Cultivating an Equitable and Anti-Racist Workplace

2020 was filled with unprecedented events in all facets of life, and, as many have noted across the globe, the year became a landmark for the call to action against racism.

From the incident in Central Park, where a white woman called the police on a black bird watcher, to the murder of George Floyd by police officers, and when the police officers who murdered Breonna Taylor in her home were not indicted for their involvement in her murder, it is clear that racism is still very prevalent and pervasive. It reaches far and wide, including at home and in the workplace, where power dynamics and structural racism can be multiplied. 

Through his talk, “Social Work’s Role in Black Lives Matter,” Wayne Reid discussed racism’s reach into social workers’ professional lives. In the workplace, there are certain barriers that people of color face that white people do not. To address these barriers and inequities, equality, diversity, and inclusion advisory groups are often created. Too often, the burden of creating these groups and addressing racism in the workplace falls solely on people of color, when it is a fight that requires everyone’s involvement, especially those in positions of power. This is part of the push for people to go beyond being non-racist and to become anti-racist– actively fighting against racism and advocating for changes against racist policies and practices. It is an active, ongoing process, not only in one’s personal life but in professional environments as well.

Creating an Anti-Racist Workplace

Wayne works for the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), which currently has a goal to create a universal anti-racist framework that is applicable to all aspects of the social work field. This includes creating an anti-racist workplace, and Wayne and the BASW have an idea for how that would look. As Wayne described, an anti-racist workplace would have a very specific anti-racist mission statement, making sure to interview people of color, to integrate an anti-racism mentality into policies and procedures, to provide adequate anti-racism training to all staff, and to conduct annual pay reviews for employees of color to ensure they are being paid fairly relative to their white colleagues. With these steps, workplaces would have to take active steps to ensure they were discussing race within the workplace and enforcing anti-racist policies.

On top of these ideas for an anti-racist workplace, including mandatory professional development courses aimed at educating people on how to be anti-racist, anti-discriminatory, and anti-oppressive would be beneficial. There are already experts in the world of anti-racism who have done the groundwork, and their expertise can be utilized to help implement anti-racist practices within workplaces. For example, Stanford University has created an “Anti-Racism Toolkit” for managers to better equip themselves to address racism in the workplace and move towards a more inclusive environment, and the W.K Kellogg Foundation has created a Racial Equity Resource Guide full of training methods and workshops to provide structure for anti-racist professional development.

Leadership Inequality

Wayne also discussed the importance of leadership programs for people of color within their workplaces. In the US, black people only make up 3.2% of senior leadership roles, and only 0.8% of Fortune 500 CEO positions. Employers need to sufficiently invest in leadership training programs and provide the resources to ensure the success of people of color within them. Leadership programs for people of color would help address the lack of people of color in leadership positions within the social work field and beyond. For social work specifically, in conjunction with these leadership programs, employers should create programs allowing social workers of color to mentor senior staff members as well, providing insight for them regarding the challenges people of color face in the workplace. That said, while the benefits of this type of program are important, boundary setting and confidentiality are just as vital and would need to be well thought out prior to implementation.

Addressing Education

In order to assist in diversifying leadership, higher education must also be addressed. Despite the increase in people of color attending college, there is still a large imbalance in representation compared to the general US population.

For the social work field, it is important to address the accessibility of social work education programs. Because they are often expensive and have numerous requirements for entry, entry into the field is inaccessible for many. They also need to include a more deliberately anti-racist curriculum, which can be guided by people of color through their lived experiences, as well as experts in the field. The field of social work has long been dominated by white women, and that imbalance has impacted the curriculum that we use today.

Moving Forward

As long as people continue to ignore racism and the effects it continues to have, nothing will change. Wayne and the BASW’s work to integrate anti-racist education and policies into the workplace and social work schools is crucial to the future of social work and the progress of anti-racist work. Social work needs to play a large role in the changing of policies and practices to ensure that the future is more equitable for all.

Getting It Wrong, Making It Right: A Call to White Helping Professionals

Audre Lorde famously wrote that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” and in 2020, few passages ring truer. According to the National Association of Social Workers, the profession is meant to “enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people.” We want to help clients and organizations identify tools for survival, healing, and growth, but what we say we’re about and what we’re actually doing don’t always line up. The SWHelper-run Anti-Racism Virtual Summit on September 16 and 17 in 2020 offered a space for social workers and other helping professions to reflect on and rebuild our toolboxes. Speakers Crystal Hayes and Dr. Jennifer Jewell used their workshop, Dismantling White Supremacy in Social Work, to explore the field’s racist history and to offer steps that providers can take to transform our work. (You can learn more about this year’s Anti-Racism Virtual Summit here, taking place October 26th and the 27th.)

In last year’s event, Hayes, MSW, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Connecticut, and Jewell, Ph.D., the Director of Social Work at Salisbury University, depicted a steep uphill battle from complicity to transformation, initiated by progressive leaders but in need of more support. Hayes, a Black feminist reproductive justice advocate, opened the workshop with a powerful reflection on colonialism and the cultural genocide of Indigenous and First Nations people, whose sacred land we occupy. In truth, many of our struggles (colonialism, police brutality, and the climate crisis, to name a few) share the same root problem: white supremacy. Critical race theorist Frances Lee Ansley characterized white supremacy as the systematic hoarding of power and resources by White people paired with widespread views of Whites as dominant and non-Whites as subordinate. This is the foundation on which the social work profession was built and the fire from which many “helping” tools were forged. 

Deep-Roots

Hayes’ call for an intersectional, decolonized approach to social work requires us to take off our rose-colored glasses and take a hard look at our origin story. Jane Addams, often lauded as the mother of social work and a leader for suffrage (a movement imbued with racism), was no saint. Addams, the 1931 recipient of the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize and a celebrated figure even today, was also an example of segregation, paternalism, and gatekeeping in action. It is not enough to quickly admit these flaws and move on; we need to sit with the full weight of the damage inflicted, to understand how deep our racist roots reach. There is no quick fix for the discomfort we feel, but we can learn and grow from it. Less than 100 years later, the field is still dominated by White women, beneficiaries of white supremacy just as Addams was.

From segregated settlement houses to the sanctioned kidnapping of Indigenous children and disparate rates of removal of Black children from their families, to eugenics and the forced sterilization of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people, our field has been using tools of oppression, not liberation. All signs point back to white supremacy: these disparities happen in settings where social workers hold power and control decision-making. We see ourselves as progressive saviors, but we have also done deep harm, not just healing. These legacies are not a relic of our past, either. They have lived on through redlining, internment camps, prisons, and the ICE detention centers where women today still endure needless hysterectomies under the supervision of doctors who were spoon-fed covert racism in their training. Health and economic outcomes from COVID-19 show plainly that racism still touches all the spaces where social workers practice. 

Evolving the Social Work Profession

The “ah-ha” moment of Hayes’ and Jewell’s presentation emerged when Jewell gets at the difference between non-racist and anti-racist. Ibram Kendi teaches that anti-racism is a verb, and non-racism does not exist at all. As Jewell put it, “kind does not equal anti-racist.” Kindness and decency are not liberation tools, but anti-racism – actively working to take down oppressive systems – is. Social work did not begin as an anti-oppression movement, but it can become one. Research consistently shows that the whole profession needs an overhaul. Not sure where to start? Here are a few places to focus your attention:

  1. Education access and integrity. We can look upstream to the racialized K-12 opportunity gaps and school to prison pipeline that create barriers for future change-makers. Academic institutions must make schooling affordable; pursuing an MSW requires wealth or strong credit, but wealth is directly connected to race because of white supremacy, perpetuating the cycle. Student unions can demand anti-oppression commitments from field placement sites and protest the exploitative norm of unpaid internships
  2. Policy reform. Social workers need to be explicitly anti-racist and reflect on how our identities and biases help or hinder our effectiveness in clinical and macro roles alike. There is a time and place for us to surrender our privilege as much as there is a time to leverage it for change and reform in law enforcement, child welfare, and the many other settings where we operate. 
  3. Decentering whiteness. In schools, we can decolonize curricula to showcase the contributions of BIPOC providers in social work theory, research, and practice. In our agencies, we should prioritize the recruitment, retention, and promotion of people from the communities directly impacted by racial oppression. We can look to community-led revolutions like Black settlement houses, the Black Panther Party, and BLM for best practices on equity and healing. 
  4. Accompliceship and accountability. Being accomplices against white supremacy means reconsidering how we share the air – are we whitesplaining oppression to BIPOC clients and colleagues but staying silent when oppression occurs, expecting them to call it out? Racism going under our radar is not an excuse – it is a symptom of the problem. Most of all, when we get it wrong (as we all do), we must be accountable and commit to doing better.

Like most revolutions, the charge is being led by young people: doctoral and graduate students in the field, community organizers, and clients who experienced harm at the hands of oppressive systems. Not only White social workers but all White “helping” professionals have an ethical responsibility to unpack our toolboxes and to get rid of what’s broken. After all, liberation work is about impact, not intent. Some people would call a hammer a tool, and others would call it a weapon; who holds it and how they swing it is what makes the difference.

BLM in Maternal Health: How to Fix the Mortality Rate for Expectant Mothers

Generally, when we think of healthcare, we think of an ever-progressing field that is often one of the first sectors to utilize new technologies and other means of improving patient care. These progressions ultimately enhance every part of our health-related lives. With this in mind, it comes as a large surprise to many that mortality rates during pregnancy increased 25% between 2000 and 2014 in the United States.

Furthermore, black mothers were three times more likely to die during childbirth than their white mother counterparts during this time. Taken over a 14-year period, it’s very safe to say those statistics were not flukes, and the systemic racism that affects much of our nation has not spared black mothers at the hospital, either.

Deep-Rooted Problems

A common misperception is that people have to be consciously or overtly racist to make decisions that wind up causing disparities like those black mothers face, but that is simply not true. Implicit biases exist in all of us, based on the things we see as we grow up. These exist in everyone and are not something that we should be ashamed of, but rather should be recognized and overcome. This is particularly critical when these biases affect the work someone does, and even more so when that work involves saving people’s lives.

Overt bias is saying something like “I prefer to hang out with white people,” and that is certainly much more of a rarity today than it was 50 years ago. But implicit bias would be walking into a room with five people of five different races and automatically thinking that you have a better chance of being friends with the one who looks the most like you. Though that feeling is normal, it is, when really thought about, pretty ridiculous to assume someone’s appearance will affect the way you interact with them.

In hospitals, this same feeling is what causes disparities like the ones seen in black women giving birth. White doctors talk longer to white patients and even that extra bit of conversation can make a difference in how much care is given to a patient, based on the short-yet-relevant “personal” relationship. It’s no different with black women and the disparities that exist when they give birth.

Cultural Competence

One way to correct this issue is by adding more focus on cultural competence in nursing, and throughout the healthcare space. Cultural competence is a broad term for acceptance and understanding of all races, ethnicities, genders, religions, etc. that one may come in contact with during the course of a given workweek. For healthcare professionals, being able to communicate with the same levels of efficiency to every patient is, in and of itself, a step in the direction needed to end racial disparities in healthcare.

Correcting Healthcare Disparities

A deeper issue, bluntly put, is that conscious racism still exists as well. Generally, healthcare professionals are intelligent enough to be above this, but certainly not always, just as with other occupations that involve disproportionate advantages to Caucasians. As fellow healthcare professionals, the only way to combat this is by being vocal when it is seen. Vetting processes for bigotry now exist across a very wide breadth of occupations, and in some areas, healthcare is following suit. Recommend that your locale does the same to further help minimize these glaring disparities.

The third large-scale issue related to racial disparities is locational “fairness” in healthcare. Places with high densities of black and Latino individuals also tend to have less funding in their public health options, meaning the care is simply not as good. This is not a case of conscious racism, either, and though technically it is a financial issue, the reasons behind those communities having less funding are, indeed, racially motivated. Fixing these disparities starts at the local voting booth, and fighting for legislation to make affordable care also be quality care is important in the overall battle.

Correcting these disparities will not be something that happens overnight, even if everyone magically jumped on board. They are deeply rooted, and only generational education can ensure that individuals who are responsible for the gaps in care today don’t exist tomorrow.

What We Could Learn From The Sierra Club’s Self-Reckoning

The Sierra Club did something very difficult: it admitted it had a problem. The long-standing conservation organization released a statement acknowledging the prejudices of its founder and environmental icon, John Muir, along with its problematic beginnings and harmful impacts to Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color.

In the wake of George Floyd’s killing and the ensuing protests, there has been reenergized conversation around reckoning with the past in order to create a better future. The Sierra Club’s honest acknowledgment of its origins and its commitment to transparent improvement should be a model for how institutions can recognize their past without invalidating the positive work they have done. A problem can only be fixed once it is acknowledged and deemed worthy of action. Our country should take note.

The Sierra Club is one of the nation’s largest and most influential environmental organizations. Since its founding in 1892, the club has worked to preserve and create new public parks, lobbied for the adoption of renewable energy and the protection of clean water, campaigned against the use of coal, and promoted youth environmental education. It’s co-founder and first president, John Muir, inspired many with his writings and assisted in creating the movement that would become the National Park System, earning him the moniker “Father of the National Parks.”

Despite his achievements, the organization recently issued a public apology for Muir’s harmful writings and beliefs. It noted his derogatory comments and characterizations of Black and Indigenous people that played on racist stereotypes, saying, “As the most iconic figure in Sierra Club history, Muir’s words and actions carry an especially heavy weight. They continue to hurt and alienate Indigenous people and people of color.”

The Sierra Club screened out potential members based on race, limiting the historical environmental engagement of people of color. Beyond the club’s membership, Muir’s views and statements were emblematic of many of the early conservation movement’s problems. The very lands that were being protected had been taken by white settlers who drove out its indigenous populations. Muir’s ideal state of conservation seemed to be “the lone white man at one with nature.” This exclusionary view has had lasting effects, including a disproportionately low number of people of color visiting national parks, with 25% of Black and Hispanic people seeing national parks as unsafe.

A founding father who inspired a movement spanning generations but begun on land only considered “free” once its indigenous populations were driven out. An icon whose prejudices ran counter to his overarching positive message, creating a vision he and his generation couldn’t, and frankly didn’t desire to, uphold. A monumental figure who moved the world in a positive direction, while not only excluding but damaging communities of color, creating systemic and generational harm. Sounds familiar.

With its statement, the Sierra Club has already taken a larger step than many in the United States. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that while 59% of Americans believe Black people face discrimination, only 44% believe that it is systemic and perpetuated by policy and institutions – throwing the burden of racism from our largest institution, our country, to a few “bad apples.”

While there is a bit of optimism in this poll that shows 51% supporting the removal of confederate statues, an ABC/Washington Post poll finds that such support was not able to gain the majority. Their polling showed that only 43% of Americans supported removing statues honoring Confederate generals and 42% supported renaming military bases named after Confederate generals. Whichever poll one chooses to believe, the message is still that barely or less than half of Americans believe we should remove statues and names of the military leaders who fought to preserve the ownership and selling of humans.

Admitting a problem is the first step to recovery. It is not saying that we are rotten to the core, have never done good, or are irredeemable, but it is acknowledging that we have done damage to ourselves and to those to whom we have a responsibility. Sometimes it takes an intervention, but it can go no further without self-acceptance. If we are to celebrate the glory of our beginnings, we must also recognize our horrors, and those horrors’ lasting effects. The Sierra Club has begun the work – we should too.

New Mobile Justice App: Because Freedom Can’t Protect Itself

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It is no secret that police brutality exists and is often targeted towards minority groups particularly African American and Latino citizens. Almost daily throughout the country, there are news reports depicting the inhumane nature of police interactions with people of color.  Also on social media, news feeds and twitter pages are filled with accounts about vicious attacks made by police on marginalized groups, and these attacks many times result in unnecessary death or trauma.

For people of color, police engagement instills a deep sense of fear and resentment towards those who are tasked with protecting and serving our communities. Historically, police departments have been used as legal enforcers for racial oppression. Most Caucasians see police officers simply working to maintain their safety while most people of color feel terrorized by them. Almost always, police are given a slap on the wrist for police brutality and excessive uses of force. Very rarely are they charged with their crimes, even when their actions result in unjustified homicide.

As I write, I remember two unwarranted deaths that had occurred while I lived in Pittsburgh.  Both victims were African American and unarmed- one was a teenager and the other was a mentally ill adult.  The teenager was shot and killed for walking home in his community, called the Hill District.  The other was tased to death in front of a gas station.

I also think about LaQuan McDonald, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and the countless number of victims that die yearly because of police brutality.  Let us give them a moment of silence to honor their memory and direct compassion towards their families.  During 2015 alone, police killed more than 100 unarmed African Americans, which means at least two unarmed African Americans are killed each week by police in the United States.

However, now there is hope to make an inhumane and unjust police system answer for brutality against minority groups. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Missouri recently created a free mobile justice app that can be downloaded to any smart phone in order to hold the police system of Missouri accountable for its numerous attacks against marginalized groups.  Since the killing of Michael Brown, police brutality has exponentially grown in Missouri, which inspired the creation of this app to halt its prevalence.

This app, known as ACLU of Missouri Mobile Justice App 2, is free to anyone and offers many features that empower the community to act against police brutality.  The four main features of this app include:  1) Recording, 2) Witnessing, 3) Reporting, and 4) Educating about rights.  It allows app holders to record instances of brutal police encounters that are instantly emailed to ACLU of Missouri.  It also alerts other app users in the area of police brutality so that they can bear witness and offer testimony against police officers.

Additionally, it allows victims and witnesses of police brutality to accurately report inhumane and unlawful encounters with the police.  Lastly, this app educates its users about their rights as citizens, which includes the right to videotape police brutality despite what is said by police officers.  Thus, this app provides a mechanism to stop police brutality through visibility and accountability.

ACLU of Missouri cautions the usage of this app since police officers are armed and dangerous.  They suggest that users announce to police that they are reaching for their phone, while also reminding officers that recording is a civil liberty.  Ultimately if your life is in danger, app creators suggest that you put down the phone.  However, once the recording is initiated, it automatically alerts others and is sent to ACLU of Missouri’s email.

This app is a first and necessary step in ending police brutality against minority groups in the United States.  Other states can now model the creation their own mobile justice app in order to hold police accountable throughout the country.  More importantly, this app allows citizens across the United States to become educated about the cruel nature of police interactions in order to activate change within their communities.

This app empowers us citizens to prevent the unnecessary killing of unarmed minority citizens.  #BlackLivesMatter just as much as white lives.  Hispanic lives matter, Muslim lives, Asian lives, and Native American Lives too, but we cannot have justice until people of color lives matter just as much as white lives. Our police can no longer serve to protect solely its white members while targeting and killing minority groups.

Filming police brutality? Of course there’s an app for that

Posted by NowThis on Friday, May 1, 2015

 

The Governance Agenda: Black Lives Matter and Protest Politics

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The Black Lives Matter Movement has inserted itself into the 2016 Presidential Election. From its initial confrontation with Senator Bernie Sanders to a private meeting with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the movement has become a presence. Not isolated to the Democratic Primary process, the Movement’s presence is visible in the Republican Primary as well. In various interviews, the Republican presidential candidates are asked for a response to the demands of the Movement.

With any protest movement, the Movement is speaking truth to power — those who are able to create access or erect barriers — forcing it be accountable to those over whom it has dominion. However, holding the powerful (political elites) accountable and achieving policy objectives should not be the end goal of the movement. There has to be an effort to move from protest to governance. And this is where social work and allied professions can provide support. I suggest that social workers who practice in the policy and community arenas can do two things. First, support Black Lives Matters in creating political institutions that can run and/or fund candidates who embrace critical race theory approach to governance. Second, produce scholarship that challenges the notion that economic populism (or more broadly the traditional progressive agenda) sufficiently addresses racial disparities.

Bayard Rustin, in remarking on southern demonstrators and their efforts to curb police brutality stated, “The most effective way to strike at the police brutality they suffered from was to get rid of the local sheriff.” This type political action requires organization. We recognize this as the traditional community organizing process. We identify the target system, the person who is in charge of said system, mobilize community residents and secondary targets, and create a list of demands. The result of this community organizing usually is the creation of permanent community-controlled institutions. These new institutions serve as guardians of the political gains that the community has won. However, as effective as this process has been, we need to move from community organizing/protest tactics to developing a political, economic, and social philosophy that translates into a governing agenda.

This concept is not new. The formation of the Congressional Black Caucus resulted from civil rights era activists becoming political actors. What we need today is the same translation of policy grievances into political agency. The TEA Party has transformed conservative politics through primary challenges, grassroots activism, and political action. With support, the Movement can transform progressive politics. Social workers can support activists in developing policy statements and analysis, forming and funding of political action committees, starting ballot initiatives, and running for political office. This list is not exhaustive, only suggestive of how our professional training in social justice can lend support to the Movement in the political arena. Moreover, the political arena is not the only place where our skills are necessary.

An element of power is the ability to control the narrative. The Movement is challenging the current narrative around policing. Through our scholarship, we can support the Movement by supplementing their anecdotal evidence with case study and empirical analysis. As researchers and academics, we can lend objectivity to the truth that the Movement speaks to power. Essentially, we can transform their grievances into scholarly analysis. A lot of this work is currently done. Professors have included an analysis of the events in Ferguson into their syllabi and peer-reviewed journals have created special issues on racial equity. The question now is how can we further professionalize this work. Specifically, where can we expand critical race theory in social work practice?

Can we leverage communities of learning on critical race theory at various department, schools, and colleges into a respected think-tank on racial equity? The Movement is challenging mainstream society to see the challenges of those who are racialized as black (those excluded from full political, economic, and social citizenship) in the same manner that miners would see a canary i.e. a crisis in the black community is signal of imminent systemic failure. Our scholarship can assist that process.

The legacy of slavery in the United States is that the political elites used their power to create a racialized society. They allocated economic and social resources based on the biological fiction of race. In doing so, they rooted race into our social reality. If we are going to capitalize on the gains of the Civil Rights Movement, then we should embrace the call of the Black Lives Matter movement to make blackness visible in our society. By making race visible, where it is either willfully or unwittingly unnoticed, we can readily challenge its existence. We as social workers should engage in this process through political advocacy and/or scholarship.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghQNvfJZv_k

Hillary Clinton Can Do Better on Race

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Hillary Clinton is currently using a rhetorical device otherwise known as an attempt to be “honest”, and it’s a call for us to be reflective about our own indifference to the racial divide. The problem is, former Secretary of State Clinton reinforces an irrational fear, masked in a logical fallacy, to justify an unsustainable ego defense. She meant well in the context of a larger discussion on race.

But, she could have engaged the same discussion by demonstrating the fear as irrational rather than leveraging the fear to elicit an emotional connection. Let’s apply the Social Work Next perspective to evaluate the rhetorical device. Our central question is one of Politics. How can policy and politics support empathy?

Exploring the Rhetoric
This speech was delivered July 23, 3015 in South Carolina. Some are attempting to use the clip without context to manufacture a Clinton gaffe. Presenting this as a gaffe, it would set up a narrative pitting open-minded Whites against other Whites using Black lives as the key factor in the decision point. Many may fall into that pit, but Social workers cannot.

If you took this position, it argues for Whites to advocate for and acknowledge that Blacks deserve to be treated as equals. Then, the other Whites should join the open-minded Whites and their action in creating a more tolerant United States. What this does is maintain the privilege of Whites as the center of the debate—the decision makers and the one group whose advocacy and opinion matters.

It also limits the debate to an individual level debate, one where each person needs to step up. The danger is to ignore mezzo and macro levels that also need attention. The danger is to miss the opportunity to ask a presidential candidate how he/she will legislate with the empathy necessary to create change. Policy should be the center of this debate leveraged by Justice for all, informed by Appreciation for all.

Clinton states in multiple events over the past month, some version of the following:

“Let’s be honest, for a lot of well-meaning, open-minded white people, the sight of a young black man in a hoodie still evokes a twinge of fear. And news reports that poverty, crime, and discrimination evoke sympathy, even empathy, but too rarely do they spur us to action or prompt us to question our own assumptions and privilege” (June 20, 2015 speech to US Conference of Mayors).

It’s still an inappropriate line. It could have been better. It serves to justify fear of Black males even while highlighting privilege.

Breaking down the Conceptual Semantics

The Social Work Next approach to this begins with the awareness of multiple systems levels: micro, mezzo, and macro. The individual or micro level is where much of this rhetoric resides. Rather than justifying the fear as a reminder to reflect with empathy and action, let us explore the fear as irrational.

The individual assessment would ask what biopsychosocial-spiritual-meaning experiences support the fear of Blacks. Only by addressing those fears at their origin, can the individual address the fallacy (most often) or the trauma (less likely) that supports the fear. The point at the individual level is that YOU have a choice regardless of the past or fear of the future. The risk in this moment is equal to the risk is all other moments.

At the mezzo level, we deal with institutions. What institutions support the idea that being Black is somehow threatening or precursor to harm? The solution is to move away from prejudice and determine the content of a person’s character no matter their race or clothing. The number of Blacks has no impact on your level of fear during a board meeting even if they all wore hoodies.

Let’s be clear, alley ways are scary no matter who is standing around in them. Anyone walking into a convenience store with a hoodie pulled over their head is going to raise your fear level. Remove the “being Black” offense from the evaluation of safety in context. Let us promote institutions that utilize the best in social engineering to support collaborative outcomes. You do that by moving away from social control and toward social capital. You know what I mean. “Protect and Serve” community policing versus “Stop and Frisk” raids and harassment.

At the macro level, we discuss environmental practice—the home for our discussion of politics. This is where we get into the depth of empathy. Empathy can begin with guilt. The problem here is that the guilt-to-empathy construct works at the individual level. The task is to expand the construct to the macro level, to collectively reflect, then politically act. What Clinton got wrong is that we don’t make this choice because of our guilt about our privilege or our fear of Blacks. We make the choice to create a politic of justice and appreciation because it serves our ends. The first level of empathy is to see ourselves or our children as the potential victim of unjust policy. The second level is to care that any other person would be subjected to such unjust policy without our ability to successfully navigate the system.

Policy-JusticeANDAppreciationPolitics of Change
As citizens, we are counting on our politicians to advance policy solutions. As social workers, we must educate a populous addressing a politic that lacks empathy. Clinton discusses empathy that leads to action, but only after justifying irrational thoughts. Reflection on assumptions and privilege is not enough. Many well-meaning people don’t have the energy and commitment for true empathy–understanding how my history makes my choices reasonable. And, how your insistence on my conformity criminalizes my existence. That is the point of #BlackLivesMatter. Not a redress to your privilege, but the assertion of my right to exist, under my own terms.

Use policy to grant me that right. Structure institutions that promote and bolster that right. Make equitably available the tools to defend myself and navigate the system.

In your speeches, structure your rhetoric to ensure a movement of justice and appreciation leading to empathy. Go beyond the guilt of having more, living outside stop-and-frisk zones, and living within successful school districts. Create, support, and enforce policies that provide equity of opportunity without asking me to become like you or more safe for you. I can’t change my color, but WE can change policy.

Afterward to the Social Worker
If you want to explore rhetoric and semantics further, may I suggest the following article as a starting point.

Complex speeches aren’t better speeches. In fact, they’re worse.

The most memorable lines in modern rhetoric—”Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”; “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”; —are remembered precisely because they’re simple enough to understand, memorize, and talk about. Practically every modern sage of language—George Orwell, Steven Pinker, William Safire, Strunk & White—advises non-fiction writers to express themselves with simple language. Even if you like purple prose in your long-form narrative non-fiction, you’ll agree that it’s pleasing to hear complex policy points in clear sentences and parallelisms. (It’s hard to rule out that the dense language of the 19th century was pleasing and cogent in its own time.)

Read More

If you would like to explore the implications and the next steps for social work thought, keep reading this site, or you can do both.

Congresswoman Lee Leads Effort Urging President Obama to Ban the Box

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Washington, D.C.- More than 70 Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, led by Congresswoman Barbara Lee, sent a letter to President Obama to adopt a federal fair chance hiring policy. This effort was co-led by Congressman Conyers, Congressman Scott, Congressman Davis, and Congresswoman Jackson Lee.

The federal government should not be in the business of erecting barriers between those who have made a mistake and are looking a job, said Congresswoman Lee. By enacting these basic fair chance hiring reforms, the federal government will continue to lead as a model employer while working to end the cycle of mass incarceration, unemployment and recidivism.

The effort was supported by various groups including Policy Link, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), National Employment Law Project (NELP), PICO Networks LIVE FREE Campaign, and All Of Us Or None, a national organizing initiative founded by formerly-incarcerated individuals to fight against discrimination and for the human rights of prisoners.

It’s rewarding to witness the work started in our backyard reach national levels, and continue to dismantle the barriers facing formerly incarcerated communities, said co-founding member, Dorsey Nunn, of All Of Us Or None. This effort could not have come at a better time to reflect that all Black Lives Matter, including the lives of people with arrest and conviction histories.

The letter calls on President Obama to take executive action requiring that federal contractors and agencies refrain from inquiring about an applicants criminal record in the initial stage of hiring. Employers would be able to inquire about convictions and conduct background checks before making an employment decision.

The letter reads: We urge you to build on your administration’s commitment to adopting fair change hiring reforms by committing the federal government to do its part to eliminate unnecessary barriers to employment for people with criminal records.

Specifically, the letter notes that seventeen states, the District of Columbia and more than 100 cities and counties have already adopted fair chance hiring reforms.  In six states, the policy also expands to the private sector. Several private sector firms have also independently adopted fair chance hiring policies including: Walmart, Koch Industries, Home Depot, Bed Bath & Beyond and Target.

There are more than 70 million Americans with criminal records and communities of color are disproportionately affected. One in three African-American men will be arrested during their lifetime.

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Banning the box in federal hiring would help those who are fighting for a fair opportunity to show their qualifications for employment.  This is the right thing to do for individuals seeking to provide for themselves and their families, and it is the smart thing to do for our national economy which sorely needs the talents and contributions of all of our citizens, said Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee.

The EEOC has ruled that discrimination based on prior convictions without an individualized assessment of the relevance to job performance constitutes illegal employment discrimination, said Rep. Scott (VA-03), Ranking Member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce. The Fair Chance practices, also known as ban the box, are consistent with that EEOC guidance.  Studies have consistently shown  that properly tailoring employment restrictions will help to increase public safety, reduce recidivism, and save money.

The cruel, relentless logic of mass incarceration has now become apparent to all.  One in four Americans has a conviction history which often excludes them from the workforce and from housing creating new layers of crisis for our communities, said Congressman Danny Davis (IL-07). Ban the box is a critical step for formerly incarcerated individuals to a dignified, productive civilian life and helping families and communities become self-sustaining once again.

Almost one in three adults in the United States has a criminal record that will show up on a routine criminal background check. This creates a serious barrier to employment for millions of workers, especially in communities of color hardest hit by decades of over-criminalization, said Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18).

Nationwide, 100 cities and counties have adopted what is widely known as ban the box so that employers consider a job candidates qualifications first, without the stigma of a criminal record. These initiatives provide applicants a fair chance by removing the conviction history question on the job application and delaying the background check inquiry until later in the hiring. Fair chance policies benefit everyone because they are good for families and the local community.

The letter can be found here.

OSU School of Social Work Dean Is Not Silent on the #BlackLivesMatter Movement

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Over the past year, we have witnessed massive protests around the world spawned by human rights violations, declining labor rights, and austerity cuts to public services. The plight for many Americans struggling with poverty and located in low-income neighborhoods are not being spared the same fate in our “land of plenty”.

These protests have brought to light the use of police forces and government resources being used to further suppress the voices of the poor and what appears to be an acceptable disdain for policing communities of color. Many have predicted this period in our history will be remembered as the third reconstruction, but how will social work be remembered regarding the most important issues in our life time?

Since Ferguson and the development of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement, it is my opinion that social work leadership is failing to engage and participate in discussions on behalf of vulnerable populations with very little political power. Largely, I have been disappointed in the social work profession as whole for the lack of any organized national efforts to advocate on a range of social issues affecting the clients we serve.

However, I was able to get a glimpse of what a top down effort could look like when social work leadership leads an effort instead individuals being forced to act autonomously without social work leadership support. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Ohio State University College of Social Work Dean Tom Gregoire who lead a #BlackLivesMatter March for their community. Here is what Dean Gregoire had to say about why it was important for him to get involved.

SWH: Why was it important for you and the School of Social Work to lead a march on the #BlackLivesMatter Movement?

We have all be moved by the events of the past year and wanted a tangible demonstration of support for our students, faculty, and staff colleagues. It is important to hold conversation about emergent social topics.  But as social workers, it is also important at times to transcend talk. By marching we “walked our talk” and provided a demonstration of our concern and support that transcended conversation.

SWH: How are student’s processing in the classroom the racial tension and angst manifesting in a variety ways across the country?

I believe that a lot of our community is in pain regarding the level of racial tension and violence. We feel the need to communicate our concern and support. Although we hosted a public forum on these issues, we did not think we were doing an effective enough job of providing the vehicles for classroom attention to the issues that are manifesting nationwide.  I believe that left our entire community wanting more, and looking to us for a strong statement. So we took a walk together.

SWH: How did the use of social media help to increase awareness of your school’s on the ground efforts with the #BlackLivesMatter March?

Social Media played a critical role.  We made a decision to participate in the walk on Wednesday, and then marched together on Saturday, only three days later.  All of our communication was via social media. Social media was important in allowing those who wanted to support the walk but were unable to attend.  Via social media our impact and reach was much broader, and allowed far great involvement.  To further carry the message we created a Storify to tell the social media story of our day, https://storify.com/osucsw/blacklivesmatter-march

SWH: How do you think social work institutions and members of our profession can engage in the large discussion on poverty and institutional racism within the systems we work?

Social media is an important vehicle for carrying the message. It is not constrained by traditional media, and its much more real time. We are not dependent on the mainstream for getting our message out.  I also think it’s important to be open to conversation that moves us toward solution. It is important to be a witness and a voice in the face of social injustice and a voice.  As social workers we need to transcend complaint alone and lean into difficult issues with an expectation of leading change.  Finally,

SWH: What do you feel are the biggest barriers and challenges for social workers to engage and/or have an impact on the social issues of our day?

Courage and curiosity are two important precursors to having an impact on important social issues. Courage allows us to believe that we can make a difference, and helps us be patient for the enduring effort.  Curiosity is the path to new solutions   Rather than thinking we have all the answers, a willingness to see a problem in a completely different way is the only path to new strategies. We need more sentences starting with “what if?” and fewer with “yes but”.

We are often dragged into zero-sum arguments, ones that pit vulnerable groups against each other.  Should limited resources go to support needy children, or older adults?  Is the oppression of people of color more urgent than attacks on the rights of the LGBTQ community?  When we are arguing among ourselves we are not advancing.  Nothing preserves the status-quo better than when the people who need it changed are fighting among themselves.

School of Social Welfare Striving to Maintain Oppression

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UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare Teach-In

Berkeley, CA – A contingent of 60 graduate students led a teach-in and mediation at UC Berkeley’s School of Welfare today in response to racist comments made by a tenured Professor Steven Segal who was present along with Dean Jeffery Edleson. The action was organized in support of 25 graduate students enrolled in Segal’s Mental Health Policy course, which must be completed this semester by all students in the Community Mental Health concentration.

On Feb. 10, 2015, students advocated to end class early due to offensive and racist comments made by the professor regarding the Black Lives Matter movement. The day prior, Segal had been invited by students to participate in a school-wide conversation meant to create a safe space for students to share ideas for how the social work profession could be accountable to the movement.

Teach-In 01During class on Feb. 10, Segal, a tenured white professor, began by sharing statistics citing Black on Black crime as the real cause of harm to the Black community. He then encouraged the class to join him in a rap that he wrote the night before, claiming that he had been inspired after attending the Black Lives Matter event the prior evening.

The rap he shared in class caused great offense to students, with lyrics that stated the movement, “needed to stop scapegoating the cops.” The professor also silenced students who questioned and pushed back on his reasoning.

Later that day, Dean Edleson e-mailed a school-wide announcement addressing the incident and discussed the event with the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination who filed a complaint.

On Feb. 12, Professor Segal issued an apology to the class if he had caused any offense by his comments and that this was not his intent. After the incident, students quickly organized to generate a list of demands, including mediation. After several letters and meetings requesting such, mediation was not offered by School of Social Welfare administration.

Students were afforded two options: to attend an alternate class with a new professor on a different day, or to continue in Segal’s class as usual. Students who were unable to attend the alternate class due to scheduling conflicts remained without a solution. In addition, a healing circle was scheduled the week following the incident for students in the class to process together.

After receiving this news, students requested a mediator to be offered from the University’s Ombudsman’s office. The request was again denied. Students then began to strategize alternate actions to make the classroom safe in order to return. A group of Social Welfare students, who were not in the class, organically came together to support Community Mental Health students who had been at a loss for ways to move forward.

Students in Segal’s class met with Dean Edleson on Feb. 23 to discuss their continued concerns preceding their expected return to either class option that week. The following day, Segal reportedly planned to listen to students’ concerns on their first day back in class since the incident. Dean Edleson was present to observe. Student organizers met on steps of Haviland Hall where they hung a banner that read, “School of Social Welfare: Striving to Maintain Oppression Since 1944.”

At the start of the class, students marched into the building singing “Requiem for Mike Brown” inspired by October’s protests at Saint Louis Symphony. Students Karen Navarro, Vanessa Coe and Erika O’Bannon facilitated the discussion, which focused on identifying problems and envisioning solutions.

Students are seeking individual accountability for Segal regarding his actions, which includes attending an anti-racism training and issuing a public apology acknowledging the harm caused by his actions. Students also called for school-wide policy changes, namely developing a strategic plan that addresses faculty incompetence in facilitating discussions about power, privilege and oppression in their classrooms and academedia, limited course content on progressive social change, abysmal efforts to diversify the student body, and an institutional disconnect with local communities.

Dean Edleson agreed to co-develop the strategy with student organizers, who asked for him to initiate action.

These actions are linked to ongoing student organizing within the School of Social Welfare around Black Lives Matter that began in late November.

List of Asks:

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Media Contacts:

Erika O’Bannon, MSW Student, eobannon@berkeley.edu, (925) 819-0802
Ariana Allensworth, MSW Student, ariana.allensworth@berkeley.edu, (415) 596-1627
Amina Mohabbat, MSW Student enrolled in Segal’s course, amina.m@berkeley.edu

Press Release: Social Work Helper Magazine was not involved in the creation of this content.

White Coats for Black Lives Launch National Organization on MLK Day

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Upon matriculating in medical school, students recite the Hippocratic Oath, declaring their commitment to promoting the health and well-being of their communities. On December 10, 2014, students from over 80 medical schools across the United States acted in the spirit of that oath as we participated in a “die in” to protest racism and police brutality. In our action, we called attention to grim facts about the public health consequences of racism, acknowledged the complicity of the medical profession in sustaining racial inequality, and challenged a system of medical care that denies necessary treatment to patients unable to pay for it, disproportionately patients of color.

In celebration of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we announce the founding of a national medical student organization, White Coats for Black Lives. This organization brings together medical students from across the country to pursue three primary goals:

  1. To eliminate racism as a public health hazard.
    Racism has a devastating impact on the health and well-being of people of color. Tremendous disparities in housing, education, and job opportunities cut short the average Black life by four years. Physicians, physician organizations, and medical institutions must therefore publicly recognize and fight against the significant adverse effects of racism on public health. We additionally advocate for increased funding and promotion of research on the health effects of racism.
  2. To end racial discrimination in medical care.
    We recognize that insurance status serves in our healthcare system as a “colorblind” means of racial discrimination. While it is illegal to turn patients away from a hospital or practice because of their race, patients across the country are frequently denied care because they have public insurance or lack health insurance. We support the creation of a single payer national health insurance system that would give all Americans equal access to the healthcare they need. Such a system would create a payment structure that reflects the fact that “Black lives matter.” Moreover, ample evidence suggests that patients of color receive inferior care even when they are able to see a doctor or nurse; we therefore advocate for the allocation of funding for research on unconscious bias and racism in the delivery of medical care.
  3. To create a physician workforce engaged with the struggle for racial justice.
    Adequately addressing the health effects of racism within and outside of medicine requires a physician workforce that fully reflects our nation’s diversity. Black people currently comprise only 4% of the physician workforce, despite making up 13% of the national (and patient) population; Latino and Native American students are similarly underrepresented. We call on medical schools to improve the recruitment and support of Black, Latino, and Native American medical students and faculty, and to bring their representation in medical schools in line with national demographics. We further call for the creation of national medical school curricular standards that include information about the history of racism in medicine, unconscious racial bias in medical decision making, and strategies for dismantling structural racism.

In founding White Coats for Black Lives, we hope to add our voices to the growing national movement demanding accountability, justice, and an end to racism, and we seek to honor our profession’s pledge to counter those forces that might unduly or unjustly cut short the lives of our fellow human beings.

Media Contact

White Coats for Black Lives National Steering Committee |  whitecoats4blacklives@gmail.com

Press Release: Social Work Helper Magazine was not involved in the creation of this content.

Social Work Students Respond to the #BlackLivesMatter Movement and the Neutrality of Social Work Program Administrators

UC Berkeley Social Welfare graduate students stand in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and we are speaking out against nationwide police brutality and systemic violence against the Black community. As students and as social workers, we feel a responsibility and an obligation to issue a statement in support of the community action and the demands issued by the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Our criminal justice system continues to fail the Black community. It is intolerable that the lives of Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, McKenzie Cochran, Kimani Gray, and countless other Black men and women were taken by individuals who took an oath to protect and serve them.

tumblr_mz6ujyfZXV1qm0yhvo1_500The criminalization of and violence against Black men and women speaks to larger systems of racism and oppression that we, as social workers, are ethically bound to interrupt. Students questioned the school’s response after the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare administration had not formally issued a statement.

The silence has been deafening, and it has been particularly felt by the Black community throughout the institution. This lack of support on campus for students of color is disgraceful, and completely unacceptable, especially for an institution such as Berkeley that prides itself on diversity, inclusion, and a history of activism.

We join our social work colleagues from Columbia University, Portland State University, Washington University, Smith College, and numerous other schools and organizations that have made public statements to call for community members to demand social reform. As students at UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare, we too will use our voices to break the silence that pervades our academic community and act on the principles of social justice that we have been discussing in our classroom.

We are in solidarity and thankful to participate in the actions and healing spaces that Berkeley students and community members have organized: The Black Student Union action on December 4th, the walkout organized by the Black Student Union at Berkeley HS on December 10th, the organizing efforts that brought the Millions March Rally from Berkeley to Downtown Oakland on December 13th, and the December 15th  “Not On Our Watch” silent protest organized by the Black Staff and Faculty Organization (BSFO), a response to the effigies which were hung in Sproul plaza. Our goal is to uphold the #BlackLivesMatter movement’s focus on disrupting white supremacy, and we must acknowledge how Black people are mistreated in the United States, including on the UC Berkeley campus.

We invite the Berkeley Social Welfare administration as well as other Schools of Social Work to discuss how our programs can better model social work praxis and include the #SSWBlackLivesMatter organizing movement in their plans for Spring 2015. We will continue to mobilize, and we are prepared to take action on our campus and within our community – because at the end of the day, #BlackLivesMatter.

Media Contact

Ariana Allensworth | ariana.allensowrth@berkeley.edu

UC Berkeley MSW Graduate Student Body

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