Norman B. Anderson, President and CEO of the American Psychological Association, on How Psychology Can Be Used to Help Ferguson and Other Racially Tense Areas Heal

Norman B. Anderson, President and CEO of the American Psychological Association
Norman B. Anderson, President and CEO of the American Psychological Association

Watching events unfolding in Ferguson, we have shared the pain, anger and sadness of so many in our country. The judicial system will determine exactly what transpired between Michael Brown and the police officer. What we do know is this: Michael Brown, an unarmed young African-American man, was shot and killed by police, and a community is grieving, in crisis and in need of support. 

As a nation, we must commit to the complex and difficult work of change. Change can start with our willingness to talk honestly with each other and to have difficult dialogues regarding race relations and the persistence of racial bias in this country.

The problems that brought Ferguson to this crisis are not isolated. Distrust between communities of color and law enforcement, more militarized policing, racism and discrimination, and entrenched economic inequities are realities in many parts of our nation.

As psychologists and as president and CEO of the American Psychological Association, respectively, we know that our profession must act.

Psychologists have done extensive research on how stereotypes affect our assumptions about other people, particularly how members of majority groups perceive members of minority groups. Jennifer Eberhardt has researched stereotypes and implicit bias — that is, bias that affects our judgments that we may not be aware of. She found that simply viewing an African-American man’s face made people (including police officers) more likely to “perceive” a gun that wasn’t there. Additionally, Phillip Atiba Goff has found that police officers and others see African-American boys — as young as 10 — as older and less innocent than white boys the same age. Training police about the impact of these kinds of stereotypes on their actions is critical. Ellen Scrivner developed a national training program on community policing, including components addressing racial profiling.

APA is inviting various experts to talk frankly about race, racism, interactions between communities of color and police, and social and economic inequalities on its Public Interest blog at psychologybenefits.org. We hope this virtual discussion will educate, inform and increase the dialogue about these important issues.

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Source: St. Louis Post Dispatch | Nadine J. Kaslow and Norman B. Anderson

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