‘Father of Black Psychology’ Joseph L. White Dead at 84

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Joseph L. White
Joseph L. White helped found the Association of Black Psychologists in 1968. (Image courtesy of UC Irvine)

Acclaimed psychologist Joseph L. White, who helped pioneer the field of Black psychology to combat what he saw as rampant racial prejudice in the profession, has died. He was 84 years old.

White, a social activist and educator, died of a heart attack Tuesday, Nov. 21, during a flight to St. Louis to visit his daughter for Thanksgiving, according to Tom Vasich, a spokesperson for the University of California, Irvine. White was a professor at the institution for decades.

Born in 1932, the Lincoln, Nebraska native earned both his bachelors and masters degrees in psychology from San Francisco State University, and his Ph.D in clinical psychology from Michigan State in 1962, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). He was instrumental in campaigning for what’s now known as cross-cultural psychology, a practice that took into account the unique needs and perspectives of racial minorities, thus altering the perception of Black psychology.

“Psychology is part of America. Black people are invisible in America, they are invisible in psychology,” White said during an interview at the 2008 Association of Black Psychologists convention, as association he helped found with other Black psychologists in 1968.

“In America, black people are considered to be inferior, dumb, slow, childlike,” he added. “Same thing in psychology, about (how blacks have) low IQ, can’t do a complex task. We said: ‘How the hell did this happen? ‘ ”

White argued that the Eurocentric field of psychology was overrun with prejudicial views of Black Americans, and that the profession as a whole failed to understand Black spirituality, views of time and collective behavior. He popularized his views in an article for Ebony Magazine in 1970, which helped highlight the differences in how people of color should be treated and understood in the profession.

White was soon dubbed the ‘Father of Black Psychology’ by colleagues, as he encouraged African-Americans to establish a psych field of their own, AP reported.

In addition to his clinical work, the late professor also help establish educational programs for low-income minority students. One of those initiatives was the Educational Opportunity Program, which has provided “educational access and opportunity for more than 250,000 low-income and educationally disadvantaged students throughout California,” according to the program’s website.

“Dr. White was a renowned scholar and will be remembered for his pioneering work in clinical psychology,” family friend and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement. “But like all great professors, his most enduring contribution is that he touched so many lives as a mentor and a teacher.”

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