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The Silence of Our Friends

The Silence of Our Friends

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Pillay’s questioning of the ‘…the discipline of Psychology in general, or critical psychology in particular…’ [p.156] brought to mind this quote:

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” [Martin Luther King Jr., 1967]

This paper suggests that psychology has been too quiet when it came to the issues of social justice and decolonisation, especially as ‘… psychological practice that is embedded in a similar grassroots… is well situated to play a supportive role in the decolonisation movement.’ [p.156]. The author suggests that it may be because, in the case of South Africa, individuals had been have been influenced by ‘…narratives of peace, reconciliation, forgiveness, and unity…’ [p.156] to be less openly critical or, much worse, have turned into the new elite, where ‘…well-meaning but self-identified critical psychologists remain producers and consumers of academic commodities, caught up in the very neo-colonial market forces they attempt to critique.’[p.157]

The author continues to criticize community psychology for the same problem ‘… it remains entangled in neo-liberal market forces of the academy and it problematically operates within a social welfare model of trying to ‘empower’ ‘communities’ ‘out there’.’[p.157]

Pillay asks (playfully or provocatively?) ‘…I wonder what a critical or community psychology would look like if the formation of and participation in progressive political movements were rewarded with research grants, productivity points, career progression, professorship titles, and other forms of official recognition.’[p.157]

All of this has resulted in what the author terms ‘institutional silence’ and ‘…these silences become forms of violence against decolonisation.’ [p.158]

As Pillay points out, this is not unique to psychology; we probably can all look at responses to calls to decolonise the curriculum within our institutions (or more generally within the wider community) and consider how we feel ‘we’ have acted or reacted. The George Floyd protests (and especially the removal of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol), have prompted many institutions and cities in the UK to look closely at their history. Initiatives such as ‘Liberating the Curriculum’ [UCL, 2016] are arguably long overdue, with its attempts to free the curriculum of unhelpful stereotypes and involve students to engage critically with their discipline in a very real and immediate way.


Martin Luther King, Jr., 1967. The Trumpet of Conscience, Steeler Lecture.

Pillay, S. R. (2016) ‘Silence is violence: (critical) psychology in an era of Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall’, South African Journal of Psychology, 46(2), pp. 155–159.

UCL (2016) ‘Liberating the Curriculum”. Teaching & Learning. Available at:  [accessed 25/10/2020]


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