Nicola Heath, Psychology Subject Advisor
October is Black History Month and an important time to recognise and celebrate achievements made by black people across the world. In 2023, the theme is Saluting Our Sisters and in this blog, I will outline five black female psychologists who have made significant contributions to the field of psychology.
Prosser made significant contributions to the field of psychology beginning in 1933, when she became the first African American woman to earn a PhD in psychology. Prosser’s research focused on the impact of segregation on the emotional, social and educational development of black children in America. Through her work, Prosser sought to shed light on the detrimental effects of racial discrimination on African-American students and advocate for equal educational opportunities.
Unfortunately, much of Prosser’s work was not widely recognised during her lifetime due to prevalent racial and gender biases of the time. Despite these challenges, she continued her work and advocated strongly for equal educational opportunities for all.
Bushell, a pioneering figure in the realm of education and psychology, was born in Guyana and later made her mark in England as a teacher and Educational Psychologist. Bushall uncovered a troubling reality; there were a disproportionally high number of black students being classified as "educationally subnormal" and therefore directed to attend specialist schools.
Her research led her to identify a significant issue of cultural bias within IQ testing. Bushell argued that the IQ tests unfairly disadvantaged black students due to their cultural backgrounds, resulting in inaccurate assessments of their academic potential.
Bushall was fuelled by her passion for equity and social justice when she founded the Caribbean Education and Community Workers Association (CECWA), which was the first specialist Black education group to be established in the UK. CECWA not only improved the education of these black children, but also played a crucial role in supporting and uplifting their communities, promoting social cohesion and resilience.
Clark holds a significant place in history as the first African American woman to earn a PhD from Columbia University. Her groundbreaking research, particularly the renowned “Doll Test”, revolutionised our understanding of racial identity in young children and brought to light the damaging effects of segregation.
This landmark study involved presenting young African American children with dolls of different races and asking them to express their preferences. The results were very revealing, as many of the children associated positive attributes with the white dolls and negative qualities with the black dolls, reflecting the psychological impact of racism and segregation on young children. The findings from the "Doll Test" were pivotal in the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case in 1954, which led to the end of racial segregation in public schools.
Clark also passionately advocated for more services and support for African American children and, alongside her husband, set up The Northside Centre in Harlem. This centre provided much-needed mental health services to children in a safe and nurturing environment. Her tireless efforts made her a prominent figure in the Civil Rights Movement, advocating for justice, equity, and inclusivity in education and mental health services.
Bingham is a professor of counselling psychology at the University of Memphis. She has made significant contributions to the field of psychology, particularly in the realm of poverty and mental health. Her recent work focuses on challenging and changing societal perceptions of those living in deep poverty.
Bingham’s research sheds light on the stark reality that those in deep poverty often face more adverse mental health outcomes compared to other groups in society. She works closely with various organisations to ensure greater access to support and resources for those living in poverty. Her goal is to break the cycle of poverty and address the barriers that prevent individuals from reaching their full potential.
She recognizes the importance of support systems that not only focus on the immediate needs of individuals but also look at long-term opportunities for growth and development. Her efforts extend beyond research and academia as she engages with policymakers, community leaders and stakeholders to advocate for positive social change.
Eberhardt is a professor of social psychology at Stanford University, where she studies the critical issue of racial bias within criminal investigations. Her work sheds light on the pervasive nature of racial stereotypes and their impact on policing and the justice system.
She has consistently found in experimental studies that police officers are more likely to identify African American individuals as potential criminals compared to white counterparts. These findings showed just how deep-rooted biases can be within the criminal justice system and how urgent it is to combat them for a fairer justice system.
By uncovering the root causes behind racial bias and stereotypes in criminal investigations, she paves the way for developing targeted interventions and strategies to combat these biases. Her work has become instrumental in informing policies and practices that promote fairness, equity, and accountability within the police force.
This is a brief overview of just five black female psychologists. There are many more that have made important contributions to psychology. Take a look at the Black History Month website for more inspirational stories and information about the schools resource pack.
Are there other notable black female psychologists you want to mention? Share your thoughts in the comments below. If you have any questions, you can email us at email@example.com, call us on 01223 553998 or tweet us @ocr_psychology. You can also sign up to subject updates to keep up-to-date with the latest news, updates and resources.
Nicola joined OCR in 2022 as the Subject Advisor for Psychology. Prior to joining OCR, she taught psychology for over 10 years and had various other responsibilities in that time including being Head of Year, SENDCo and Subject Leader for PSHE. Nicola has a personal interest in mental health and wellbeing and enjoys reading, baking and spending time outdoors to relax.