Where do we go from here?

A call to action following the failure to pass the bylaws amendment that would increase diversity on the Council of Representatives with additional seats for the National Ethnic Minority Psychological Associations (NEMPAs).

“Let us be dissatisfied until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity.”

- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

APA Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs (CEMA) Commentary Failed Bylaws Amendment Vote 2012

Miguel E. Gallardo, PsyD
Past Chairperson (2011)

In Dr. King’s 1967 speech, Where do we go from here, he states “Now, in order to answer the question, "Where do we go from here?" which is our theme, we must first honestly recognize where we are now.” I have chosen to use Dr. King’s speech as the backdrop for this brief commentary and reflection because it provides a framework for my comments and hope for the work that lies ahead. Similarly, I would also like to center my comments on the APA’s Core Value of “Social Justice, Diversity and Inclusion.” To put into context my comments about the 2012 bylaws amendment vote failure, I would like to provide some background information, albeit rather brief.

The proposed bylaws amendment would have added four additional seats to the current 162 seats on the Council of Representatives (COR) in hopes of furthering our efforts to create an association where diversity and inclusion are more represented. These four seats would have been designated for the Asian American Psychological Association (AAPA), the Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi), the National Latina/o Psychological Association (NLPA) and the Society of Indian Psychologists (SIP). Prior to this most recent attempt, the American Psychological Association tried twice before to change the APA bylaws to establish voting seats on COR for the four national ethnic minority psychological associations’ (EMPAs) representatives. The first attempt occurred in 2007, with a second attempt in 2008. In 2007 and 2008 we were unsuccessful in obtaining the required two-thirds of the voting APA membership to approve/adopt the proposed bylaws amendment. Although the COR voted in favor of the amendment each time, there were still challenges that surfaced throughout the process once the amendment was sent to our membership. In November 2012, a third attempt to change the bylaws occurred. Unfortunately, our third attempt also failed in obtaining the necessary two-thirds support from the membership.

As I reflected on the third failed vote of the bylaws amendment to expand APA’s COR by establishing seats for the four national EMPAs, it was hard not to believe that despite many strides in the right direction, we have much work ahead of us. After the latest vote failed to pass, I found myself feeling angry, sad, and disheartened. In talking with many colleagues around the country, similar thoughts and feelings were expressed. Many may not truly understand what this third failed APA membership vote means for many APA members of color. While a third failure may have represented a multitude of reasons, in my estimation, some of the more poignant reasons include, members believing there are other ways to ensure that racial/ethnic/cultural diversity is represented throughout the association, members lacking sufficient education and information about what the seating would mean and it might impact the association, apathy on the part of members to cast their votes, and finally, many would argue that racist perspectives also played a role in preventing the amendment from passing.

Throughout Dr. King’s speech, he eloquently highlighted the unjust and fear based perceptions towards Blacks when compared to Whites. While the overt signs on restaurants and public places no longer read, “No Dogs, No Negroes, No Mexicans, No Indians, and No Japanese,” many would argue that the signs still covertly exist all around us, and many would also argue that those covert signs may exist within this great association of ours. A sound argument could be made for each of the reasons why this bylaws amendment was not adopted/approved by the APA membership. However, it is my belief that we must honestly address the realities and experiences of many underrepresented members of the association as we move forward. Dr. King may have been directing his speech to the Black community, but his words and message are as meaningful for the other three ethnocultural communities who experienced the sadness, disappointment, anger and even re-traumatization as a result of this third and final vote failure. I realize that trauma, anger and sadness may seem incongruent for some members of our association, but many of us felt this way.

I am mindful that the APA COR voted in favor of this bylaws amendment on all three occasions. However, the reality is that the APA membership did not adopt/approve it. This should concern us as an association. Let us not be deceived into rationalizing and justifying a third failure, and while doing so, potentially distort our perception of the realities that exist all around us. We should all be concerned about three failed attempts. I believe that APA is at a cross-road. Which direction are we going to take? It is hard to have discussions centered on race, privilege and power and to have true dialogue… but it is imperative that we have these conversations if we are to move forward in a way that affirms the four national EMPAs and their respective communities. When I hear colleagues in the association continuing to ask why we still need to talk about “diversity issues” so much, I worry. I believe, we must all continue on, patiently, compassionately, in a loving way and without abusing power. Dr. King states, “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” It is here that we must center our future dialogues and actions as we move forward.

Where do we go from here? I am once again drawn to Dr. King’s words where he states, “First, we must massively assert our dignity and worth. We must stand up amidst a system that still oppresses us and develop an unassailable and majestic sense of values.” Amidst the feelings of anger, sadness and re-traumatization that many APA members of color experienced following this latest failed vote, lies hope. It is imperative that the four national ethnic minority psychological associations continue their journey; remaining true to their respective missions and goals, while contemplating and acting on opportunities that could benefit psychology in general and their respective associations’ memberships in particular.

There is still much work going on in the association through the Public Interest Directorate, the Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs (OEMA), Division 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues), CEMA, other APA governance groups and divisions, and several state, provincial and territorial psychological associations. However, if we are going to be successful at implementing strategies that create a more inclusive and welcoming organization for all psychologists, the work and efforts must be the responsibility of many more within the APA and not relegated to only the few such as CEMA, OEMA and Division 45. Without these entities in the APA, many of us would have no home. However, the work must transcend these silos and permeate what has been impermeable within our organization and throughout society.

For instance, there has been an increase in hate crimes against ethnocultural individuals throughout the country, a proliferation of legislation that legalizes racial profiling, and a surge in the membership status of White racist groups throughout the country that are deeply concerning. I am saddened by the actions and behaviors, both verbal and non-verbal, of individuals who are misguided, mis-educated and responding to the world around them in fear of the “other.” These concerns are important because our discipline should be the world leader in the development of what healthy cross-cultural relationships look like. If not us, then who? In President John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural address he stated, “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.” There must be a willingness on the part of all involved to invite people into their “homes,” be open to dialogue and change and refuse to let fear and outdated modes of thinking drive our negotiations and deliberations. I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Ron Takaki speak at my own university and he stated, “We are dependent upon and indebted to one another.” Our histories in this country indicate this and our future is heavily dependent upon it.

In closing, I once again refer to Dr. King where he states, “I must confess, my friends, the road ahead will not always be smooth. There will still be rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment. There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. There will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair. Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted…Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future.” I am well aware that there are always concerns and challenges when attempting to change the status quo. However, I believe that APA will lose its relevance if these efforts are not addressed and integrated in more intentional ways as we move forward. In fact, some would argue that the APA is already irrelevant to many.

I am hopeful that we will continue to affirm the humanity in all of us, as our future as a discipline and those who we serve through our research, education, training and practice are relying upon us to do so. As we move forward, it will be important that we do not simply “move on” in hopes that superficial efforts will somehow mask or redirect people from seeing the challenges before us. True dialogue must occur as we move forward. There must be a genuine effort to understand our failed attempts and to truly understand the context in which we are attempting to create change. Otherwise, I fear that trying to “move on” without understanding, inadvertently places the cart before the horse, making behavioral and contractual efforts and MOUs, ineffective, while creating minimal change at best.

Reference

Martin Luther King, Jr. Where do we go from here? Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Atlanta, Ga., August 1967