Education / Identity & Culture

A Black psychology for a new generation

A healer in the king’s court faces a unique challenge. To truly be effective, he or she must think critically. This means often ignoring the dictates of the king’s laws, which may be the cause of illness in the first place. Healers must be savvy enough to recognize that although current conditions are obviously not working, it is by navigating within those conditions that the people will be reached and the medicine delivered on time.  ~Bakano Warrior

Early in my doctoral studies, I struggled to bridge the worlds of Black and “mainstream” psychology. I found them both lacking when it came to the issues of people who didn’t fit the traditional mold. As a young Black woman – and also a Buddhist, a mom, a wife, an artist, and an activist – I had a hard time finding myself or people like me within the walls of traditional psychological training. And when you don’t trust the paradigm in which you are being trained, it makes you skeptical about the validity of the material and thus less likely to buy in enough to master it. It’s easier to master a field that you can believe in and embrace wholeheartedly. But in my mind, there were no forms of modern psychology worth mastering because I hadn’t seen any of them be consistently effective for out-of-the-box people like me.

In my opinion, Black people’s most effective therapy has been our creativity, our scholarship, our political activism, and our sly insertion of ourselves into mostly all aspects of American pop culture. None of these fall into the purview of traditional psychology, and Black psychology as we know it doesn’t seem to be addressing the full range of Black realities that we experience in contemporary times. So I am left wondering how to create or promote something new – a Black psychology for the next generation. A psychology that speaks to the rise of a Black Creative class, a post-Black identity, and a population of Black folks more free to consider questions of meaning, power, identity, authenticity, and happiness.

So do I study a canon of European thinkers despite the inherently Eurocentric and covertly White supremacist paradigm framing their work? Do I base my work on a litany of Black American scholars whose brilliant thoughts were nonetheless shaped by blatant oppression not quite fitting to the subtle dynamics we battle today? Do I consider centuries of writers from around the world and throughout time whose insights may or may not be relevant in the here and now of Black American life?

Yes, yes, and yes. Because a Black psychology for a new generation must be a hybrid, pulling from a wide range of cultural resources just like the population that it aims to serve. It must be fluid and dynamic, able to “code-switch” just like Black folks always have and still do. And it must acknowledge that healing is never a one-size-fits-all kind of deal. Maybe it shouldn’t even be referred to as Black Psychology, but Black Psychologies, recognizing that there is not just one Black experience in the modern world. Or better yet, Post-Black Psychology, speaking to the non-uniformity of today’s African American culture.

Either way, the Millenial generation faces unique social realities (e.g. globalization, booms in media and technology, the multicultural movement, economic meltdowns, ongoing war, environmental issues) that can make our existence on this planet seem confusing if not downright pointless. We must consciously create meaning and purpose in our lives, and any psychology that attempts to help with this task will need to both understand and transform current paradigms of the discipline.

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