Taraji P. Henson Testifies In Front of Congress About Mental Health Issues In The Black Community

Updated: Nov 10, 2020

Watch this short 6-minute video :)

First, I want to thank Mrs.Henson for using her platform to bring awareness about mental health issues in the Black community by sharing her experience with us. When she mentioned that Black students were mislabeled as special education children this reminded me of a Psychology concept; the Fundamental Attribution Error. This happens when people tend to attribute a person’s behavior mainly to dispositional explanations and under-emphasize situational explanations.

To help your understanding I will provide a scenario:

John is at his first meeting. He observes many people contribute their ideas except for one guy named Kevin. One hour has passed and Kevin has not said a single word. John observes Kevin looking at other places and leaving the meeting to go to the restroom often. He has concluded that Kevin is uninterested in the meeting due to his actions and feels embarrassed for him.

John had just made the Fundamental Attribution Error!

He did not take into account situational explanations of Kevin’s “uninterested behavior.” Maybe Kevin’s family member recently passed away and he can’t really concentrate. Maybe Kevin is feeling sick which is limiting his energy, preventing him from contributing. Instead of labeling Kevin’s “uninterested behavior” solely on his character, John should have taken into account situational explanations.

This is just one of many ways we can make the Fundamental Attribution Error. In some cases, the outcomes of making this error can have huge impacts on others. In regards to the video, did teachers reason the children’s behavior based on only their character and not take into account situational explanations (like their home situation) that may influence their character? Due to the label that was mistakenly placed on the kids they were enrolled in a special ed class and believed they needed special education to learn. However, they did not need special education to learn, they needed mental health assistance. As Mrs.Henson said, “we're expecting these children to come from traumatic circumstances at home" and be mentally capable of learning in school. "It's not fair.”

Mental illness can affect a student’s academic performance and can prevent people from performing their daily tasks. We must take a holistic approach when explaining a person’s behavior by taking into account situational explanations and personality-based explanations. Through this approach, we will create a better society by not being quick to label.


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