This issue of The Register Report is almost entirely devoted to what I believe to be one of the most pressing issues facing the profession today – what is in stark terms the absolute absence of African-Americans, particularly African-American males, from the ranks of academic and professional psychologists. While other minorities have made significant progress towards inclusiveness in our field, African-American males lag so far behind that their numbers, unfortunately, represent no more than statistical measurement error. We simply have made little progress, in spite of the best intentions of the profession.
The impetus for this issue began last October, when I was invited to attend the meeting of a state psychological association in a state with a high African-American population. In casual conversation with a psychologist there, I was extremely surprised to find that my colleague, an African-American male, could not identify any other African-American male psychologists licensed in his state. Further inquiries revealed less than a scant handful of African-American male psychologists licensed in that jurisdiction.
The articles in this issue are unique for The Register Report, in that they are a combination of personal narrative and scholarly writing. In analyzing the subject of this issue, I have learned that you cannot appreciate the scholarly components of these articles without first absorbing the more personal narrative. The goal of expository writing is to present a thesis in as neutral and objective a fashion possible. The subject of the articles in this issue, however, cannot be objectified, as it reflects the intense, personal history of each author. The history that shapes the identity of African-American male psychologists is consistent in its description of the obstacles facing African-American males seeking graduate education. It is also, given the small numbers of those who have achieved this goal, remarkably uncommon. It is therefore important to view in balance, as these psychologists have had to do, both the personal and professional sides of their existence. Without appreciating the personal narrative, those of us of different genders and ethnicities simply cannot understand the experiences that have shaped their world view. With that, I will also share a small personal narrative that for me illuminated some of the experiences of my African-American friends – experiences that previously I had taken for granted.
A number of years ago, I got together with a group of friends for a rejuvenating long weekend in the mountains of Western North Carolina. We had rented a cabin that promised to be quiet, remote and free from the annoyances of modern society – no telephone, no television, and blessedly no email. Remote it was, a tidy former farmhouse located a mile or so up a dirt road in an idyllic forest glade. I started out happily gathering wood to build a fire but soon noticed that one of us, the only African-American in the group, didn’t seem to be particularly at ease. My friend, after some prodding, confided that he was quite uncomfortable because there was only the one road into our cabin. I was at first perplexed. There was of course only one road – it was an isolated mountain cabin. I came to understood that one road in meant only one way out, and that one way could be blocked by people intent on doing us – in particular, him – harm. The enormity of that realization has stayed with me since. My friend could not relax in the peaceful isolation of our surroundings but instead viewed those mountains as a place of historical danger and potential current harm. The constant, reflexive threat assessment that was a continual part of his environmental surveillance was something that I as a white male simply did not understand.
As the articles in this issue will attest, we are not winning in the struggle to get a profession that is more representative of the American population. The Survey of Earned Doctorates, (2013), indicated that of 3,070 students acquiring a doctoral degree in psychology in that year, 6.7% were African-American. While a gender breakdown was not provided, we can extrapolate this on the basis of the overall gender breakdown of doctorates in psychology – 28% male and 72% female. Using these figures we can then make an admittedly generous calculation (it is likely that the female:male ratio of black graduate students is higher than in non-African-Americans) and calculate that 55 African-American male students received a doctorate in psychology in 2013. Fifty-five. Well, perhaps African-American males are eschewing careers in psychology for other, potentially more lucrative careers in science and technology, such as medicine or computer engineering? Sadly not. Representation of African-American males in American medical schools is even lower than in graduate psychology, and these already low numbers are in decline. In 2002, 2.4% (n=391) of students matriculating into medical colleges were African-American men, in 2011, this percentage had declined to 2.3% (n=445). African-American females fared little better, also showing a statistical decline over the past decade from 4.5% (n=735) in 2002 to 3.8% (n=737) in 2011 (O’Reilly, 2013).
These numbers are reflected in other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) disciplines. Charles Blow, in a recent New York Times op-ed piece (A Future Segregated by Science, 2015) reported on the dismal statistics regarding entry of African-Americans into STEM fields. Blow noted that STEM-type jobs are projected to significantly outstrip jobs in other fields in the next decade, citing data from the National Science and Math initiative showing a STEM increase of 17% compared to 9.8% for non-STEM jobs, and other data indicating that in 2009 African-Americans received just 7% of all STEM bachelor’s degrees, 4% of all STEM master’s and only 2% of all STEM PhDs. In 2013, African-American men represented only 3% of STEM workers, and African-American women only 2%.
And STEM jobs are worth it. The US Department of Labor noted that in 2013 the mean salary for all STEM psychological occupations combined (Clinical, Counseling, School, Industrial-Organizational and “other”) was more than $83,000. Over 115,000 individuals were represented in these combined groups. However, when salaries are compared, black men also make less, at every level of education, including advanced degrees, than any other cohort of males or females (Ashton, 2014).
The absence of African-American males directly impedes, I believe, the efforts of the profession to become a true player in American health care. We have long known that ethnic minority citizens are in general less likely to have health insurance than majority citizens. A recent Commonwealth Fund issue brief emphasized these numbers, but also found that even when minority citizens had health insurance, they were less likely to have a consistent source of care, and therefore more often go without regular health care. In 2012-2013, more than 25% of African-Americans adults did not have a personal healthcare provider, as compared with 21% of European-Americans and 43% of Hispanic-Americans (Hayes, Riley, Radley, & McCarthy, 2015). We know that ethnicity is often an important variable in seeking a health service provider. It is therefore logical to assume that the relative absence of African-American health care providers, including psychologists, may have a direct influence on how frequently African-American citizens seek physical or mental health care.
A recent edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Review highlighted the circumstances of “The Isolated Black Professor” (Jackson, 2015). Undoubtedly, the writer, a dean at an Ivy League college, experienced isolation in the numerical sense. But he wrote of a more profound type of isolation that he and other African-American academics experienced. He wrote of his colleagues, “They had succeeded at a game stacked against them – most people in their fields knew and understood that – but the thanks they received were attempts to ignore them, to demean them with cool disinterest and a series of daily exclusions from important departmental discussions or leadership roles at their respective universities (Jackson, 2015, p. B8).
But it is going to take much more than Op-Ed pieces in the New York Times or in the Chronicle of Higher Education to begin to address this problem. We as a profession must own this problem. Our numbers both in academia and in the profession are not healthy. In 2013, African-Americans made up only 1.5% of the American Psychological Association’s membership (Associate or Member) – and at the most senior level, that of Fellow, only 99 out of 4,615 Fellows (2.1%) are African-Americans of any gender (American Psychological Association, 2014). The only ethnic group less represented is Native Americans, mirroring a sad trend that exists in higher education and the learned professions for this historically underprivileged group.
We are also unlikely to rectify this situation until we address pipeline issues. Calling affirmative action college enrollment programs “discriminatory,” seven states have ended such programs. In one such state, Florida, the result has been a decline in the number of African-American students as a proportion of overall enrollment, and particularly at the state’s flagship colleges, the University of Florida and Florida State University. Across the country, the only jurisdiction where the number of African-American college students is truly proportional to the African-American segment of the population is the District of Columbia, where it is actually higher (Samuels, 2015).
Inequities in the criminal justice system create an enduring legacy of bitterness and cynicism in African-Americans that unquestionably impedes success in academia and the learned professions. That an African-American college student is singled out for police intervention is not a problem for a university town, it is a problem for all of us. Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy (2015), reflecting on the brutal arrest of 20 year old University of Virginia student Martese Johnson, hoped that the young African-American college student would treat the experience as a lesson. His lesson, said Mr. Milloy, “…amounted to a crash course in racial reality, and although he had not been ready for the test, he managed to pass – by not getting himself killed.” The alternative to a “passing grade” in such encounters is a reality that every African-American male must face in order to survive, and we must understand this if we are to truly comprehend the issues that lead to underrepresentation in the profession.
We must own the reality that wealth and popular success are no protectors against enduring racism. When a person as immediately recognizable as the comedian Chris Rock starts to document each time he’s pulled over by the police on questionable grounds, this is a problem for all of us. In this situation, I don’t know what is more sad – the fact that Mr. Rock has to endure such harassment or the response of some of his successful friends, who criticized him for driving an expensive car that would attract the attention of police.
The National Register’s mission statement includes the goal of “identification of qualified psychologists in a global community.” If we are to achieve this goal and be true to our ideals, we must accept that our vision of a global community as a truly inclusive community has not been met. Our profession’s ideals of social justice have yet to be actualized. Not only must we strive as a profession to create clear and unencumbered pathways to graduate education for African-American males beginning with their first entry into the educational system, we must as individuals and a profession take ownership of inequities that exist in a society that is anything but post-racial.
American Psychological Association (2014). Center for Workforce Studies 2013 APA Member Profiles. Washington (DC): Author. Online access verified 6 April 2015 at http://www.apa.org/workforce/publications/13-member/index.aspx?tab=2
Ashton, D. (2014). Does Race or Gender Matter More to Your Paycheck? Harvard Business Review, 10 June, 2014, no pagination.
Blow, C. (2015). A Future Segregated by Science The New York Times, 2 Feb 2015, p. A17.
Jackson, J. L. (2015). The isolated black professor. The Chronicle of Higher Education Review, January 30 2015, pp. B6-B9.
Hayes, S. L., Riley, P., Radley, D. C., & McCarthy, D. (2015). Closing the Gap: Performance of health insurance in reducing racial and ethnic disparities in access to care could be an indication of future results. Commonwealth Fund Publication 1805, Volume 5. Online access verified 5 March 2015 at http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2015/mar/closing-the-gap-reducing-disparities
Milloy, C. (2015).“Martese Johnson’s education happened on that sidewalk”. The Washington Post, 24 March 2015. Online access verified 24 March 2015 at http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/martese-johnsons-education-happened-on-that-sidewalk/2015/03/24/bf8d7196-d25b-11e4-a62f-ee745911a4ff_story.html.
O’Reilly, K. B. (2013). Black men increasingly hard to find in medical schools. American Medical News, 25 February, 2013. Online access verified 2 April 2015 at http://www.amednews.com/article/20130225/profession/
Samuels, R. (2015). Black enrollment dwindles at major Florida colleges. The Washington Post, 7 April 2015, pp. A1, A10.
Survey of Earned Doctorates (2015). Survey of earned doctorates, 2013. Online access verified 30 March 2015 at http://www.sedsurvey.org/Pages/home.aspx
U.S. Department of Labor (2013). Occupational Employment Statistics Employment and wages by science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) occupational groups and detailed occupations, May 2013. Washington (DC): Author. Online access verified 2 Feb 2014 at http://www.bls.gov/oes/2013/may/stem_groups.htm