How IQ tests have impacted black psychology

"Toward a Black Psychology: Origin & Evolution of a Discipline” film screening and panel discussion Pt.2. with FAMU Psychology Professor Neico Slater-SaRa, M.S. speaking.
Photo submitted by Alexis Gollmanaption

The age-old argument that IQ tests are culturally biased has resurfaced, this time in the recently released (2018) film “Toward a Black Psychology: Origin & Evolution of a Discipline.”

The FAMU psychology department held two screenings and panel discussions film this past week as part of its 2019 Black Psychology Theme Week & Imhotep Interdisciplinary Research Conference. The film explores the genesis of black psychology and all the theories and methods that it birthed.

Like most things in American history, American psychology was initially white-male dominated —until others broke the mold — with little to no regard in thoroughly studying people of other ethnicities.

“Black psychology is looking at the perceptions, values (and) worldview from the perspective of black folks as they articulate it,” Joseph L. White said in the film. He was a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of California, Irvine and a pioneer in the field of black psychology.  “So, we didn't discover black psychology in the '60s, it was already there, but we articulated it from the perspective of the folks themselves. “We wanted to give them their own voice, whereas prior to that time, that voice was invisible in psychology,” he added.

Some of black psychology’s founding fathers in the film found that certain IQ tests were culturally biased and disproportionately placing more black children in special-ed than their white counterparts. Washington University professor emeritus of psychology and African and Afro-American studies Robert L. Williams is a prime example.

“Most of the research on blacks were done by whites and (an) overrepresentation of black children (were) placed in special education, black kids were being misplaced in too large (of a) proportion,” said Williams. “It really demeaned black students.”

So, what exactly are IQ tests?  Firstly, it is an acronym for intelligence quotient and according to, it is “a score determined by one's performance on a standardized intelligence test relative to the average performance of others of the same age.”

“An IQ test is sometimes used in the criminal justice system to determine whether you go on parole or not,” Asa G. Hillard III said in the film. Hillard was a psychologist and professor. “An IQ test determines whether you go to college or not, whether you get a scholarship or not, whether you will be an officer or an enlisted man in the army, whether you move into management or into something else in the corporate world, in other words, there are many, many uses of IQ test as a gatekeeping device.”

Creators of early IQ tests such as Alfred Binet — the creator of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales — had racist ideologies about black people. Binet said that no amount of education would ever make black people competent voters or good citizens. Binet was also affiliated with other psychologists who belonged to white supremacy organizations such as the Human Breeders Association who believed in social Darwinism.  A large number of psychologists at the time also belonged to the Eugenics Research Association, which believed in the concept of racial purity and wanted to eliminate the “feeble-minded” because they would inhibit society.

Hillard believed that psychologists like Binet had more of a political agenda rather than an educational agenda regarding IQ tests.

“…That’s political, it’s not just educational … that's making political choices about who lives and who doesn't,” Hillard said in the film. “For example, sterilizations were conducted in California based on the use of IQ tests.”

One of the panelists actually was a victim of this system: FAMU psychology professor Neico Slater-SaRa, who was tracked when she switched schools, going from a predominantly black school to a predominately white school in the ninth grade.

“They tracked me, and when I was tracked I was actually tracked for educable mentally retarded classes and I sat in the class —looking very confused —because in the classroom they were going over basic math that I went over … in elementary school in second and third grade,” said Slater- SaRa. “I came from the gifted and talented program at the other school but what they did was not get my records and they automatically put me in the (educable mentally retarded class).”

Fortunately, she informed her mother that something was wrong, and they moved her out of the class.

“But if you can imagine that (this) happens so regularly with black children, as psychologist we have to address (this), we have to understand the significance of the intelligence test and what they are doing to track children,” said Slater- SaRa,

FAMU professor Jermaine Robertson said during the panel that he believes the solution is to learn from a more Afrocentric curriculum opposed to the traditional eurocentric psychology curriculum.

“If from 1970 to now 2019 we (stopped) taking these (standardized IQ) tests then you wouldn’t be learning that assessment,” said Robertson. “We would be saying ‘no those aren’t valid, they don’t work for our people, so we (won’t) learn from those methods so, we aren’t going to force our students to be in there for 15 weeks to learn something we already know is not good for our people.

“We have to really divorce ourselves completely from western psychology,” Robertson added.