If I asked you to name four notable Black Mental Health Professionals in 10 seconds, my guess is that most people won't be able to. Don't feel bad, I'm actually a mental health professional myself, having degrees in both Psychology and Social work, and even I couldn't name almost any notable Black Mental Health Professionals.
This exercise is a reflection of the white, Euro-centric education in our field. Truth is, in the last several years I've learned more about what I don't know than anything else. Our mainstream history and education is written with a particular lense and paints a specific story and it takes work to learn beyond that story. After digging a little, I wanted to share with you all a few notable Black Mental Health Professionals. Like in almost every other field, Black folks, and Black minds have made an incredible impact. We should be asking ourselves why don't we hear about them? I should also mention that, yes it is the month of February meaning it is Black History Month in the U.S.. You want to know what I think about Black History Month- it's mostly for non-Black folks to pat themselves on the back. U.S. history IS Black history but we rarely give them a voice. We hear about Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, and all the other faces we tend to see posted in the halls of schools. If you think this is the extent of Black excellence...well you better start doing your re-education now.
Here's a introduction into few notable folks:
Dr. Inez Beverly Prosser (1895-1934)
This bad-ass was so dedicated to her higher education that even though she lived in Texas during a time in which no African American could earn a graduate degree, she hauled her ass to University of Colorado. After which she worked as faculty in an all Black college in Austin. After a few career dips and turns, she wanted to learn more about how to better support Black students. She then earned her P.h.D. in Psychology (the first Black woman to do so) in Ohio. Her research focused on the non-educational impacts of Black children at mixed and segregated schools. Previous research found relatively no difference in the student's academic achievement, however Prosser's work highlight the social and emotional impacts of Black children being in mixed schools as having poorer outcomes (being more shy, reserved etc...). More so she also studied Black student's academic achievements and found Black students in-fact do worse in mixed schools. Her research demonstrated the outcome of Black students facing racism and not having role models to impact their education and beyond. Before this, mainstream idea of mixed schools is that they would provide a better education but failed to take in account the impact of the environment. Still very relevant today.
Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark (1917-1983)
Clark was one of those brilliant women, whom like other brilliant women often get left in the shadows of their brilliant husbands in the history books. Maybe you heard of the famous psychology doll study? If not, it's work checking out. Clark's doll study was an illuminating study about internalized racism. The study is simple and yet gracefully portrays the damning affects of racism on young children. The doll study had 4 dolls, all the same except color placed in front of children 3-7 years old. The researcher then asked the child questions like "show me the best doll" or "the doll that looks bad". What they found is the regardless of the child's race, on average children demonstrated a positive attitude towards lighter colored dolls. Who would have thought that children reflect thoughts and attitudes of their society? This graceful social science study was helpful in Brown vs Board of Education 1954. Freud and Young may have discussed the impact of the unconscious but Clark illuminated and the real life consequences of unchecked internal bias on social/emotional development.
Dr. Joseph L White (1932-2017)
Anyone take a psychology class? Did they teach you about Black Psychology? If you had an educational experience like mine, probably not. Well Joseph White is known as the founder of Black Psychology the founder of the Association of Black Psychologist. Black Psychology is the acknowledgement that Psychology is founded and researched by predominately white folks with the assumption everything would be generalizable across all people/cultures. Don't get me started on the bullshit of this. But Black Psychology takes a clear stance culture matters, culture is everything. So calling all white mental health workers- take a close look on the methods you use. Is the research created by a white person? Is the demographics of the research in which this intervention is validated on include people of varied social economic status, race, ethnicities etc...? If not, it doesn't matter how "evidence based" your instructor told you it is if you are applying it to a population that is not reflected studies. Chances are that the researcher has missed an essential piece of culture. Chances are other people of varied demographics had no voice in this. Chances are this practice is not empowering to people of marginalized identities. More on this later.
Dr. Joy Harden Bradford (1979-current)
You know what's totally bananas? It's 2020 and we still don't think race matters in finding a therapist. It's true if you have a therapist that is really, really, really good about de-colonizing their practice and being culturally humble, it could be a wonderful experience even if you don't identify as the same race as your therapist. BUT there is a nice shortcut when you (a client of color) talk to a therapist that has lived experience as a person of color. When you go to popular sites such as psychology today or good therapy, we are able to search for therapists based on gender and sexuality but not race! There should be a choice for those that want it. Dr. Bradford, a Psychologist who is using her platform to make therapy more accessible for Black women. Talk about understanding intersectionality! Dr. Bradford has a website therapyforblackgirls.com that provides a resource to help search for Black therapists. She also has a podcast in which she talks about mental health topics that are relevant to Black women.
There you have it folks. Four out of a million brilliant Black minds highlighted are highlighted here. Please use this as a jumping off point to go deeper and challenge the assumptions you maybe thought we didn't have.