Hoffman (2012) waxes about as nostalgic as I did when I left the sociology department at the University of West GA for the humanistic psychology department that eventually guided my light to Saybrook. Finding humanist psychology and intersectional feminist inclusiveness felt like home. Multiculturalism is a powerful manifestation of that and a subject that may be vital to future research. Here Hoffman makes note that his first experience at the Humanistic Psychology annual conference was one where he and his students didn’t encounter an ethnically diverse group of attendees, but mostly older White males. This is telling in that Hoffman, a White male, seems to be as aware of his presence among diverse people of color as I am. While I don’t consider myself a White male, but Italian. I am white appearing and that is something I am very aware of every time I ask to contribute to conversations where I know am not affected directly.
Close to my heart in research, Hoffman (2012) also makes note of “diversity in language” where he echoes some of my struggles with it that also occurred during the residential conference. In my case, I will stop mid-sentence to consider what is the most appropriate and inclusive. If I am unclear, I will usually ask or use a gender neutral term as the instance requires. Here Hoffman addresses inclusion in humanistic psychology while cautioning against the dilution of diversity. In context, this idea seems counterintuitive as well as very White Patriarchal and an idea whose solution is simply asking the individuals of that diverse population what pronouns they prefer to start. Please remember that all groups are heterogeneous and not homogenous and assuming rather than asking buries the individuality of one into your own groupthink prejudices. And while he talks of issues with diversity in humanistic psychology, especially in the opening lines regarding the attendance at the first conference, Hoffman does not suggest including more humanistic psychologists of color in the dialogue. This is problematic.
In his presidential address (Hoffman, 2013) waxes sympathetic, tells us that he married a Black American woman, and asks the age-old question how can humanistic psychology include more people of color in humanistic psychology? He doesn’t confront the racism of the chamber of commerce when his wife asks him about the encounter and he seems to expect the reader to sympathize with his guilt. I cannot. His only saving grace is progressive invitations and the entrance into the humanistic psychology annual conference of a handful of psychologists of color. This is progress, but I am still hesitant to pat him on the back and say, good job. He’s White. He doesn’t really deserve an award for inclusion that should have happened decades ago.
What I have had to recognize in myself, and what makes me uncomfortable here is Hoffman doesn’t seem to realize he is inserting himself into every statement, attempting to validate himself and his efforts. Other psychologists of color have come forward to contribute that he most likely invited which is admirable but not award-winning. This is an interesting but challenging line that needs to be walked and crossed, but controlling the dialogue from a White perspective is not the way to make humanistic psychology more inclusive. Hoffman can consult his wife and his Black American colleagues, but ultimately, the people he invites must be able to act independently, speak for themselves, and address the problem of diversity on their own terms, not his. This is at the heart of my interest in asset-based community development and participatory action research. People must be able to address, research and process, and evolve without being patronized. I can act as a catalyst, as an “organizer,” as a guide, and as a primary researcher and writer, but not as the overriding controller. I can’t. It would completely invalidate my goal to help people help themselves.
Hoffman, L. (2012, November). Toward a deep diversity in humanistic psychology: Facing our challenges, embracing our opportunities. Society for Humanistic Psychology Newsletter.
Hoffman, L. (2013, August). Multiculturalism, epistemological diversity, language: Embracing poetry and science to advance psychology (Society for Humanistic Psychology Presidential Address). Invited paper presented at the 121st Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, Honolulu, HI.