An Introduction to White’s Black Psychology

Dr. Joseph White

Dr. Joseph White

Last week I attended a Black History Month Celebration: Renewing Hope in the Promise of Minnesota’s Youth, hosted by MCF member Youthprise and the Cultural Wellness Center. There I was introduced to the work of Dr. Joseph White, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Psychiatry, University of California, Irvine.

As a Caucasian female who grew up in mainstream circumstances — in a traditional two-parent family in suburban 1970s Wisconsin — I appreciated hearing Dr. White’s experiences of growing up Black, male and in a single-parent household in a 1940s Minneapolis.

Despite being very much a minority in the Minneapolis public schools, White experienced first-hand the benefits of quality out-of-school-time programming through his involvement in Pillsbury Community House programs (now Pillsbury United Communities).

Drawing on that and other experiences as a young Black man during a time of limited opportunity, he focused much of his work on exploring and uncovering practices and strategies that lead to the promotion of better opportunities for minority youth. He is a passionate advocate for creating access to high-quality learning opportunities – within and beyond the classroom for all young people.

White spent most of his career as a teacher, supervising psychologist, mentor and director of ethnic studies and cross-cultural programs. He is a pioneer in the field of Black psychology, has authored several papers and seven books, and wrote a seminal article, “Toward a Black Psychology,” which appeared in Ebony Magazine in 1970.

He says that African Americans have always had psychological strengths, and that they are among the traits that have helped them survive slavery and segregation. His job, he says, was simply to package what was already there. Today, he says the challenge for all of us is to share these values with Black youth to enable them to thrive.

So, here’s a brief introduction to the Seven Strengths of African Americans, a.k.a. White’s Black Psychology.

Improvisation: The ability to be resourceful, imaginative, creative and innovative in meeting life’s challenges, and the personal realization that answers come from within.

Resilience: The capacity to rebound from setbacks and become stronger in the broken places. (White shared the poem Still I Rise, by Maya Angelou.)

Connectedness: To family, extended family, peers, community, etc. The necessity of looking out for each other and how that teaches one to build successful mutual relationships.

Spirituality: A spiritual and life-affirming force which runs through the Black experience and is responsible for strength in the face of adversity and hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Emotional vitality: A zest for life, high energy, exuberance and a style that fully embraces life.

Gallows humor: The ability to cry when experiencing tragedy paired with the ability to see humor in the midst of human dilemma. (As an example, White recommends Langston Hughes’ popular writings as fictional character Jesse B. Semple.)

Healthy suspicion: Not paranoia, but a healthy suspicion of “you know who” — a group who has made and broken promises since 1619.

- Susan Stehling, MCF communications associate

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