Black History: Special Delivery!!
Robert Lee Williams II (1930-present) is a pioneer in the field of American psychology. He is well known for his efforts in educating African American children as well as studying cultural bias against African American students present in standardized testing with a focus on IQ tests. Williams was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. His father worked as a millwright and died when Williams was 5 years old. His mother worked as a domestic. After high school, he attended Dunbar Junior College in Arkansas. He dropped out after a year because he was discouraged by a low IQ test he received. Williams married Ava L. Kemp in 1948. They have 8 children.
Williams later enrolled at Philander Smith College where he graduated in 1953. He then went to Wayne State University in Detroit, MI where he obtained a master’s degree in educational psychology in 1955. He later went on to earn a doctorate in clinical psychology at Washington University in St. Louis in 1961. He served as the Assistant Chief Psychologist for the Veterans Administration Hospital in St. Louis from 1961-1966. William held several other professional roles as well. In September 1968, he helped to organize the Association of Black Psychologists. The death of MLK sparked a wave of increased consciousness for Williams regarding his racial identity and the racial identity of African Americans as a whole.
In 1972 Williams presented a paper to the American Psychological Association describing the results of a 100 question intelligence test he developed, “The Black Intelligence Test of Cultural Homogeneity” also known as the BITCH-100. Items on the test used a cultural context that was more familiar to African Americans. As a result, white test takers of the test scored lower than African American test takers. The test has become an integral part of a growing body of work showing that standardized IQ tests come with racial and cultural biases that negatively impact test scores of African American test takers.
Williams is perhaps best known for his research of black linguistic practices. He termed these linguistic practices, “Ebonics” (which is a combination of the words Ebony and Phonics). He believed that some of these linguistic practices could be traced back to various African languages. Williams beliefs on the subject are considered controversial among linguists. In 1975 he published, “Ebonics: The True Language Of Black Folks”. His research on Ebonics remained largely unknown until 1996 when the Oakland, CA School Board passed a resolution to recognize Ebonics as an official language employed by its African American students. The school board made this move with hopes of accessing funding for bilingual education. This move resulted in an uproar in many education and political circles which put Williams in high demand as a speaker and media commentator. Williams has written 3 additional books and over 60 scholarly papers.
William’s professional career has not been without criticism. Many colleagues view him as a separatist who might be seeking to lower standards for black children. Williams has stated that his goal is to put an end “death sentences”—the “low IQ” label that black children are given at an early age and that can stick with them into adulthood.
“I’m saying that the standard IQ test is not an adequate measure of black students’ abilities, of their capacity to profit from further experience or of what they’re going to do in the future.”
– Dr. Robert Williams II
Below is a video interview with Dr. Williams: