UC Irvine Professor Emeritus Joseph L. White, known as the “father of black psychology” for his pioneering work in the field, has died.
In his career, White was a faculty member and administrator at Cal State Long Beach, and at his alma matter campus in San Francisco.
White was aboard a plane, traveling from Orange County to Chicago, when he died from a heart attack on Nov. 21, UCI officials said. He was 84.
White is remembered by colleagues and friends as a trailblazer who challenged the way psychologists treat African Americans.
“Traditional psychology is based on the norms and customs and values of European American people,” Thomas Parham, a UCI vice chancellor, said on Friday. “What Dr. White argued is that when you use traditional theories developed by white folks and then apply them to black folks, we come out looking pathological.”
For Parham, the loss is personal.
“It’s like losing a father,” said Parham, a past president of the Association of Black Psychologists, which White helped found in 1968. “He was my teacher, my mentor, my guide, my supporter.”
White – then dean of undergraduate studies at San Francisco State – said in an interview for the association’s 2008 convention: “Psychology is part of America. Black people are invisible in America, they’re invisible in psychology.
“In America, black people are considered to be inferior, dumb, slow, childlike. Same thing in psychology, about low IQ, can’t do a complex task. We said: ‘How the hell did this happen?’”
White is also remembered for his role in advocating for diversity on college campuses and creating, for the California State University System, the Educational Opportunities Program. It provides disadvantaged students support to study at CSU.
Born in Lincoln, Neb. on Dec. 19, 1932 and raised in Minnesota, he was the first African American at Michigan State University to receive a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, in 1961, after graduating from Cal State San Francisco with bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
Throughout his career, White served as a mentor for countless students.
“Dr. White was a renowned scholar and will be remembered for his pioneering work in clinical psychology,” Condoleezza Rice, a former U.S. secretary of state and a family friend, said in a statement. “But like all great professors, his most enduring contribution is that he touched so many lives…