simultaneous realities blacks have to navigate.

  1. The mainstream experience which centers eurocentrism.
  2. The minority experience as a marginalized member of society.
  3. The African cultural orientation that sustains and individuals very existence.

Mental health for black people is the ability to navigate these realities simultaneously.

Chapter 6: Mental Health Issues Impacting African Americans

Dr. Parham believes that mental health is defined differently for blacks and whites. A psychologically healthy black person is one who interprets the African American ethos in their daily life. The ethos being defined as an emotional tone of a group of people or bond of cultural heritage and life experience.

Western psychology not only does not correctly account for the racial differences, but it also views the racial differences as inferiority. This racial bias has lead to misdiagnosis. Dr. Parham points to blacks and whites showing the same symptoms, but blacks were disproportionately diagnosed with schizophrenia. Also, state-run facilities supplied the data for statistics on the mentally ill population. The reliance on state-run facilities and not private lead to a disproportionate number of the mentally ill being poor black people. So the numbers of mentally ill were inflated, showing blacks had a larger population of mentally ill people. These numbers were not questioned because most of the whites reviewing the information assumed that blacks were inferior.

Because black people understand the bias in the field of psychology, they go to people within their community with mental health issues. Often pastors, elders, and extended family are called upon for guidance in hard times. When blacks do seek help within psychiatric facilities, they are in more advanced stages of mental illness, or the court or school ordered them to get treated. The providers must be cognizant of difficulty in treatment. So Dr. Parham recommends cultural awareness training to all providers.

Now all black patients should not be treated by black providers. If providers are culturally aware, they can treat anyone. However, for patients, their stage in Nigrescence will affect how well a service provider can treat them. A white provider would best serve someone in the pre-encounter. They will be predisposed to not believing a black person could provide adequate service. A black provider would best serve a person in Immersion-Emersion because they would not trust a white person.

Not only does the race of the provider matter, but therapy methods are also important. Because black people are more communal than whites, group therapy could be more effective. Also, therapies that focus more on the action and not merely talk therapy.

Chapter 7: Praxis in African American Psychology: Theoretical and Methodological Considerations

Praxis is the alignment of thought and practice of a given ideology. Black Psychology has been centered around three key issues. Protect black people from cultural bias in psychology is the first issue. The second, develop psychological theories to give meaning to the African American experience. The third is to make western psychology more pluralistic and inclusive.

Now within Black Psychology, there is not a critical mass of consensus on many concepts. One of the most important is should black psychology be rooted in the experience of Black Americans or Africans. However, there is consensus on Western Psychology being inadequate in its current form to interpret the lives of a diverse population.

All epistemology is rooted in culture. Unless there is a conscious effort to understand and expel cultural bias, the study of psychology will never be inclusive. Western Psychology is more interested in justifying ideas than advancing them. One example of this is the idea of black intellectual inferiority and IQ testing. The early test did not find any difference in the intelligence of whites and blacks, but those psychologists kept modifying the test until blacks scored lower than whites.

One problem with Western Psychology is the over-reliance on quantifiable data to prove an idea. Quantifiable data is not sufficient in understanding a complete range of human behavior. Even when black psychologists do provide studies on black life, many mainstream journals will not publish it unless whites and blacks are included in the study. When studies do include whites and blacks often, it is difficult to get an equal sample size for both groups. For example, when studying college students, getting a large sample size of white students is very easy. Because there are so few black students in most major universities, it is difficult to get even a hundred subjects. There needs to be a provision to allow small sample sizes for black populations in mainstream psychological journals.

Chapter 8: Issues Confronting the African-American Community

There has been much progress made in racial equality, but there is still a long way to go. Black people have more access to schools and other areas of American life. At the same time, there has been little change in racial attitudes. There will be minimal improvement going forward unless whites decide to confront their attitudes on race.

There has already been work done in the way of whites confronting racism—white Identity Development, which is a framework to explain how whites move toward multiculturalism. Dr. Parham also recommends a yearly conference on whiteness to confront questions about racism.

Racism helps to create and perpetuate invisible systems that confer status and privilege or otherwise unearned assets to whites. The system is perpetuated by taking action to harm people of color and also inaction of not speaking up when one sees someone inflicting racism on someone else.

Once one understands and couples racism with an increasingly competitive work environment, it is easy to see why anxiety is widespread. Difficulties in the workplace were especially true when the book was written in the mid-1990’s. Austerity measures were in full swing. Dr. Parham prescribes building a corporate culture that takes into account the mental and spiritual well-being of its employees. The company should remember it is not always the employee’s job to conform to company culture. It is, at times, necessary for the company to conform to the employee. There is a distinction between desegregation and integration. Desegregation is giving people of color access to institutions. Integration is when people of all cultures see their values reflected in the policies of that institution.