Placing Blacks at Center of Psychology : Psychologist Says Effects of African American History Require Greater Sensitivity Than Standard Analyses

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Dr. Halford Fairchild, who teaches psychology and black studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, was born and raised in South-Central , where he lives today. Fairchild defines himself as a social psychologist whose goal is to help change society, not just the individual. Dr. Fairchild has an extensive history of involvement with the Assn. of Black Psychologists (ABPsi) , including service as a national president. Currently, he edits Psych Discourse, ABPsi’s journal, while also serving as recording secretary of the Los Angeles chapter. He is co-chair of the program committee for the 27th annual convention of ABPsi, which will be held at the Hyatt Regency in Los Angeles today through Aug. 6. Fairchild was interviewed by Joy B. Davis.


In terms of defining black psychology, I think the distinctions are manifold. I teach a 14-week course, “Introduction to African American Psychology,” which only scratches the surface of the distinguishing features of the topic. It is the branch of the social sciences that places African people at the center of analysis, and where the philosophical underpinnings are derived from a uniquely African cosmology, or world view. It places an emphasis on the collective and acknowledges that behavior is a product of a historical process.

Black psychology tends to be more applied. In sharp juxtaposition to traditional psychology, black psychology embraces a set of values that is sensitive to the needs of African people, whereas traditional psychology purports to be value-free. I always say that anything that is value-free is valueless.


Perhaps more than any other discipline, psychology has contributed to the dehumanization of African people. Psychology is the discipline that gave justification to the unequal treatment and exploitation, so African American psychologists really do have a task in educating the African American public about the potential benefits of psychology.

We as African American psychologists have the dual role of repairing the discipline and restoring a sense of the legitimacy of African-centered psychology. What we have to do is work collaboratively with other arms of the helping professions, including the clergy, the traditional healer, in serving the needs of African people. I think it might be another 100 years before black psychology asserts its true role in aiding the community.

Approximately 2% of psychologists are African American. The low number of practitioners becomes problematic when we consider that we are overrepresented among those requiring psychological intervention. Here we are, 25% of those needing services and only 2% of the service providers. This wouldn’t be problematic were it not for the fact that the non-black service provider often contributes to, rather than resolves, the problem.

One of the things incumbent upon us in the profession in bridging the distance between the profession and the community is to bring more students into the fold. It’s an amazing thing. I find that many of my students want to have dual majors in psychology and black studies because they see me as a positive role model. A good proportion of my students are not African American, and it is for them that the material, in a sense, is most powerful because they are hearing things that they’ve never even considered before.

For the African American student, very often what we do is give voice to the experiences that they’ve had. Both are equally enthused about the material.

The Assn. of Black Psychologists is concerned with the physical and psychological liberation of African people in this country and around the world. By that I mean completing the healing of the damage to African people physically, psychologically and spiritually as a result of our many years of captivity. There is an enduring legacy from our years of captivity.


One of the themes of this year’s convention is this nearly 400-year history of domination and exploitation of African people by non-African people. It went very much to the core of our essence. What we are trying to recover from today is that dehumanization process; it continues to render us as second-class citizens of the planet.

A critical goal of the international conference is to disseminate information and to share our work with each other and with the larger community. ABPsi feels that when we come to a city, in a sense we take something from a city. Therefore, it’s also incumbent upon us to give something back by way of going out and giving community workshops. One of the things we plan to do during the convention is to have key members go to community agencies and share their expertise.

I always say that a year of misinformation can be erased by four days of the ABPsi convention. V One gains a connection to professionals and students doing similar work. There’s the exposure to the work of others. What we gain is a healing and rejuvenation in the midst of like-minded others. I’ve always felt that coming to the ABPsi convention gave me the kind of energy and fortitude I need to see me through another year.

We have a T-shirt that says “South-Central and Proud of It.” I was educated in the public schools of Los Angeles. Someone like me can afford to live pretty much wherever they want to, but I think it’s important to live here because it keeps me intimately in touch with the communities so in need of transformation. Lest we forget where we came from, I think it’s important to live in the midst of our people. I think the physical presence is a manifestation of where one’s heart is.