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Trailblazing Founder of “Black Psychology” Field, Dr. Joseph L. White,dies at age 84

Field Dr. Joseph L. White

Field Dr. Joseph L. White

Trailblazing Founder of “Black Psychology” Field, Dr. Joseph L. White,dies at age 84 


At the height of the Civil Rights Movement, White emerged as a powerful voice of change: challenging psychologists to understand better the unique experiences of ethnic minorities. He is widely considered a pioneer in the contemporary field of Black Psychology and, in 1968, he helped found the Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi).

His seminal article in Ebony magazine in 1970, “Toward a Black Psychology,” also was instrumental in beginning the modern era of African American and ethnic psychology, and it helped to define and frame the discourse in that field of study. It was that article that earned him the distinguished honor of being forever referred to as “the father of Black Psychology.”

“Throughout his life, Dr. Joseph L. White has stood on the side of social justice, directing the activities of his psychological and academic endeavors with visions of hope and possibility for transforming dark yesterdays into brighter tomorrows,” said Thomas A. Parham, a past ABPsi president and vice chancellor of student affairs at University of California, Irvine, where White served as a professor of psychology and psychiatry since 1969. “He taught us with his heart and soul, he mentored us, he nurtured us and he guided us, because that is part of the culture he helped create.”

Defining a Black psychology

Black Psychology explains, organizes and facilitates the understanding of the cognitive, emotional, behavioral and spiritual behavior of African-descent peoples. White had ar-gued that the lifestyles of African Americans could not be understood or explained by usi-ng the traditional theories that explain the behavior of white people. So in the 1960’s, he and others set into motion an ethos for Black Psychology that provided a new and revolutionary model that continues to influence African American cultural and intellectual life to this day.

“Essentially, Joe was critiquing traditional psychology’s arrogance in believing that it was the norm against which all people and their cultures should be measured and telling black people that ‘you cannot seek validation from people who are oppressing you,’” said Parham, who is among the many who cite White as an influential mentor.

The first Black psychologist he had ever seen

Joseph L. White was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Dec. 19, 1932, and was raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Upon completing his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at San Francisco State he was accepted into the doctoral program at Michigan State University in clinical psychology. He became the first African American at Michigan State to receive his Ph.D. in clinical psychology in 1961, and in his words, became the first black psychologist he had ever seen.


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