Black History: Special Delivery!!

joseph l white

Dr. Joseph L. White (1932-2017)

Dr. Joseph L. White (1932-2017) was a researcher, educator, and clinical psychologist. White is hailed as the “Godfather of Black Psychology”. He adamantly opposed the” implicit whiteness” within the field of psychology. White challenged the American Psychological Association (APA) by founding the Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi) in 1968. He did so to challenge the APA on its lack of diversity. At the time less than 1% of APA’s 10,000 members were black. He worked diligently with his colleagues to develop a bibliography of documents on black psychology. His 1970 article in Ebony Magazine, Toward A Black Psychology, challenged the American Psychological Association on its 78-year history of characterizing black people as being deviant and lacking intelligence. White asserts in the article that psychological theory as developed by white psychologists was not applicable to black people. White’s challenge was a major catalyst in the movement for cross-cultural psychology that would highlight the intersection of culture and psychological processes.

Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, his parents were Dorothy Lee and Joseph L. White. The couple separated and he was raised by his mother with two siblings in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After high school, White relocated to San Franciso, California in 1950. There he attended San Francisco State University; earning a bachelor’s degree. He then served two years in the U.S. Army and earned a Master of Science in Psychology from San Franciso State University and a doctorate from Michigan State University in 1962. He was one of the first black psychologists in the United States. White reflected that he did not know how deep racism really was until he got his Ph.D. and was unable to rent a home in California.

White taught at California State in Long Beach, California. He was also part of the faculty at San Francisco State University where he launched its Black Studies Department. He also established the Educational Opportunity Program at California State College, Long Beach California. This program provided support to undergraduate students from California facing social and financial barriers that might hinder their pursuit of a college education. White and State legislator Willie Brown were both instrumental in establishing the program in all of California State colleges. The Educational Opportunity Program assisted more than 250,000 students in attending college; many of whom were first-generation college students. White was a strong advocate for his students and was known as a mentor to many throughout his career.

White began teaching at the University of California Irvine in 1965 as a professor of psychiatry and psychology. In 1984, he published, “The Psychology of Blacks”. The book sought to deconstruct Euro-centric standards as the superior standard to which all other groups should be measured.

He retired from teaching in 1994. White’s first marriage to Myrtle White ended in divorce. He and Myrtle White had 3 children. White was married to his second wife Lois for 30+ years. White died from a heart attack in 2017.