Position Statement & Call to Action: ABAI Session "Recognition of Africa and South Africa"

The ABA Taskforce is aware of the recently publicized ABAI session “The Recognition of South Africa and Africa” and its revision. We acknowledge and, along with a community of professionals, are appreciative of the attention and recognition of this matter by fellow colleagues, especially Melody Marcelle Sylvain, who displayed the courage and dedication to speak up and speak out about the concerns and issues with this publication.

As the ABA Taskforce stands to support social justice, diversity-equity-inclusion within the profession of Applied Behavior Analysis, it is our mission and purpose to align ourselves and provide an organizational voice to these matters.

The Problem

Language Matters:  While there are cultural variances in language, referring to Africa as a country is incorrect and perpetuates the stereotype that African people are a homogeneous group discounting the rich and diverse diaspora of African people as they vary by country. Additionally, language used throughout described African people as “3rd world”, The term "Third World" is a pejorative term that was used post cold war to identify the eastern and western bloc countries and placing all other non United Nations and post colonial countries into a third and fourth world category. This is no longer used in any official capacity. New terms adopted by the United Nations are "Least Developed Countries or (LDC) See the following Link: Least Developed Countries (LDCs) | Department of Economic and Social Affairs  by the United Nations and by Income Level Designation by the World Bank Bank (See:  New-world-bank-country-classifications-income-level-2020-2021 South Africa is currently not one of the 46 countries on the United Nations Current List of LDC’s as of December 2020.  Continued use of this outdated pejorative term further perpetuates the negative stereotypes of Africans both in the United States and Africa under slavery and Apartheid in alignment with cultural and racial stereotypes relative to the economic status of these groups as a whole in error.

In addition to the harm caused to individuals by using pejorative terms, the use of outdated language also reflects on our field as a science. As a science of behavior that focuses on positive socially significant changes for individuals, it is imperative that we not only ensure that our work and discussion of our work does not cause harm to any individual, but also that we remain a leader in both the work we do and the language to describe it. 

Cultural Humility & Inclusion: The current publication did not embrace humility or display sensitivity to those who live on the continent ofAfrica. 

The current publication does not reference the work of any other individuals or groups doing similar work in South Africa or on the continent of Africa either prior to or simultaneous to excluding prior and current work disseminating ABA or working on destigmatizing Autism in Africa.

Representation: While the research and work of this individual should not be undermined, it is essential to include BIPOC populations when they are the focus of discussion and research. Lack of representation further advances the saviorism stereotype in that BIPOC individuals need white individuals to find solutions. This further highlights the work of white researchers while negating or ignoring the work of BIPOC professionals who have or are also engaging in similar activities prior to or simultaneous to these efforts.

The work of BIPOC individuals and groups such as Ugoje Eze, CEO and Founder of Eng Aja Eze Foundation, The Pan African Congress on Autism, Twi-Yeboah, A. and other BIPOC researchers in and from Africa, international training center aba africa and others.

Our Call To Action

Publications: Ensure that abstracts and ABAI publications are reviewed with a focus on inclusion, we charge ABAI to ensure committees that focus specifically on the language, cultural humility, representation, and inclusion of each abstract considered. Additionally, any submission that does not meet these standards is either rejected or allowed to be revised.

Redaction of Statements: should be acknowledged as redacted with formal statements to those offended communities.  

Future Actions and Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: This specific publication and any other publications by ABAI should be reviewed and revised to reflect inclusive language and cultural humility by the DEI Board as a way to establish ABAI’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion across the greater professional field of ABA. This can be done through a formal statement or a set of actionable behavioral steps that ABAI plans to take now and in the future.

Cultural Humility & Inclusion is essential in framing initial stages of collaboration.  The accepted summary did not embrace humility, sensitivity towards the African population.

Representation Matters: Authors should be charged to ensure they are collaborating with BIPOC professionals when presenting on BIPOC populations. We further recommend the creation of platforms and inclusivity in discussions beyond ethnic scholarship in DEI conversations but also in clinical work at the practitioner level. Representation on decision making committees and workgroups including conference planning, journal review, and learning opportunities.

ABAI is a critical and highly regarded organization within the Applied Behavior Analysis community.  It’s position as a governing body responsible for educating a professional community through conferences, learning programs, accreditation of degree programs and certificate sequences, and publications requires it to reimagine practices that embrace equity, cultural humility, representation of the community of behavior analysts and other constituents at large.  

The ABA Taskforce further acknowledges that this practice is not new and not only found within this current issue with an accepted summary for ABAI. This is a common practice found within our applied behavior analysis community within professional organizations.  Socially engineered practices that reduce the presence or value of people of color and the historical work of predecessors and present leaders within communities of color are incongruent to the collective mission of dismantling systemic racism within the applied behavior analysis community.

It is our hope that our organization will continue to be a focused communication arm to support and progressive movement of equity and inclusion. 

Respectfully Submitted,

The ABA Taskforce


This document was collectively written and edited by

ABA Taskforce Board Members

Dr. Natalie Parks

Dr. Amoy Hugh- Pennie

ABA Taskforce Co-Founders

Vanessa Bethea-Miller

Landria Seals Green