40 MONITOR ON PSYCHOLOGY • NOVEMBER 2013
and the March on Washington
BY DR. GWENDOLYN PURYEAR KEITA • APA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR THE PUBLIC INTEREST
On Aug. 28, APA CEO Norman B. Anderson and I were among the
APA staff who joined thousands of others on the Washington Mall to
commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington,
also known as the March for Jobs and Freedom. As someone who grew
up in the segregated South during the civil rights movement, I found it a
particularly powerful experience. The event speakers
highlighted the progress made over the last 50 years and the
battles that remain.
The 1963 march offered a cogent narrative on the harmful
effects of economic and civil inequality. While we have seen
some progress toward civil and social justice, unemployment
remains a persistent and critical issue. As a number of speakers
noted, unemployment is worse today at 8. 1 percent than in
1963 at 5. 7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Joblessness among African-Americans has consistently been
twice the rate among whites for the past six decades, according
to the Pew Research Center.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. knew how critical this issue
was. In 1968, in the months just before his death, King was
organizing the Poor People’s Campaign to seek economic and
human rights for the country’s poor — poor black, Hispanic,
Native and white Americans.
I attended that march as an observer and felt more
strongly than ever that I would use psychology to help
change society. Bayard Rustin, in his preamble to the 1963
March on Washington, said that the end of legal segregation
would not be sufficient for achieving integration. Integration
in education, housing, public accommodations and
transportation would be of limited extent and duration so
long as fundamental economic inequality persisted (http://
socialjustice.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/index.php/The March on
Although signs no longer declare “whites only” or “Negros
need not apply,” discrimination in hiring and other areas still
exists. A number of studies have shown that African-American
job seekers have a harder time finding jobs than whites, and
much of this difference can be explained by discrimination. For
example, Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan found
that job applicants with black-sounding names received 50
percent fewer callbacks than those with white-sounding names
(American Economic Review, 2004).
Despite these and similar studies, unemployed people are
often blamed for their status. Discrimination, stereotyping and
bias generate exclusion and marginalization for certain groups
and wrap a blanket of inclusion, security and opportunity
around others, according to the report of the APA Presidential
Task Force on Reducing and Preventing Discrimination and
Promoting Diversity. The country likes to believe “If you work
hard, you can make it,” but this deeply held cultural belief
does not take into account substantial evidence that many
other factors — including discrimination, where you live and
concentrated poverty — have a powerful impact on whether
one has a job, the type of job it is, and whether there are
opportunities for promotion and advancement.
Psychologists have an important role to play in addressing
economic inequity. The APA task force report documented ways
to decrease discrimination and to increase diversity. The report
noted that despite the importance of economic inequality, social
class, poverty, classism and privilege — and their centrality
to any discussion of discrimination and inclusion — U.S.
psychology has marginalized these issues.
We need to increase psychologists’ involvement in these
critical areas by establishing best practices to use psychological
research effectively to help change attitudes, behavior and
policy. As we look at the next 50 years, psychology must
continue to contribute to the country’s understanding of the
high cost of discrimination and racial/ethnic, socioeconomic
and other inequities.
As Franklin D. Roosevelt said in 1934, “No country,
however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources.
Demoralization caused by vast unemployment is our greatest
extravagance. Morally, it is the greatest menace to our social