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BPS statement on racial injustice

02 June 2020

The BPS stands in solidarity with all those who are feeling pain and expressing righteous anger about racial injustice and recommit to valuing diversity and fighting inequity.

David Murphy, president of the British Psychological Society

The current coronavirus pandemic has caused many of us fear, direct suffering, inconvenience and/or loss of income. However, this pandemic did not affect us all equally. It arrived in a society beset with systemic racism, inequity and oppression of minority and marginalised groups and only magnified this further. People from Black and minority ethnic groups were more likely to be in jobs that had the greatest exposure to risk of infection, more likely to have been in poorer health, in more precarious employment and suffered more serious consequences including death.

Figures by Public Health England show the extent of this all too clearly.

The overall mortality rate from Coronavirus was approximately four times higher for Black men than white men and three times higher for Black women than white women.

People of Asian origin have also had to bear an addition burden of public stigma and racism specifically related to the Coronavirus.

The measures for managing Coronavirus have involved increased restrictions imposed by Government which police officers have been asked to manage. People from minority and marginalized groups, particularly Black men, were already affected disproportionately by implicit racial bias and institutional racism both. This has been a particular issue in some parts of the USA and work by many US psychologists has helped to address this, but it is by no means an exclusively American problem.

Witnessing the heinous killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis has been traumatic for many but particularly for those in the Black community as it has served to bring all of these underlying systemic inequities to the fore and combined it with the helplessness of watching a video clip again and again, with the vain hope that the outcome might be somehow different. Whilst it happened on another continent, many have felt it could have been them, or their brother or father. It is not hard to understand the rage that results from this sense of injustice and disempowerment. If we had not been in a lockdown, I would have had no hesitation in joining protesters at the weekend myself.

The British Psychological Society does not exist in a vacuum, the inequities in society play out in our profession and discipline in many ways which we must acknowledge and address. However, the profession and discipline of psychology also has the power to help highlight and tackle many of the factors underlying racism and other forms of inequity and oppression.

In the words of Ibram X. Kendi, “The opposite of racism isn’t “not racist” it is anti-racist”.

We are striving, through the work of the diversity and inclusion taskforce and other initiatives to build the BPS into an anti-racist and “inclusionist” organisation at every level. We are not there yet and we gratefully accept all the support that those in marginalised and oppressed groups are able to provide, whilst recognising that these problems are not of their making nor their responsibility to solve.

The BPS stands in solidarity with all those who are feeling pain and expressing righteous anger about racial injustice and recommit to valuing diversity and fighting inequity.

Dr Deborah Husbands, senior lecturer and co-chair of BME Network at University of Westminster, member of the BPS diversity and inclusion taskforce, said:

"As a psychologist and member of the taskforce, but more specifically as a Black woman and mother of three young Black men, I believe there has never been a more appropriate time for the BPS to actively address issues of inequality across all social characteristics.

Without positive action, we risk living in a world that has potential to rob people of their dignity and sense of agency. I want the work that we do in the society to increase opportunities for us all to experience the kind of compassion that seeds increased respect for humanity."

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