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A Critique of BIPOC Experiences in Division 39 and the Holmes Commission Reports

Following on from the previous video by Jon Mills, here is his guest report on the matter published on Lee Jussim’s substack.

Two studies on race and psychoanalysis were commissioned by the two largest psychoanalytic organizations in the United States: The American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA) and Division 39 of the American Psychological Association (APA). The Society for Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic Psychology (Div. 39) contracted an internal study of members’ experiences who identity as people of color at the tune of $30,000, while APsaA initiated a much more comprehensive and ambitious project that surveyed the institution of American psychoanalysis in general, which cost the membership a whopping $210,000 to date, if not much more, a financial detail it is not being transparent about publicly.  The results of both studies conclude that Division 39, APsaA, and the entire field of psychoanalysis in America is systemically racist.

I wish to dispute these findings based on palpable research bias in scope, design, and implementation, ideological contamination in the collection of data, and false attributions to the field as a whole based on the unscrupulous assumptions of critical social justice theory.   Put laconically, for reasons I will argue, the Division 39 study is partisan, ungeneralizable, and lacks scientific merit, while the APsaA commission is based on fallacious premises and is severely methodologically flawed.  Neither the results nor conclusions can be widespread in the field, especially in such a simplified manner; and whatever phenomenological data that remains valid based on personal experience or knowledge is not reflective of the whole discipline.  It may be argued that the two largest American psychoanalytic organizations just blew a quarter-million dollars as a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) ruse designed to placate political correctness and earn brownie points by waxing race optics, when they are no more than an exercise in grievance by a select few disgruntled people who simply want to complain, problematize, and disrupt the field.  

Spoiler Alert: A Synopsis of my Critique

What is notably salient in both reports (which can be found here and here) is that they are drenched in woke ideology.  Every aspect—from design to content—is blinkered by critical race theory (CRT) propaganda baked into the very fabric of the studies. We must accept as a starting premise, which is treated as empirical fact, that systemic racism and white privilege saturate American psychoanalysis at its very core, that the tenets of CRT and critical social justice (CSJ) are correct and indisputable, and that white supremacy is attributed to all whites regardless of class, and who are clumsily lumped into the same sociopolitical category as white supremacist fringe groups and white nationalists.  Of course, it goes without saying, that if you question the conclusion that is treated as an unquestioned proposition, (such as, please show the evidence that all white people are white supremacists), then you are simply smeared as a white supremacist as proof for asking the question in the first place.  Circular reasoning, begging the question, non sequiturs, and straw arguments are everywhere.  In short, fallacies of logic saturate the content, construction, and design of the studies that in turn prejudice the results and conclusions based in indefensible emotional hyperbole.  

Moreover, these studies lack scientific credibility and employ methodologies that do not demonstrate objective criteria nor follow replicable procedural standards, hence failing in reliability, validity, unverifiability, and falsifiability criteria, for they do not allow for the confutation of conjectures. The survey and interview methods involved appear entirely subjective in scope and design and are based in personal disclosures and self-reports rather than having a normative standard to test, affirm, or reject hypotheses.  In swift, these survey results are based on personal attitudes, subjective opinions, or esoteric “lived experience” as doxa under the guise of objectivity that cannot be meaningfully generalized or attributed to larger populations.  There are no random control samples, groups, or trials, experimental methods employed or quantitative data to confirm or compare with, and are based entirely on personal narratives we are expected to accept as unadulterated truth without question or subjected to further logical, rational, or scientific scrutiny.    

The results of the two studies suffer from confirmation bias, self-selection sampling (cherry-picking), observation selection effects or what is typically known as anthropic bias, which is so-called “evidence” that has been sifted through the precondition that there actually is some suitably positioned observer to have objective evidence untainted by subjective prejudice.  In other words, any attempt to derive valid conclusions is potentially corrupt from the start: any result is therefore inferential and speculative at best and must be conservatively weighed.  Although probability, propensity, and confirmation theories do just that, all one has to do is quibble with or tweak the premises to get the desired outcomes one wants.  This all depends on how you chose to define your reference class, classify the sample according to specific properties you want to emphasize, and the hypotheses you want to test.  But here there is nothing to test, only bald assertions. A predicate is not proof of itself. 

When research data relies solely on subjective feelings, intuition, and perceptions based on selective sampling biases, they are not the same as objective evidence that can be generalized across the board to large swaths of people.  We may pretty much discount the survey results as merely anecdotal and not generalizable to social collectives based on methodological flaws alone.

My overall assessment is that the results of these two studies express some select peoples’ subjective unhappiness, cynicism, and personal grievances that, while sincere based on their private or intimate feelings and experiences peculiar to that person, are then falsely attributed to the whole institution of American psychoanalysis, which is simply unwarranted.

Now that I have told you the substance of my critique, let us closely examine some specifics of the two studies.

The Division 39 Study

In January 2023, a DEI consultant, Dr. Sipho Mbuqe, prepared a report for the Division 39 of the APA that was released later that spring to the membership.  The title of the study is called “The Truth-of-Being-Different: The Experiences of BIPOC in Division 39.”  In describing the context and background of the commissioned study, after comparing the organization to the “silence” and “consent” of George Floyd’s murder, we are immediately told that “The Problem” is “issues of racial inequality, bias and violence toward BIPOC members.”  We are further informed that the Society “has been blind to racial injuries by some members,” and that this “situation mirrors, replicates, and is implicated in a much wider situation of systemic injustice in our society at large.”

The rhetoric of violence dramatizes the parameters of the study and impairs objective appraisal from the start.  Surely no one has been physically assaulted by members of the organization, but here “silence” is violence and BIPOC members have purportedly been harmed by white members and the Society. It turns out that such so-called “injuries” are simply attributed to a small fraction of people (N = 11 out of over 3000 members) who have had their feelings hurt, felt excluded, or have complained about feeling marginalized, experiences that can be said of anybody. 

In fact, we are told that participants were not randomly sampled, but rather cherry-picked (self-selection sampling bias) from the President of the Society at the time, Dr. Joseph Schaller, who wanted vocal upset members to “speak their truth.”  We are further informed that these “sources of truth” included interviews with 5 members and 6 graduate students and early career psychologists (all lumped together) over 4 Zoom sessions lasting 2 hours each, but not everyone attended all meetings nor stayed for the whole group interview.  The mean age of participants was 22 years old, barely out of undergraduate university, if that.  Given we can no more place stock in generalizing these results to an entire organization based on the statistically small sample size alone, especially given they were hand-selected and predesignated as aggrieved subjects, the results of the study can only be viewed from the standpoint of limited case narratives at best.  That hardly meets an objective criterion for generalizable truths.         

Not only is the study methodically compromised and ungeneralizable to the entire membership, it is riddled with CRT/CSJ propaganda and DEI ideology premised on the notion that all white people in the Society are white supremacists, privileged, and racist.  But who is racist against whom?  From the anecdotal interview data offered in personal quotes, it becomes perfectly transparent that the aggrieved have a personal axe to grind based in deep-seated hostilities that are quite frankly an unapologetic spate of antiwhite racism. Here are just some of the quotes.  The organization is:

             “the last stronghold of absolute white supremacy”

             “is an incestuous white lineage”

             “it’s lily white”

“They get the whitest person, it’s so galling and they have the nerve to charge Black people” to attend a conference

If we were to substitute the terms “white” for “black,” then it would immediately ignite outrage for devaluing black people using such race-baiting tropes.

The author of the study, Dr. Mbuqe, an Assistant Professor of Diversity and Inclusion, is unable to disguise his ideological worldview when he concludes—without any proof—that the whole of Division 39 has perpetrated “aggression and violence” toward its BIPOC members—itself a basket category that does not even remotely entertain the actuality of differences that inform the overdetermined nature of identity; and as an “agent of violence” the Division must “Face the victim” and “Give back the humanity you took.”  We are then further lectured in DEI gaslighting techniques by way of a crass reduction to the systemic racism that mirrors society at large, as if all psychoanalysts are racist by default, and are a fortiori accused of being a perpetrator, only to be reproached from the self-anointed morality police: Mbuqe inculpates, “NOTE: psychoanalysts are not above the fray, they are the fray.”  I read this as none other than an assault on the very values and fabric of psychoanalysis twisted through the prism of projected resentment and hostility in search of a target.  Even more unsavory is Mbuqe’s disdain for the field: in his words, we are reduced to “evil” (on p. 9 of the report, a section is titled “Embrace the Evil Within”).  This word, “evil,” is simply egregious and belies any credibility that one could possibility salvage from the study.  Given the brazen contempt for the field, we may ask: Who is dehumanizing who?  Furthermore, why would the Division hire someone who is so biased and scornful to begin with except for to buy a prejudiced viewpoint due to partisan racial politics? 

How can the discipline of psychoanalysis be demonized in such a curt and unsophisticated fashion and be taken seriously?  Rather than view psychoanalysis as a subject worthy of intellectual effort and empirical study due to its contributions to understanding human nature, it is now turned into another bastion of colonial white supremacy one must reject, fight, and disrupt.   Here pitting members against each other based on a binary of skin color is itself an injustice.  In fact, we are left with a profound splitting between group reifications of race and difference based on a simple economy that only perpetuates if not entrenches division through victimization mentality fueled by the fantasized interpellation of white oppression.  It is simply bogus and unfounded.

It should be further noted that Mbuqe’s final report is poorly written, contains incomplete sentences, numerous typos, and relies on bullet points rather than a careful and detailed description of the methodology, results, discussion, conclusions, and recommendations that naturally follow from a neutral investigation.  Instead, it is largely inarticulate, based on false premises, non sequiturs, straw men, red herring arguments, and attacks on whiteness and the field of psychoanalysis to the degree that this rhetoric renders the study incompetent and invalid.  In fact, the substance of the report deserves what Plato refers to as a refutation by laughter.   And this woke tirade cost $30,000.  What a complete waste of membership dues.  I want my money back.

The Holmes Commission on Racial Equality in American Psychoanalysis

Controversy over the establishment of the Holmes Commission on Racial Equality existed from the very start because it presupposed the very thing it needed to set out to prove.  Rather than asking, “Does racism exist within the American Psychoanalytic Association?,” it had already concluded that racism exists on an institutionally-wide scale that was perfunctorily generalized to all psychoanalytic institutions in North America.  This is clear from the initial statement from the Holmes Commission in 2020 where it specifically states that the commission was “established with the mission of investigating systemic racism and its underlying determinants embedded within APsaA.”  In the Executive Summary this bias is flagrantly disclosed: “It was not a research study to prove or disprove systemic racism” simply because it was already presumed and predetermined to be the case.  The Chair of the commission, Dr. Dorothy Holmes, further repeats that institutional racism exists “within our organization” before any formal data was collected and properly analyzed by the commission.  Although there are important reasons to study the scope of diversity and racial attitudes within our discipline, we should not presume the outcomes of an investigation before they are conducted.  By 2023, it was determined by the leadership team that “widespread systemic racism [exists] within psychoanalytic institutions and within and across various governing bodies for those institutions” throughout American psychoanalysis itself.  I suppose if we presuppose the existence of something we will find it, manufactured or not; but this is not an objective scientific study. 

The bias of the Holmes Commission had already been criticized for its partiality before the Final Report was released on Juneteenth, which received immediate criticism for its prejudice and lack of scientific neutrality an independent commission would be expected to avoid. Instead, the report is laced with CSJ/CRT dogma and calls for a fleet of DEI consultants to exorcise racism out of every psychoanalytic crevice in North America.

Prior to the release of the Final Report, the Holmes Commission made its biggest faux pas of all: Dorothy Holmes accused the entire APsaA organization of being racist after disinviting a controversial antisemite, Dr. Lara Sheehi, who made international news, to speak at its summer conference, which resulted in a fracturing of the Executive Committee, Board of Directors, and the membership.  This scandal led to outrage by progressive minority members cavalierly touting APsaA as a white supremacist organization, which pressured the President to resign due to the resulting friction and antisemitism condoned by a disgruntled few in leadership, egged-on by identity politics.  Dr. Beverly Stoute, Co-Chair of the Holmes Commission, also resigned from the Executive Committee.  The organizational scandal led to an embarrassing exposé in The Guardian where the field of American psychoanalysis was portrayed as being “psychotic.”

Because the Final Report of the Holmes Commission is the size of a book, I shall confine my critique here to a few sections and various summaries due to space constraints.  In A Bulletin of Preliminary Findings, the commission states that it “enlisted an expert methodologist to develop a research design to conduct an empirically based analysis of how racism manifested in psychoanalytic institutes.”  This statement shows how they deliberately wanted a study designed to find what one wants the conclusions to be.  Its political motives are also transparent as it dictates “prescriptions for organizational structures” as a policy initiative to change the entire field from curriculum content, training, and supervision that focuses on antiracism and social justice.  

In the Executive Summary we are told that initially 7,400 potential participants were invited to participate in the study, 2,259 responded, 1,990 fell within three identified groups the study wanted to address (namely, (1) faculty, staff, and administrators, (2) candidates in training institutes, and (3) potential training candidates), while 269 volunteers wanted to “offer information on race.”  It is also not surprising that BIPOC voices were given a priority, once again lumping diverse groups of people into a generic category for data collection purposes rather than identifying differences within group differences, which would give us a better breakdown of demographics and their varied response sets.  

In examining the pool of participants, the role of self-selection in sampling techniques, potentially subject to confirmation bias, is neither acknowledged nor empirically evaluated. . So this raise the possibility that the results are based on loaded dice due to political motivations of volunteers who had already accepted the predetermined outcome that psychoanalysis was steeped in systemic white racism.  

The ideology of CRT saturates all dimensions of the study including the fact that every group is racialized and definitions are simply taken for granted. For example, we are told that “Systemic racism as a system produces advantage for some people in a dominant racial group through the oppression of people in a non-dominant racial group.”  By its very definition, anyone who is not considered part of the majority racial group is cast as being dominated and oppressed by virtue of being a member of a minority faction.  This asserts the very proposition it has the task to prove.  Moreover, it has no basis in fact, as many uneducated, unemployed, and working-class whites would fall into class-based poverty and are in no way “privileged” let alone dominating or oppressing anyone.  And given that South Asians and Asians have the highest incomes per capita in the U.S. over their white counterparts and other immigrant populations, they could hardly claim to be subjugated.  Within the report, this self-serving contrived definition of systemic racism by the commission makes it impossible to refute as any minority group is automatically identified as a victim of white oppression by fiat. 

The copious use of CRT buzz-words such as white supremacy, white fragility, racial trauma, oppression, colonization, intersectionality, marginalization, and microaggressions, just to name a few, are used liberally throughout the study to justify the results that are already presupposed.  For example, a microaggression is anything a person deems to be offensive—only to claim its motivation is based in racial hatred, when it may simply be based on psychic projection, distortion, or one’s own emotional prejudices attributed to others.  It also assumes that any disagreement, legitimate criticism, or debate about any matter could simply be chalked up to racism based on subjective whim.  Here no evidence is required: all one needs to do is accuse and point a finger as a demonstration of proof, when it is merely performative fluff. There are serious criticisms of scholarship on microaggressions (such as here, here, or here) but , in a move typical of propaganda masquerading as scholarship, the Holmes Commission report fails to address or even acknowledge them.

Furthermore, when examining the content of the survey questions and themes, they are weighed in terms of feelings rather than facts.  Moreover, no specific examples are given that allow us to judge for ourselves if racism even occurred. We simply must take their word for it.  Although I have no doubt that racist enactments and personal experiences occur, as this is part of human nature, we cannot remotely assume to generalize to a universal from a particular without justifiable evidence. What we may conclude, however, is that this research design was constructed as an exercise in venting personal and micro-group grievances.      

The Holmes Commission study is so conceptually, methodologically, and politically biased that it demands racial “equity” rather than equality in its policies and procedures.  Despite our shared egalitarian and democratic principles, one should never assume equality of outcome.  Like everything in life, privilege is earned, not automatic, and is, or at least should be, based on merit, not entitlement. 


It is puzzling why the 50 board members of APsaA would see the value and rationale for conducting such a parochial study, let alone justify such an exorbitant expense based on ideological premises that are taken for granted rather than scientifically examined in an impartial and neutral manner.  The Holmes Commission could have skipped to the chase and offered their recommendations based on personal observations, experiences, and attitudes, some of which are quite reasonable, rather than dwindle the organization’s reserve funds and scientific credibility based on DEI optics.  What is most certain is that the Board concealed from its membership the magnitude of money squandered on such a futile endeavor that already had a prearranged outcome before any study was conducted at all.  Due to such ostensive bias, the findings should be dismissed and the Holmes Commission defunded, if not dismantled entirely.  Any further support of such inane attempts to diabolize the whole discipline of psychoanalysis as a racist stronghold of white supremacy is to pander to delusion.  The coup should be permanently quelled.

When viewed as a political strategy designed to accuse, berate, and cull power, both research activities by Division 39 and APsaA reveal a sham under the guise of identity politics.  At a lofty price-tag of what it would cost to buy a Bentley (even a house in some communities), there is little scientific rigor to justify the expense to the members let alone the conclusions offered as hasty generalizations based on false propositions and fallacies of attribution. Both studies are distorted in their fundamental assumptions governing social reality based in CSJ/CRT ideology, do not provide demonstrable evidence, or show concrete verifiable examples that can be objectively validated, are based on activist cant, and do not follow conventional approaches to research methods, construction and design, data collection, statistical analysis, nor do they address limitations including a critique or critical discussion.  

In pithy form, these studies are unconvincing at best and have no generalizability past the subjective experiences of those who have encountered racism.  What raises the hermeneutics of suspicion are the emotive prejudices and political agendas of those who were intimately involved in carrying out these studies with the presupposition that systemic racism exists within the institution of psychoanalysis itself before any investigations were conducted at all.  Members of both organizations should compel the Executive or elect new leadership that will no longer coddle crybullies hell-bent on demolishing the field.

Given what we know of politics operative in group identifications and collective organizational life, it is noteworthy to point out that  with regards to the APsaA Holmes Commission, we are informed how different racial demographics generated tensions, divisions, conflicts, and racist enactments within the working groups, which were disclosed as part of the research findings.  We should not be surprised that when people are reduced to the color of their skin, racial characteristics, ethnicity, or gendered identities, an unnecessary focus on difference will introduce discomfort and spur antagonism that only serves to erode more collective identifications, goals, and ideals all parties share in common.  It is also ironic that psychoanalysts would engage in the most developmentally primitive splitting mechanisms they are so adept at analyzing.  But we are all too human.

We cannot continue to allow the toxicity of racial politics and discourse to contaminate the field. The members of the psychoanalytic the community who still hold humanistic and pluralistic values need to speak up in protest, and opposition need to speak out forcefully: we should not remain silent or be complicit.  As the helping professions in general and mental health therapies in particular reside under threat of being ideologically captured by politically regressive social activism, there is too much at stake to remain passively unworried.  This crisis will not simply blow over or go away.  The field is suffering from a failure of nerve to confront an injustice it is allowing to happen.  It’s time to buck up and show some courage.  We should not be afraid of the sophist ploys of being called a racist for simply being white or for having a competing argument or dissenting opinion that differs from illiberal mentality.  We should demand the civility and democratic right to debate different points of view as an exercise in professional and academic freedom without being attacked by an authoritarian woke mob.    

The most obvious observation raises a simple question that is never asked: Why would people of color and oppressed identities want to belong to a white supremacist institution when it is purportedly so noxious and antithetical to their values?  If the collectivist values and universal theories psychoanalysis has to offer has no appeal, wouldn’t it be better to start from ground zero and build a new institution where one feels a sense of comradery and mutual purpose?  Perhaps they have not done so because they believe that they can fully capture existing psychoanalytic institutions and recreate them in their own illiberal images.  And, so far, they appear to be right.  But this does not mean the rest of us should simply roll-over submissively and take a bare paddling based on coercion or connivance.  If we cannot save existing psychoanalytic organizations from the current cadre of dogmatic activists, maybe the time has come to start our own.

Jon Mills is a Canadian philosopher, psychoanalyst, and psychologist. He is an honorary professor in the Department of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies at the University of Essex and is the author of over 30 books in philosophy, psychoanalysis, psychology, and cultural studies, including most recently Psyche, Culture, World (2023).

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