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Article

V. Thandi Sulé

Critical race theory (CRT) is a framework that unapologetically asserts how and why race matters in the maintenance of U.S. policies and practices. In doing so, CRT counters discourse that situates discrimination and disparities within the realm of individual behaviors or psychological deficits. Therefore, racism is seen for what it is—a willful, institutionalized, and dehumanizing way of being. Though racism prevailed as the quintessential problem of the 20th century, the 21st century has revealed that the color line remains remarkably undisturbed. Whether one is focusing on housing, education, employment, wealth, health, safety, or justice, racial disparities and inequities exist to the disadvantage of racially minoritized people. Born out of discontent for legal remedies for inequality, CRT speaks to the universal way that racism immobilizes minoritized people—thereby providing an almost unwavering advantage to white people. This review provides an overview of the tenets of CRT and how those tenets connect with social work values and practice.

Article

Tracy Whitaker, Lauren Alfrey, Alice B. Gates, and Anita R. Gooding

The concept of White supremacy is introduced and its impact on society and the social work profession is examined. The ideological and historical foundations of Whiteness in the United States are summarized, and an overview is provided of the legal supports that codified White supremacist ideas into structural racism. White supremacy’s influence on social work is discussed, with an emphasis on language and concepts, history, pedagogy, and organizations. Critical theory and practice frameworks are explored as responses to White supremacy. The limitations of social work’s responses and specific implications for macro social work are discussed.

Article

Shaun M. Eack and Valire C. Copeland

Larry E. Davis was a pioneering scholar and educator in social work and psychology who dedicated his professional life to understanding the social dynamics of race and their impact on the lives of racial and ethnic minorities. An ardent author and teacher, Dr. Davis published extensively on social work practice with multiracial groups and approaches to support African American families, and consistently strived to educate the field on the complexities of culturally competent social work practice. In 2002, he started the University of Pittsburgh Center on Race and Social Problems, the first center of its kind in any school of social work, which became internationally recognized as a leading social science research center and a beacon for scholarship on race. Due to his considerable accomplishments, Dr. Davis was the first to be recognized with lifetime achievement awards in both social work education and research by the Council on Social Work Education and Society for Social Work and Research.

Article

Racism  

Selena T. Rodgers

Racism is pervasive, endemic, and historically rooted in systematic assumptions inherent in superiority based on race and requires the critical attention of all social workers. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has made strides in tackling racism as demonstrated by the social worker and civil rights activist Whitney Young Jr. (1921–1971), other pioneers, and more recently, the NASW zero-tolerance racism policy. Undergirded in empirical discussion, this article leads with the etymology of race(ism), followed by a discussion of Racial Formation Theory and Critical Race Theory. The article gives a historical sketch of racism, followed by examples of its contemporary indicators—throughout social institutions—in the United States. Racism is pervasive and impinges on micro-level and macro-level systems. It is, therefore, beyond the scope of this article to address how racism impacts each group in America. Social work scholars and other experts have provided extensive empirical documentation about the historical trauma and sufferings of other racial groups (e.g., Native Americans/Native peoples/American Indians, Mexican Americans) discussed elsewhere. Specifically, the racism endured by blacks in America is the emphasis of this article. Themes of “colorism” and historical trauma are provided to contextualize advances in national reform and encourage a broader conversation about the racism that blacks experience globally. In addition, this article highlights strides by the social work profession to eradicate racism. Implications for social work are discussed.

Article

The prevalent discourse about Roma community mainly occurs when the media reports “Roma problems.” Homogeneity, nomadism, and assumed innate characteristics (for example, laziness, aggressiveness, and lower intellectual abilities) are the most common myths about them. However, sociology recognizes Roma, Gypsies, Tzigany, Zigeuner, or Gitanos as one of the most oppressed, hated, and discriminated minority in all countries of their residence. This article discusses the multidimensional levels of discrimination of Roma minority from the perspective of their everyday life experience on a personal, cultural, and structural level. As Dominelli, Thompson, and Jones established, those are three crucial dimensions of recognizing the dynamic and rooted nature of discrimination.

Article

Racial disproportionality and disparities have been documented in the child welfare system in the United States since at least the 1960s, yet they persist as a national problem. This article provides an overview of the history of racial disproportionality and disparities in child welfare systems, the continuing presence of racial disproportionality and disparities, and the factors that contribute to racial disproportionality and disparities. The article concludes with strategies that have been developed over the years to address racial disproportionality and disparities, including calls for abolition of the child welfare system as a means of addressing these persistent problems.

Article

Betty Garcia, Dorothy Van Soest, and Dheeshana Jayasundara

A firm grasp of the nature of oppression, with its dynamics of power and systemic character, is required so that social workers can avoid unintended collusion with pervasive oppressive systems in order to be successful in promoting social and economic justice. Recognizing that macrolevel forces have microlevel implications and addressing those in the social work relationship comprise an essential part of social work practice. A key aspect of this learning is recognition of the institutionalization of privilege and oppression, which results in exclusionary and marginalizing interactions and practices being viewed as normative. Oppression is a model that provides a unique lens that links what could be taken as solely personal as, instead, “shared problems requiring social solutions.” The following discusses the concept of oppression, its dynamics and common elements, and anti-oppression practice that can expose and dismantle oppressive relationships and systemic power arrangements.

Article

Darcey H. Merritt, Rachel D. Ludeke, Krushika Uday Patankar, Muthoni Mahachi, and Morgan Buck

Racial justice remains a hot-button issue in the United States, particularly in the aftermath of several high-profile murders of Black and Brown people due to state-sanctioned violence. There is an increased need to explore how racial injustice remains prevalent intentionally and comprehensively in all aspects of micro, mezzo, and macro social work practice. Racism is pervasive in the social work profession, and it is therefore important to address the ways in which it underpins established human service systems (e.g., public assistance and child welfare).

Article

Christina L. Erickson

Environmental justice in social work is the study and practice of assuring all people are protected from environmental burdens and are able to live, work, learn, and play in safe and healthy communities. Reducing the burdens and increasing the benefits of nature and human-made infrastructures are important social work efforts toward environmental justice. Awareness of environmental injustices followed the social movements of Civil Rights, recognition of environmental degradations, and efforts to save large swaths of land and endangered species in the Wilderness Act. Environmental justice is intertwined with social and economic justice, and the pursuit engages social workers in local to international struggles for access to nature’s benefits, and freedom from hazards that are shielded from people who are economically wealthy. Moreover, environmental justice calls wealthy individuals and communities to realign resource consumption to reduce environmental degradation and increase environmental sustainability.

Article

Black people number about 46.8 million or 14% of the U.S. population. Throughout U.S. history, regardless of social class, Black people have had to remain cognizant of their race. The COVID-19 pandemic and police shootings of unarmed Black people have revealed that American racism toward Blacks is as virulent today as it has always been. Because of purposeful structural inequality, Black people in America suffer disproportionately in every sector of human activity. They are still facing social issues such as racism, substance abuse, mass incarceration, poverty, police brutality and police murder, infant mortality that is twice as high as among whites, residential segregation, racial profiling, and discrimination. And yet the strengths of the Black community have allowed it to thrive amid these arduous circumstances.

Article

Ovita F. Williams and Cheryl L. Franks

Sitting in a place of having an unearned benefit because of a particular social identity or social group membership is defined by the term privilege. Privilege is described as advantages across multiple dimensions of identity, race, class, gender, sexual orientation, sexual identity, age, ability status and more. For example, white privilege is the types of access white people have in society because of the color of their skin. This includes access to better schools, higher pay, good housing, and more. Privilege offers protection, advantage, access to resources, and limited surveillance. Privilege implies the freedom to be allowed to navigate easily through daily activities and life milestones, and to benefit from long-term advantages and gains. Social groups that have privilege reap specific benefits, which ultimately means another social group doesn’t have the same advantages and are thus disadvantaged, often severely. The social work profession demands social justice is sought, and in this effort, it is important to recognize that, where privileges are granted to people because of an observed social identity, this is harmful and creates systems and structures of oppression. Understanding how privilege operates to oppress and subjugate people increases the ability to see these injustices and inspires people to seek equity and liberation.

Article

Marjorie R. Sable and Patricia J. Kelly

Reproductive health includes family planning, prenatal care, and the broader scope of primary care. Because a woman's health status at conception is as important as prenatal care, genetic screening and 20th century medical technology, reproductive health includes “the preconceptual and interconceptual periods and the menopause, and finally, not only reproductive tract problems but the wide range of risk factors that influence a woman's health in general.” Quantitative indicators of reproductive outcomes are useful for summarizing progress in reproductive health. Important indicators are discussed and reveal significant racial disparities.

Article

Sheila P. Vakharia

Social workers are uniquely qualified to be effective drug policy advocates for effective and equitable policies through their commitment to advancing social welfare and promoting social justice. The prohibitionist antidrug policies that began at the turn of the 20th century have been a key driver for the criminalization of millions of Americans over time, a disproportionate number of whom have been people of color. The period beginning with President Richard Nixon’s “War on Drugs,” in addition to contributing to inequality and marginalization, has exacerbated a number of public health and safety harms, suggesting that past policy approaches have not met their intended aims. The North American opioid overdose crisis in the early 21st century is presented as an illustrative case study because its persistence and mounting death toll exemplify the challenges with the current model of drug prohibition. Areas for macro social work interventions include legislative advocacy through lobbying, provision of expert testimony in legislative hearings, engagement in reform through litigation, involvement in social action, and performing policy analysis and research.

Article

Aswood Bousseau and Diane Martell

American racism has produced systems of oppression that continue to impact Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) in the United States. Critical race theory (CRT) asserts that racism is a longstanding, pervasive, and permanent component of social structure. Perceptions of and concepts relating to race are used to manipulate societal conditions to add value to and benefit the dominant, white population. CRT can be used as a lens to (a) understand current social and economic conditions, (b) analyze policies including municipal, state, and federal laws, regulations, and court decisions, and (c) develop and implement policies and programs that increase racial justice. For social work administrators, CRT provides a framework for identifying and assessing implicit and explicit racism in internal and external organizational policies, structures, and practices. In community work, CRT places race and racism at the center of localized patterns of disempowerment and inequality.

Article

Katherine van Wormer

Restorative justice is an umbrella term for a victim-oriented method of righting a wrong, promoting healing following conflict, and providing a sense of safety in the aftermath of violence. Restorative justice refers not only to a number of strategies for resolving conflicts peacefully but also to a political campaign of sorts to advocate for the rights of victims and compassionate treatment of offenders. Instead of incarceration, for example, the option of community service coupled with substance abuse treatment might be favored. When the offender is an organization or governing body, reparations to affected individuals or populations might be in order. From the offender’s standpoint, accountability and truth-telling are stressed, as the offender typically offers to make amends for the harm that was done. From the victim/survivor’s standpoint, a key theme is empowerment, through receiving an apology from the wrongdoer and receiving the support of caring participants. Several models of restorative justice are relevant to social work, including victim–offender conferencing (sometimes incorrectly referred to as mediation), family group conferencing, healing circles, and community reparations. Social work involvement in the field of restorative justice occurs at all levels of practice. Its application in the context of macro social work involves communities, policy, and organizations.

Article

Mildred Delozia and Charles M. S. Birore

Black Lives Matter (BLM), which led to the Black Lives Matter movement (BLMM), has been described as a movement with a global following. The movement is aligned with the social work profession’s purpose and values. The social work profession is a human rights profession and has a history of involvement with movements, beginning with the settlement house movement in the late 19th century. The BLMM frames its narrative based on human rights and espouses an agenda that calls out injustice in all facets of social justice. Therefore, a central aim is to understand the BLMM from multiple perspectives. Definitions, theoretical perspectives, and types of social movements are presented, and then the framework of social movements is used to understand the BLMM. Finally, the BLMM is examined in relation to historical social movements, advocacy organizations, and criminal justice reform.

Article

U.S. fiscal policy is of interest to social workers as it concerns issues including structural racism, economic justice, and income inequality. U.S. fiscal policy refers to the role of the government in taxing and spending, the budget appropriations process, and public budgets (including federal and state revenue and spending). Federal revenue includes payroll and income taxes (personal and corporate). Federal outlays include discretionary and mandatory entitlement spending. There are a number of ongoing contentious debates about U.S. fiscal policy, including those involving the size and function of government, deficit financing and borrowing, inequality, and the redistribution of wealth in tax policies.

Article

Indigenous populations have experienced hundreds of years of historical trauma, systemic racism, and oppression since colonization began in the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand. Settler colonialism has created and continues to perpetuate historical and ongoing trauma and systemic racism in Indigenous populations. Despite considerable diversity and resilience among Indigenous populations globally, there is a clear pattern of significant disparities and disproportionate burden of disease compared to other non-Indigenous populations, including higher rates of poverty, mortality, substance use, mental health and health issues, suicide, and lower life expectancy at birth. Substantial gaps related to access to healthcare and service utilization exist, particularly in low-income Indigenous communities. Implementation and sustainment of White dominant-culture frameworks of care in Indigenous communities perpetuate these systems of oppression. Development and implementation of culturally informed services that address historical trauma and oppression, and systematically integrate concepts of resiliency, empowerment, and self-determination into care, are issues of policy as well as practice in social work. The co-creation and subsequent implementation, monitoring, and sustainment of effective systems of care with Indigenous populations are essential in addressing health disparities and improving outcomes among Indigenous populations globally.