3-Minute Interview: Joseph White

The psychologist, social activist and professor emeritus at UC Irvine has been named San Francisco State University’s Alumnus of the Year. He will speak at the school’s graduation ceremonies today.

What is black psychology? Well, if you go to a traditional black Baptist church on Sunday morning, you’ll see black psychology in action. There are seven aspects to black psychology: improvisation, resilience, spirituality, connectivity to others, emotional vitality, gallows humor and a healthy suspicion of you know who.

How have race relations changed since you coined the term in 1968? Inthe 500 years since Columbus sailed over here, we’ve moved from blatant discrimination to holding lectures on tolerance. But where we haven’t moved is in mutual understanding, a way of finding a common ground.

How can we go about finding that common ground? We need to sit down in small, multiethnic groups and go through a reconciliation process. To do that, you have to have a set of goals and a structure. We must identify where we have mutuality and not a dichotomy.

How does it feel to be named alumnus of the year? When I graduated high school 58 years ago, I wasn’t even college-bound. I wanted to be a waiter, but I couldn’t get a job here in San Francisco when I moved from Minneapolis, so I decided to go to college instead. A whole new world opened up for me when I came, so for the school to find me 58 years later just blows my mind.

Any lasting memories of San Francisco? I’ll always remember San Francisco State as this mellow, easygoing place where I had great teachers. The City is part of my foundation, and it seems to carry with me the rest of my life.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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