Joseph L. White, born in 1932 in Lincoln, Nebraska, is a well-known African American professor, psychologist, activist, scholar, researcher, consultant, educator, and mentor who revolutionized traditional European American psychology by setting the stage and foundation for what is now known as cross-cultural psychology and multicultural counseling. White received his undergraduate and master’s degrees in psychology in 1954 and 1958 from San Francisco State University and graduated with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and developmental psychology in 1961 from Michigan State University. White has held positions of psychologist, dean, director, assistant vice chancellor, and professor at institutions such as Washington University; California State University, Long Beach; San Francisco State University; and most recently the University of California, Irvine (professor emeritus of psychology and psychiatry). As a luminary in the cross-cultural psychology field, White—respectfully and endearingly known as “Joe,” “The Godfather,” and the “Father of Black Psychology”—has been challenging theories of psychology, academics, clinical agencies, organizations such as the American Psychological Association (APA), and numerous university and psychology boards for more than 40 years.
White graduated during the groundswell of the 1960s civil rights movement and quickly emerged as a leader of social justice, diversity, and equality in psychology and in the community. White’s formal education, talent, intellect, and social and political connectedness brought him into the company of individuals such as Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Eldridge Cleaver, and other members of the Black Panthers and brought him appointments to work with California Governor Edmund G. Brown, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy.
In September 1968, White and a small group of African American psychologists founded the Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi) at the San Francisco meeting of the APA. White’s initial steps to revolutionize psychology began in 1968 when he and other members of the fledgling ABPsi confronted members of the APA and the convention planning committee regarding the absence of Black programming in psychology. Their truth was reality—that the struggles, strengths, science, practice, and psychology of Black Americans were not reflected in the largest organization of scientist-practitioners educating America on psychology, research, and therapy. Disheartened, angry, and driven by scholarship, White was determined to shift the paradigm of thinking on how psychology defines ethnic minority individuals. Until the 1960s, Black and other minority individuals were conceptualized according to European American and Western standards of living and psychology. In 1970, White published his seminal and groundbreaking article “Toward a Black Psychology” in Ebony magazine. His article provided validation to African Americans and ethnic minorities from a Black American perspective and inspired individuals to question psychology and ask questions such as “How does traditional psychology address the mental health needs of ethnic minority individuals?”
White’s pioneering work propelled individuals, such as Derald Wing Sue and Stanley Sue, to form other ethnic psychological organizations such as the Asian American Psychological Association, the National Latina/o Psychological Association, and the Society of Indian Psychologists in the following years. ABPsi served as the forerunner of more ethnic organizations and of the creation of Division 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues). White’s trailblazing actions gave support to others committed to social justice who also went on to become prominent leaders in the field of multicultural psychology (Wade Nobles, Allen Ivey, Stanley Sue, Derald Wing Sue, Thomas Parham, and William Parham to name a few).
White continued to expand traditional American psychology toward a cross-cultural psychology as evident in his commitment to improving the mental health treatment for people of color. Again, his scholarship flourished in his writing and cowriting of several editions of The Psychology of Blacks: An African American Perspective, The Troubled Adolescent, Black Man Emerging: Facing the Past and Seizing a Future in America, and, most recently, Black Fathers: An Invisible Presence in America, all of which have been instrumental in the creation and current discourse of cross-cultural psychology and the fourth force of multicultural psychology. Underlying White’s contributions to psychology are concepts including the historical realities of people enduring the physical and psychological pains of racism, discrimination, and prejudice. He has taught that throughout history in psychology, the poor, the minority, and the non-White have endured the emotional pains resulting from being compared with their European American/White counterparts and being conceptualized as inferior. White’s writings and teachings clearly shifted the paradigm of thinking in bringing awareness to counseling and in the application of differing cultural conceptualizations needed into a psychology developed and normed primarily for middle-class European Americans. Furthermore, the core of and development of Black psychology and much of White’s theoretical and practical concepts have focused on human strengths, highlighting resilience, “healing in the broken places,” and recognizing the positive aspects of one’s life course rather than the dysfunction and pathology that one has experienced. Thus, Black psychology needs to be acknowledged as a psychology originally rooted as a psychology of strengths and positive psychology in its theoretical underpinnings and practical application.
White’s contributions to cross-cultural psychology and multicultural psychology are not limited solely to his writings and activism. Over the past 4 decades, he has taught, inspired, advised, guided, mentored, and spiritually touched hundreds of individuals, encouraging them to be change agents, to seek social justice, and to make a difference for one individual, which, in turn, will make the larger society a smaller, more manageable place. White truly believes if people make a difference in one person’s life and they then make a difference in five people’s lives, then this world will be a better place. White’s consummate mentoring has been witnessed and experienced by many and has earned him the status of “The Conductor of the Freedom Train,” a supportive pipeline for undergraduates in the tracks of aspiring to earn a Ph.D. in psychology. White created opportunities for minority and ethnic students and other students alike to experience the mentorship from beginning to end, as undergraduates to doctoral graduates in psychology. He carefully crafted such opportunities to ensure success and support in pursuit of graduate school in psychology. His pipeline and “Freedom Train” started at the California State and University of California systems and has continued for decades now with students earning Ph.D.s from reputable institutions including Southern Illinois University, Carbondale; University of Maryland, College Park; University of Missouri, Columbia; Washington State University, Pullman; and more. White’s teaching abilities, his presence at conferences, his ability to connect with diverse people, and his genuine care to increase the numbers of ethnic minorities who pursue Ph.D.s in psychology are precisely why it has been believed that White has mentored more Ph.D. students in psychology than any other individual in the field, with the majority being individuals from diverse racial-cultural backgrounds.
White has gone beyond making psychology a household word and has encouraged individuals to apply their psychology education and diversity knowledge to other fields. Administratively, White worked toward increasing the numbers of ethnic minorities entering college. In addition to mentoring graduate students through counseling/clinical/school/child psychology programs, he was involved in the founding of the Educational Opportunities Program (EOP) at California State University, Long Beach (which led to the development of EOP system-wide). Additionally, White was active in both Head Start and Upward Bound programs in Southern California. In addition to diversifying the educational system, White also was appointed by Governor Brown to serve as chair of the Psychology Examining Committee, State of California, where he fought to integrate and represent the interests of diverse people in the statewide system, in clinical work, supervision, on the Exam for Professional Practice in Psychology, and toward the overall practice of psychology. White has served on numerous committees to create diversity on campuses and has done more than his share in applying his psychological knowledge to diversify the American educational system and psychology. Along the way, he has guided professionals in law, government, business, higher education, political administration, academia, private practice, and medicine with regard to minority mental health. Each generation taught by White continues to advance the field of ethnic minority psychology in some capacity.
Those who know White know of his legacy and pioneering work in the field of Black psychology and multicultural counseling. As reflected in his history, White has had a lifetime of achievements that have advanced the field of ethnic minority psychology. White’s several articles and books have served as roots and will continue to serve as the branches to an evolving cross-cultural psychology. White’s contributions have been acknowledged through numerous awards, including the 2000 Lifetime Achievement Award from APA Division 45 (Society for the Study of Ethnic Minority Issues), the 2007 Henry Tomes Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Advancement of Ethnic Minority Psychology, and a 2007 honorary doctorate from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, for his life contributions to the field of psychology. He was also chosen as one of psychology’s senior men of color at the National Multicultural Conference and Summit in 2001.
As a 75-year-old African American licensed clinical psychologist and professor emeritus in America, White has reached all walks of life, people, races, sexual orientations, and color in leading by example and incorporating cross-cultural psychology in his daily life. White’s contributions have, without doubt, advanced ethnic minority and cross-cultural psychology as we know it today; his impact has been profound.
- Connor, M., & White, J. L. (Eds.). (2006). Black fathers: An invisible presence in America. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
- White, J. L. (1969). Guidelines for Black psychologists. The Black Scholar, 1, 52-57.
- White, J. L. (1970, August). Toward a Black psychology. Ebony, 25, 44-45, 48-50, 52.
- White, J. L. (1984). The psychology of Blacks: An Afro-American perspective. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
- White, J. L. (1989). The troubled adolescent. Elmsford, NY: Pergamon Press.
- White, J. L., & Cones, J. H., III. (1999). Black man emerging: Facing the past and seizing a future in America. New York: Freeman.
- White, J. L., & Parham, T. A. (1990). The psychology of Blacks: An African-American perspective (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
- White, J. L., Parham, T. A., & Ajamu, A. (2000). The psychology of Blacks: An African centered perspective. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.