- Selena T. RodgersSelena T. RodgersCity University of New York, York College
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.
- Practical Ethics
- Human Behaviour and the Social Environment
- Race and Ethnicity
- Social Justice and Human Rights
- Occupations, Professions, and Work
Etymology and Social Construction of Race(ism)
Race has varied along with contradictory definitions of the term (Coleman, 2011). The notion of racism requires deliberate scrutiny due to its contested and multiple meanings (Ladson-Billings, 2000a). There are also varying perspectives as to when the term racism entered the lexicon. The Oxford English Dictionary (2013) traces the English term to 1936 (from the French racisme) in the context of Nazi theories. DuBois and Miley (2014) conceptualize racism as “the prejudicial attitudes directed against groups that society identifies as ‘lesser’—less capable, less productive, and less normal” (p. 137).
Earlier and contradictory accounts of race and racism are well documented (Coleman, 2011). The American physician and natural scientist Samuel G. Morton (1799–1851), writing in his seminal works Crania Aegyptica (1841) and Crania Americana (1839), argued for the biological basis of various racial groups, suggesting a hierarchical ranking with whites at the top and blacks at the bottom (Franklin & Higginbotham, 2011, p. 164). In his writings, Morton claimed that the Caucasians had the biggest brains, Indians, Native Americans/Native peoples/American Indians were in the middle with average brains, and “Negroes” (blacks) had the smallest brains (Franklin & Higginbotham, 2011). The polygenesis theory was the cultural concept that accompanied craniology. Polygenesis, or the idea of multiple Gardens of Eden and Adams and Eves, allowed for separate human development in various parts of the world. This cultural component made it easier for many white Christians to accept the “scientific” argument which asserted that blacks had a smaller brain size thus proving lower intelligence in blacks and their physiological distinction from whites (Franklin & Higginbotham, 2011). Races emerged from different human origins, and thus represented different human species. Franklin and Higginbotham note that “Antebellum ethnological studies touted the inherent inferiority of Blacks to justify their permanent enslavement . . . in the case of free blacks, their permanent and civic subordination” (p. 164).
As summarized by DeGruy (2005) and Haller (1971), earlier arguments described by the biologist Carl Von Linnaeus (1707–1778) in his book Systema Naturae (1735) put in motion his beliefs about race and racism, and in particular the use of skin color as a criterion for determining the moral and intellectual capacities of each race. Linnaeus is also credited with introducing the taxonomic system (DeGruy, 2005; Haller, 1971). Another proponent of racial categorizing was Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1751–1840), who relied heavily on the approach of “comparative anatomy” to divide the human species into five races. He used the term Caucasian, which he invented (DeGruy, 2005; Haller, 1971). To offer a more recent example, the anthropologist Carelton Coon (1968) traced the origins of “race” to the classifications Caucasoid, Mongoliod, Negroid, and Australoid. Such stratified classifications and the rationalizations for them justified fewer resources, fewer opportunities, and fewer possibilities for those with lower status (DuBois & Miley, 2014).
Cheikh Anta Diop (1923–1986), a Senegalese physicist, historian, and anthropologist, examined the origins of the human race and precolonial African culture. Diop’s work (1974, 1978, 1989, 1991), summarized by Karenga, “found physical evidence of physical anthropology (for example, iconography, melanin dosage tests, osteological measurements, and blood group tests) confirming genetic linkages of the Nile Valley with Africanness or Blackness” (p. 52). Diop’s research findings were validated “with the 1974 discovery in Ethiopia of the fossil remains of ‘Lucy’ one of the earliest hominids; scientists now acknowledge that Africa is the continent from which human kind arose more than 3 million years ago” (Franklin & Higginbotham, 2011, p. 2).
W. E. B. Du Bois (1999) and like-minded sociologists and historians (Fredrickson, 2005; Hochschild & Powell, 2008; Smedley & Smedley, 2005; White, 2005) assert that “race” is not a biological construct that reflects innate differences, but a social construct that precisely captures categories and classifications served to justify colonialism, white supremacy, slavery, exploitation, and official forms of discrimination. From this perspective, race as defined by King (1981) is “a concept of society that insists there is a genetic significance behind human variations in skin color that transcends outward appearance. However, race has no scientific merit outside of sociological classifications. There are no significant genetic variations within the human species to justify the division of ‘race’” (p. 118).
Furthermore, many accounts reveal that racial ideologies are reinforced, in part, because of social power and control structures—requisite components of racism (Jackson & Weidman, 2004). The sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois (1999) and the historian George White Jr. (2005) insist that negative racial attitudes sanctioned by governmental administrators perpetuated racism in American foreign policy. It is this race-constructed reality (which emphasized racial stratification) that led to a rigid racial hierarchy resulting in the subordination of racial, ethnic, or cultural groups within the social fabric of society, allowing access to or denial of the privileges of power and wealth (Jackson & Weidman, 2004; Smedley & Smedley, 2005).
Consequently, these constructs manifest themselves in census data as residuals of historical discrimination, which serve to underpin affirmative action policies and reinforce inherited, immutable social and cultural differences between groups (Schor, 2005; Hirschman, 2004; Perez & Hirschman, 2009). The notion of classifying and counting individuals by race evolved during the American Revolutionary and Antebellum periods (Anderson, 1988, 2002; Snipp, 2003).
To better understand how the legacy of racism reverberates in the 21st century, nuanced attention to the origins of the American censuses’ race and color categorization is necessary (Alexander, 2010; Nobles, 2000). Beginning in 1790, data were collected using the first U.S. decennial census. Racial categories were used to distinguish whites from other race (or color) categories, which excluded Native Americans/Native peoples (American “Indians”), dehumanized blacks (slaves counted as three-fifths of free persons, free colored persons), divided the black race (mulattoes vs. Negros), and reinforced invisibility of the “Mexican” race (Du Bois, 1999; Nobles, 2000; Schor, 2005). This hierarchical structure—deeply rooted in colonialism and racism—has lasting effects of historical trauma for the abovementioned racial groups (Brave Heart, 2003, 2007; Estrada, 2009; Evans-Campbell, 2008; Rodgers, 2013). It is beyond the scope of this article to address racism imposed on each group in America. Social work scholars and others have provided extensive expert and empirical documentation about the historical trauma and sufferings of other racial groups and this subject is discussed elsewhere (Brave-Heart, 2003, 2007; Estrada, 2009).
Specifically, the affliction endured by blacks in America is the emphasis of this discussion. This article is particularly relevant as past discussions have mostly been enmeshed in experiences with other racial groups. Themes of “colorism” and historical trauma are provided to help advance a broader conversation about the racism blacks experience globally.
Several theories have been widely documented to explain racism. This article highlights two key theories—Racial Formation Theory and Critical Race Theory—to help explain racism in America and to adequately capture the complexity and intersectionality of racism as both historical and modern-day phenomenon. Persistently downplaying the legacy of racism leaves social workers unprepared to deal with their clients’ systematic and interpersonal experiences (Schiele, 2007). DeGruy (2005) insists that unlike other atrocities, American slavery experiences were exclusively based on the notion of racial inferiority. Subhuman classifications were upheld by enacted legislation—the Three-Fifths Compromise. Horton and Horton (2005) provide the background: “Delegates from the southern and northern states during the 1787 United States Constitutional Convention . . . also furnished slaveholders with additional representation in Congress by allowing them to count three-fifths of their human property in the population numbers that determined the representative of the state districts in the U.S. House of Representatives” (pp. 67–68).
Racial Formation Theory
Racial Formation Theory (RFT) is a useful framework to understand the racism construct. Michael Omi and Howard Winant (1994) are credited as the founders of Racial Formation Theory, which explores the meaning of race and racism. Within this theory, questions about power and discrimination directed at individuals, collective consciousness, and perceptions about “race” are explored as an intersection between historical, geopolitical, and sociocultural patterns (Omi & Winant, 1994).
According to this theory, phenotypes that are biologically based form an illusionary foundation for social groups who select these traits for racial identification; as such, racial identification is always socially and historically constructed (Omi & Winant, 1994). Past formulations of historically racist societies have traditionally “referenced overtly racist regimes” such as the slave societies in the Americas and Caribbean, Jim Crow era in the American South, Nazi Germany, and apartheid era in South Africa (Fredrickson, 2002). In each of these societies, racial inequality was a formally codified system wherein specific racial groups labeled other racial groups as inferior and systematically denied those groups fundamental social rights. The key element of these societies was their ethnocentric beliefs as reflected in their overt and systematic oppression of a specific racial group or groups (Ani, 1994).
Critical Race Theory
Undergirded by the analytical framework of Critical Race Theory (CRT), racism is seen as having been constructed by the legal system as aberrant, intentional behavior, perpetrated by willful wrongdoers as a means of distributing jobs, power, esteem, prestige, and wealth (Crenshaw, Gotanda, Peller, & Thomas, 1995, p. xiv). CRT scholars conceived the idea that racism is rooted in dominant discourses as manifested by educational, social, and political policies that are directed toward marginalized groups (Closson, 2010; Crenshaw et al., 1995; Delgado & Stefancic, 2001; Ladson-Billings, 2000b; Solórzano & Yosso, 2001). From this lens, CRT theorists have asserted several principle tenets anchored in themes of racial formation, intersectionality, gender (in)equality, institutionalized oppressive structures, political activities, and whiteness-as-property (Crenshaw et al., 1995).
Blacks have been duplicitously controlled through “the new Jim Crow” (Alexander, 2010) as manifested in laws, policy, and formal and informal practices throughout education, employment, health, housing, voting (Davis & Jung, 2013; Omi & Winant, 1994; Pollard, 2013; Staples, 2011). Historically, blacks were denied the right to vote based on practices that included literacy tests, poll taxes, and white-only primaries (Horton & Horton, 2005; Pollard, 2013). Contemporary examples of oppressive structures are seen through disenfranchisement laws prohibiting persons convicted of felonies to vote, housing discrimination, and the inability to secure employment after release from prison (Alexander, 2010). Historically, African Americans have had unemployment rates that are twice the rates of Euro-Americans (Davis & Jung, 2013; U.S. Census Bureau, 2007). Furthermore, African Americans and Latino populations are reported to have the lowest per capital income (Davis & Jung, 2013; Sakamoto, Anastas, McPhail, & Colarossi, 2008; U.S. Census, 2012). With regard to the intersection of gender and race (in)equality, gendered racism is among a myriad of issues accounting for the low salaries reported by black women (hooks, 1981). The concept of “whiteness-as-property,” for example, which has been posited by Critical Race Theorists (e.g., Crenshaw et al., 1995), argues that racism is endemic in U.S. society and deeply embedded legally, culturally, and psychologically. Accordingly, oftentimes a person classified as white has access to social, economic, and political networks that are closed to those outside of this classification. In addition to being a key that unlocks metaphorical doors in society, whiteness provides a psychological benefit to those so classified: resources, power, and the knowledge that she/he will be respected as a human being and will enjoy all of the privileges of living in this society. Thus, white privilege makes preferences and behaviors of the dominant group an intrinsic part of the social fabric and sets the boundaries to be observed for acceptance and nonacceptance of “others” (Franklin, Boyd-Franklin, & Kelly, 2006; Jones, 1997). The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Dred Scott case (1857), that neither free nor enslaved Africans were citizens and therefore had no rights, presented a sharp contrast between the treatment of blacks and whites (Horton & Horton, 2005). The practical, tangible, and material advantages experienced by those classified as white become evident. The different outcomes are reflected in mortality rates, social mobility, wealth creation, as well as other areas (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011b; Du Bois, 1996).
From the perspective of CRT, in order for whites to enact civil rights legislation, the majority needed to perceive of themselves in terms other than racist. Racism was construed by the legal system as aberrant, intentional behavior, consciously perpetrated by wrongdoers as a means of distributing jobs, power, prestige, and wealth among those classified as white (Crenshaw et al., 1995, p. xiv). The legalistic focus on “intentional behavior” is especially important as it enables racism to survive because those individuals and institutions that perpetuate disparities based on race are able to claim that their actions were not “intentional.” Ironically, by invoking a supposed “color-blindness” (Bonilla-Silva, 2013), contemporary racists are able to reinvigorate practices from bygone eras, reinforcing the benefits and burdens of mainstream racial classifications and legitimizing fears of crime, fraud, or injustice, hence reinforce an age of neo-slavery (Appliah & Gates, 2003; Blackmon, 2008; Owen, 2007).
A Brief Sketch: Old-Fashioned and Contemporary Racism
Trajectories of racism have been summarized within two ideologies—old-fashioned (historical) and modern (contemporary) racism. They are embedded in manifestations of racial subordination that serve to discriminate, marginalize, and disadvantage people of color in the United States and elsewhere (Bonilla-Silva, 2013; Clark et al., 2006; Doane, 2003; Hoyt, 2012; Ladson-Billings, 2000b; National Association of Social Workers, 2007; Tarman & Sears, 2005; Watt, 2007). Since the political and social gains of the civil rights era (Pollard, 2013), explicit forms of racism have evolved from the “old-fashioned” form into a new model in which overt racial hatred and bigotry (e.g., legalized segregation, disenfranchisement, lynching) tend to be less consciously and publicly displayed expressions of racial oppression (Blackmon, 2008; Picca & Feagin, 2007; Winant, 2000).
Jones (1997) categorizes racism into three domains: Individual racism includes the attitudes and acts that express a person’s prejudices. Cultural racism is the result of the privileged groups’ power to determine values, beliefs, attitudes, and practices so that they become legitimate expressions of its culture. Institutional racism is the process whereby individual racists’ beliefs are nurtured by convictions of power and authority and converted into discriminatory policies and procedures of the institution. While each domain is relevant to understanding the full scope and effects of racism, this article emphasizes institutional racism in America with reference to cultural racism in the discussion that follows on colorism.
A number of authors have argued that the legacy of past overt racist ideologies persist today in the racist catalogue of pejoratives with the vehemence of convention, which is now covert and concealed in institutionalized policies in the very fabric of American society (Ladson-Billings, 2000a; Picca & Feagin, 2007). Specifically, institutional racism refers to practices and policies that disadvantage racial groups in public and private social institutions (such as education, government, financial, etc.) and result in unequal outcomes for disparate racial groups (Bonilla-Silva, 2003; Carmichael & Hamilton, 1967; Feagin, 2014; Picca & Feagin, 2007; Yamato, 2004). However, contemporary forms of racist expression are immutable and “ever-present” (DeGruy, 2005; Fanon,1967; Pollard, 2013) in many social institutions, policies, and in coded language. As asserted by National Association of Social Workers (2007), in the volume Institutional Racism & the Social Work Profession: A Call to Action, there is persistent challenge for social workers dedicated to eradicating both overt and subtle forms of racism. Specific examples of three types of subtle racism include: (a) racial micro-aggressions (e.g., Sue et al., 2007; Van Sluytman, 2013), (b) backstage behavior (Picca & Feagin, 2007), and (c) color-blind racism (Bonilla-Silva, 2003).
Racial microaggressions (microassaults, microinsults, microinvalidations) are another form of contemporary racism. Chester M. Pierce (1970) first coined the term racial microaggression to describe subtle communications of expectations and stereotypes related to race, which was later referred to by others (e.g., Solórzano, Ceja, & Yosso, 2000; Sue et al., 2007; Van Sluytman, 2013) to describe “subtle” exchanges or “put downs” endured by people of color. Sue et al. (2007) asserted that microaggressions are used to justify, ignore, and silence those with less power through various methods: microassaults (overtly racist and demeaning interactions, such as using a racial slur); micorinvalidations (exclude, negate, and nullify the psychological thoughts, feelings, or experiential reality of people of color), and microinsults (demeaning a person’s racial heritage and identity, “subtle snubs” in which contributions of people of color are unacknowledged, invisible, or marginalized).
“Backstage” behaviors, as conceptualized by Picca and Feagin (2007), refer to the use of outward or “public professions of belief” in racial equality or racial justice that mask a private belief in the biological and cultural inferiority of African Americans, the telling of racist jokes, frequent use of racial epithets and pejoratives, and the stereotyping and mocking of racial and cultural groups in comfortable, hidden situations.
Bonilla-Silva (2013) asserts that color-blindness is the failure of non-whites to acknowledge the oppressive history, discrimination, and violence committed by whites against non-whites through contemporary inequality. Like “backstage behavior,” color-blind racism relies upon deception. Color-blind racist acts or policies appear to be race-neutral but, in fact, revive old-fashioned racism and/or cause disparate harm to people of color. Bonilla-Silva (2003) also notes that while color-blind racist practices are more discrete than past Jim Crow–era policies, these “new” racist practices still serve to uphold the dominant racial order of white supremacy. Such discriminatory practices are embedded as norms in society’s social structures that breed institutional racism (National Association of Social Workers, 2007), and continue subtly in many social institutions as a more ambiguous and nebulous form that is more difficult to identify, but is ever-present (Bonilla-Silva, 2013; Feagin, 2014).
Intersectionality of Racism: Slavery, Biomedical Experimentation, Racial Disparities, and Disproportionality
In America, racism has resulted in the construction of social institutions and policies that restrict resources and determine disparities in racial and ethnic groups (Alexander, 2010; Davis & Jung; 2013; Omi & Winant, 1994). Many scholars attribute these persistent disparities to institutional racism. Black political activists Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Touré) and Charles V. Hamilton (1967) originally coined the term “institutional racism” in their analysis of the economic, political, and social conditions facing black communities in the United States. Institutional racism is dependent on anti-black beliefs and on a presumption of black inferiority. Also called structural racism, the term was later expanded and defined as system of institutional structures that lead to disparities observed by marginalized persons that are inherent in institutional processes and policies (Griffin, Pifer, Humphrey, & Hazelwood, 2011). The two terms are frequently used interchangeably and primarily emphasize racial inequities not produced by individual conduct that often are perceived as less overt, less observable but with enduring systematic impacts on human life (Cashmore & Jennings, 2001).
DeGruy (2005) and Wilkerson (2010) concede that African Americans broadly have experienced and continue to endure the residual pains and injustices born of chattel slavery. Evidence suggests that African Americans are—both historically and in the era of “the new Jim Crow”—disproportionately oppressed and endure a higher incidence of disparity in America than other populations (Alexander, 2010; Watkins, 2009). In the 21st century, racism remains pervasive and yields dire consequences. (Alexander, 2010; Davis & Jung, 2013; Rule & Rule, 2010). There is an extensive body of postracial literature on child welfare, education, housing, media and entertainment, unemployment, voting rights disparities, and inequalities among blacks and other racial and ethnic groups; such subjects have been widely documented throughout social work literature (Davis & Jung, 2013; Fong, McRoy, & Dettlaff, 2014; Lum, 2009; Pollard, 2013). The present and forthcoming sections highlight some of the myriad examples in which racism is institutionalized. Specifically, it extends previous discussion by using historical and contemporary examples, which resonate with blacks and intersects social work on the micro-, mezzo-, and macro-level systems (DuBois & Miley, 2014).
Racism, Racial Health Disparities, and Disproportionality
Experimentation on the effects of racism continues to be a widely employed design in research and medical care. Several authoritative entities have documented that significant racial and ethnical health disparities and inequalities persist in major dimensions of medical care (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011a; Institute of Medicine, 2002; United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2010). Davis and Jung (2013) contend that no single racial or ethnic group in the United States is excluded from health disparities. These health inequalities within the United States have a long, well-documented history, one in which racism has been used to foster racist institutions and a legacy of mistrust in the African American community (Bent-Goodley, 2007; Gamble, 1993).
Racism appears throughout the history of U.S. medical research. Vertus Wellborn Hardiman (1922–2007) was a victim of a U.S. government human radiation experiment at age five, an exposure which left him with a painful skull deformity that forced him to cover his head for 80 years (Smith, 2011). The infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment (also known as “Bad Blood”) was a clinical study conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service for 40 years (1932–1972) in which six hundred black men from Tuskegee, Alabama, were used as guinea pigs in a study of untreated syphilis (Brandt, 2000; Gamble, 1993; Gamble, 1997; Heller, 1972). In 1951, Henrietta Lacks (1920–1951) had her DNA (HeLa) immortal cells clandestinely removed, cultivated, and tested without her permission at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and they have been used for biomedical research from 1951 to the present day (Skloot, 2010). Black women were exploited “subjects” in medical research experimentation, including instances of the repeated cutting and sewing of women’s vaginas in the interest of advancing medical practice for white women (DeGury, 2005; Washington, 2006). These stark atrocities, perpetrated by the U.S. government and biomedical communities, contributed to treatment barriers for African Americans with various health and mental health service needs (Rodgers, 2006; Valandra, 2007).
Absent racism, investigators would expect to find roughly comparable data or results across the various groups who make up the whole of America. However, social scientists repeatedly note extreme differences in results for blacks and whites that cannot be explained by any other factor (or combination of factors). As a result, disproportionality is an appropriate way to demonstrate and/or quantify the harms caused by racism; this is especially true in the era of color-blind racism, where there is little evidence of overt racial animus or intention. Consistent with past injurious medical research are contemporary and notable examples of these widespread incidences of health disparities in African Americans. Although the 2010 Census shows that blacks make up approximately 14% of the U.S. total population (United States Census, 2011), they are inordinately affected by a range of health disparities. In 2010, for example, blacks accounted for 69% of all reported cases of gonorrhea (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011a). The AIDS endemic is yet another example of the instance of health care disparities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011a), the diagnosis rate for HIV cases in the United States was 15.8 per 100,000 population and 60.4 among blacks. In 2010, homicide is the leading cause of death for African Americans between 10 and 24 years old, reaching exorbitant rates (51.5 per 100,000) and exceeding other racial groups in the same age category.
Overrepresented in the health outcomes and disparities in African Americans are inextricably linked to former slave status and firmly entrenched in colonialism as well as oppression, and in contemporary, historical, and intergenerational racism-related stress and trauma (Akbar, 1996; Barden, 2013; Davis & Jung, 2013; DeGruy, 2006; Griffith, Johnson, Ellis, & Schulz, 2010; Rodgers, 2013; Valandra, 2007). Therefore, when looking at the disproportionality of blacks in the United States, in particular, it is evident that the medical diagnosis and treatment provided is not equivalent to that of the dominant group. This assertion perhaps is best understood through the lens of colonialism. Taken together, disproportionality and colonialism breeds racism in medical and health treatment of black women, men, and children.
The burdens of asthma fall more heavily on black children (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2014). According to the CDC summary health statistics for U.S. children, in a national health interview survey completed in 2012, black children were more likely to have been diagnosed with asthma (22%) than other racial groups and were more likely to have had two or more visits to the emergency room in the past 12 months than other racial groups (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011). Other health disparities in African American children include proportionally larger prescribing of Methylphendiate (Ritalin), a drug commonly used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—see American Psychiatric Association (APA, 2013) for diagnosis details. According to a report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) released in 2009, researchers have shown that Ritalin can cause physical changes in neurons in reward regions of mouse brains—in some cases, these effects mirrored those of cocaine. While NIDA (2008) asserts that Ritalin does not lead to drug addiction or other health consequences in adulthood, the fact remains that black children who attend public schools are prescribed Ritalin at disproportionately higher rates (Carlezon, Mague, & Andersen, 2003) and are still exorbitantly represented with various health risks when compared to other racial groups. African American children and other children of color who are diagnosed with ADHD are placed on Ritalin in large numbers (Boyd-Franklin, 2003; Boyd-Franklin, Franklin, & Toussaint, 2001). Research suggests that the misdiagnosis of ADHD combined with prescription drug use in children may lead to a higher risk of those children developing depressive symptoms in adulthood.
In 2009, the mortality rate for all cancers combined continued to be 31% higher in African American men and 15% higher in African American women than in white men and women, respectively (Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results, 2012). Yet in 2011, black women were more likely to die of breast cancer than any other group (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011a). Research found that black women who reported they had been racially discriminated against were more likely (31%) to develop breast cancer than those who did not report experiences of racial discrimination (Taylor et al., 2007).
In 2010, approximately 4 out of every 10 black women (43.7%) had been a victim of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. In cases of sexual assault survivors, research suggests that African American women are more likely to have been assaulted with weapons and to arrive at emergency rooms for health services than other racial groups (Boykins, Alvanzo, Carson, Forte, Leisey, & Plichta, 2010). Additionally, other studies documented that black women have suffered sexual abuse at a greater rate than other women, with estimates ranging from 8 to 19% of all black women (Wise, Palmer, Rothman, & Rosenberg, 2009). There are extensive examples and empirical studies documenting psychological and other mental health outcomes. However, shortcomings of traditional approaches in existing models for responding to intimate partner violence among African American women are predicated on oppressive institutional structures and function from a culturally neutral perspective, in which violence is perceived to be the same across all race and cultural groups (Bent-Goodley, Chase, Rodgers, & Circo, 2010).
As asserted by Bent-Goodley et al. (2010), Rodgers (2006, 2011), and Williams (2008), it is critical to place intimate partner violence and other aforementioned prevalence rates into a sociocultural context rooted in African values and traditions, and other culturally competent strength-based models in which historical trauma are given nuanced attention. These approaches will help cement the sustainability of President Barack Obama’s progressive priorities, which include an initiative called Healthy People 2020, a 10-year national plan with objectives to improve health of all Americans.
Post-Slavery Era in United States: Policies, Social Controls, Social Institutions
There are additional reasons for focusing on the black experience with institutionalization. From chattel slavery to present-day policies and laws, principles of racial superiority bestow power and unearned privilege on those who conceptualize, enforce, and maintain institutionalized mechanisms and manifestations of racism in America (Alexander, 2010; Franklin, Boyd-Franklin, & Kelly, 2006). The Trans-Atlantic slave trade, which occurred between 1619 and mid-1800’s and is defined by the torturous journey that enslaved African people from civilizations and empires and brought them from Africa to the Americas (Horton & Horton, 2005). The anthropologist Marimba Ani, in her riveting book Let the Circle Be Unbroken (1994), coined the term “Maafa” (the Kiswahili word for disaster, terrible occurrence, or great tragedy) to encapsulate the black (African) Holocaust experience.
As affirmed by Asante and Asante (1985) in African Culture: The Rhythms of Unity, from the perspective of the African worldview, tampering with one part of “oneness” affected the whole. Continuing with the work of Du Bois, social work scholars Martin and Martin (2002) assert the role of the so-called black “helping tradition” to preserve African American family unification. Enslavement of African people by Europeans and social institutions in America has shattered the interconnectedness of black families.
Black women viewed as property and treated as mules for slave breeding by their white male slave owners were raped for social and economic reasons. These rapes “solidified” unpunished sexual violence against black women and institutionalized the subhuman status of black females (see Bent-Goodley, St. Vil, & Rodgers, 2012a, 2012b; Gray-White, 1999; Du Bois, 1935). Examples of these insidious acts are well-documented: Celia (1836–1855), for example, was a slave who was sexually exploited by her master and then executed for his murder; McLaurin, 2012). In another example, Crais and Scully (2010) observes that the South African Saartjie “Sara” Baartman was put on display as the icon of Hottentot Venus—a paradoxical freak of race and sexuality (Crais & Scully, 2010).
DeGruy (2005) recounts that J. Marion Sims, a physician in the mid-1800s, who in addition to creating the first vaginal speculum also conducted un-anesthetized surgical experimentations on African slave women, claimed that black women were able to bear great pain because of their race. These practices accord with the experiences of the civil rights–era activist leader Fannie Lou Hamer (1917–1977) and a host of nameless others who endured forced hysterectomies—the notorious “Mississippi Appendectomy”—without their consent (Barden, 2013; Washington, 2006). The purpose of this inhumane procedure was to reduce the numbers of African Americans and to limit the reproductive rights of women; they were endorsed by laws permitting and encouraging coercive sterilization worldwide (Roberts, 1998; World Health Organization, 2014).
Black (African) children stolen from their families and sold as chattel property demonstrate another insidious act inflicted by enslavement (Jacobs, 2001). African children such as Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa (1745–1797) were kidnapped from their villages, separated from their families, and sold to slave traders (Gates, 1987). The current U.S. child welfare system can be likened to a “post” slavery institution, where black children are removed from families and overrepresented in foster care homes and facilities (Boyd-Franklin, 1989; Hill, 1977; Hodges, 2001).
Although other poor racial minority children are removed from their families in large numbers and placed in the foster care system, black children are disprortionately affected (CDC, 2013; Roberts, 2002, 2013). According to the Children’s Bureau (2012), an estimated 399, 546 of all children were placed in foster care in 2012. Of that number, data presented by the Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau (AFCARS) indicated that the number of African American and Hispanic children combined represented more than half of all the children in foster care between 1998 and 2010 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010). There is little debate: no other group is more impacted than African American children, whose families are most detrimentally affected by the child welfare system and regulatory reforms governing the system (Boyd-Franklin, 1989, U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2008; Hill, 2007). African American children represented a staggering 26% of children in foster care in 2011.
Prior to 1977, it was common practice to use child protection services to remove black children from their relatives and place them in white homes (Hill, 1977). Hodges (2001) argues that “the field of child welfare needs to build on the tradition of mutual aid and extended family by honoring and supporting kindship care as a viable alternative to foster care placement” (p. 211).
In its 1972 position statement on transracial adoptions the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) vehemently opposed the placement of black children in white homes for any reason (NABSW, 1972). The impetus for this uncompromising position is rooted in their belief of the “phenomenon of trans-racial adoption as an expedient for White folk, not as an altruistic humane concern for Black children” (p. 2). Through the advocacy efforts and research documentation by the National Urban League, greater efforts have been made to place black children with their relatives (Boyd-Franklin, 1989). Contemporary social policies from legislative mandates—Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act (1980), State Plan for Foster Care and Adoption Assistance (1996), the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of 1997 and Fostering Connection to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (2008)—reinforce having children remain with relatives.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (2008) has studied reasons for these glaring disparities. They found the distrust of African American parents with the child welfare system, racial bias, and cultural misunderstandings among decision makers were among the key factors contributing to the deleterious effects of disproportionate removal of black children from their homes and placement into foster care (U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2008). Because of the historical and ongoing rates of removal of black children from their parents, future study might explore the effects of the child welfare system. For black males, consequences of disrupted families are reflected in high school dropout rates, unemployment rates, overrepresentation in the criminal justice system (Alexander, 2010; Levitan, 2005, 2007; Pettit & Western, 2004; U.S. Census Bureau, 2011).
Racial profiling in America quite extensively affects blacks in low-income communities. The policies that lead to racial profiling include the “Rockefeller laws,” “broken windows policing,” “no knock search warrants,” “three strikes you’re out,” “truth in sentencing,” “stand your ground,” and “stop and frisk” and community policing policies strategies that reinforce mandatory minimum sentencing. Blacks also face significant disparities in sentencing rates.
Black males are incarcerated at gratuitously higher rates than other races and ethnicities (Pew Center on the States, 2009). According to the Center for American Progress (2012), approximately one in three African American males will go to prison in their lifetime; African American youth have higher rates of juvenile incarceration and are more likely to serve sentences in adult prisons. National numbers suggest that African American males were incarcerated in state and federal prisons at 6.4 times the rate of other racial and ethnic groups (Guerino, Harrison, & Sabol, 2011). In her analysis, Alexander (2010) points out that approximately 750 per 100,000 persons (mass incarceration) are black men. She asserts that this new system of social control was implemented during the civil rights era as a byproduct from lynching to mass incarceration. Notwithstanding “the old caste system crumbling and a new one would have to take its place” (Alexander, 2010, p. 22). Despite the enactment of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (Horton & Horton, 2005), which was ratified in 1868 to guarantee the civil rights of African Americans (see Appliah & Gates, 2003), major civil rights disparities exist. In 2011 the American Civil Liberties Union reported that officers of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) stopped 685,724 New Yorkers: more than half were black (350,743 or 53%) compared to 61,805 (9%) who were white. Of the total number of people who were “stopped and frisked,” 605,328 (88%) were not found to have committed any crime. These reckless practices have helped to uphold hyperincarceration of black and Latino males (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2006; Spitzer, 1999).
Racial profiling furthers the legacy of slavery practices rooted the Jim Crow era. Actions by police state officials that would have led to charges of second-degree murder, manslaughter, assault, reckless endangerment, and criminally negligent homicide, have been ruled accidental shootings or “justifiable” and resulted in either no indictment or “not guilty” verdicts. White police officers have shot, publically chocked, and killed unarmed black males—Fred Hampton Sr. (1948–1969), Amadou Diallo (1976–1999), Sean Bell (1988–2006), Michael Brown (1996–2014), Eric Garner (1970–2014), Patrick Dorismond (1974–2000), and other named and unnamed black men.
Even when not killed, black men have been brutally beaten, dehumanized, and violated by members of law enforcement. In 1991, Rodney Glen King III (1965–2012) was assaulted with a deadly weapon by state officials who were subsequently acquitted. In 1997, Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant, was brutalized and forcibly sodomized with a broken-off broom handle by New York City police officers. Dehumanizing practices toward black men are seen in several infamous examples: Gordon (unknown), a slave scarred from savage whippings (Gage, 2009); Jessie Washington (unknown), who was publically castrated and lynched (Du Bois, 1980); Emmett Louis Till (1941–1955), who was barbarically killed (Beauchamp, 2005). These contemporary practices, protected by the criminal justice system, mirror the physical torture of slavery that was protected by the Constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court in early America (Alexander, 2010).
Wacquant (2010) conceptualizes hyperincarceration as an expansion and intensification of arrest and imprisonment. Mass incarceration (Alexander, 2010) rests upon activities by the American police, criminal courts, and prisons over the past thirty years in which incarceration has targeted African American men from the imploding ghetto, based on their class, race, and geography. Consequently, hyperincarceration is a multidimensional attack on a specific group of people and is similar to another economic and social landscape of America’s peonage system (1870s–1918), in which formerly enslaved African Americans continued to provide “free” plantation labor as sharecroppers (Cooper, 2011; DeGruy, 2005; Muhammad, 2010; Wacquant, 2010; Wilkerson, 2010). For example, DeVeaux (2013) asserts that during the 25 years he was incarcerated, he earned between $0.42 per hour and up to $7.75 per week. His reflective narrative is strikingly similar to the assertions of several scholars (Blackmon, 2008; Muhammad, 2010; Wacquant, 2010; Watkins, 2009; Wilkerson, 2010) who posit that America’s industrialization was built on repressions of the plantation and on the backs of the “free” labor of chattel slavery which maintains its advantages in perpetuity. Although The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude except as punishment for a crime. Muhammad, 2010, the debt peonage system permitted somewhat of a de facto slavery in which African American families worked the land of their former slave owners in exchange for housing and food (DeGruy, 2005; Wilkerson, 2010). DeVeaux (2013) also posits that psychological sufferings—for him—were compounded by witnessing constant threats of violence because of the number of suicides, and other acts of violence.
The cumulative, persistent, and multidimensional experiences of physical and psychological enslavement and imprisonment can cause psychological and historical trauma (Blackmon, 2008; DeVeaux, 2013; Martensen, 2012; Smith, 2011; Williams, 2008; Williams-Washington, 2010). Hyperincarceration is a pressing contemporary social problem requiring rigorous scientific examination, specifically as it relates to its lasting effects.
Historical Trauma and Mental Health
As asserted by Frantz Fanon (1925–1961) “the habit of considering racism as a mental quirk, as a psychological flaw, must be abandoned” (1967, p. 77). Racism in the context of historical trauma and mental health is researched and understood (Williams & Williams-Morris, 2000) in cultural trauma (Barden, 2013; Eyerman, 2001), invisibility syndrome (Franklin et. al., 2006; Franklin & Boyd-Franklin, 2000), race-based trauma (Carter & Forsyth, 2009), post-slavery traumatic stress syndrome (Akbar, 1996), post-traumatic slavery syndrome (Pouissaint & Alexander, 2000), and post-traumatic slave syndrome (Crawford, Nobles, Leary, 2003; DeGruy, 2005).
In the case of African Americans, social worker Joy DeGruy (2005), in her pioneering book Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, has described post-traumatic slave syndrome “as a condition that exists when a population has experienced multigenerational trauma resulting from centuries of slavery and continues to experience oppression and institutionalized racism today” (p. 125).
The accounts briefly described thus far chronicle various intersections of a legacy of racism institutionalized in America (Du Bois, 1999; DeGruy, 2005). While many abhorrent things happen to blacks because of the racist practices perpetrated against them, it is also critical to acknowledge their strengths embedded in a proud genetic inheritance of greatness, “oneness,” survival, and spirituality (Ani, 1994; Diop, 1974, 1978, 1989, 1991; Martin & Martin, 2002, Robinson, Battle, & Robinson, 1987; Williams, 1987).
Social Work: Perceptions, Responses, and Commitment to Eradicate Racism in the United States
This section highlights the ways social work as a profession has responded to far-reaching effects of racism. In firm support against racism, social work trailblazers like pioneer and activist Whitney M. Young Jr. (1921–1971) and NABSW first National President Cenie “Jomo” Williams Jr. (1939–1983) spearheaded early attempts to eradicate racism. Building on Whitney’s classical work, Beyond Racism: Building an Open Society, recent NASW literature informs us that racism is an ideology or practice of white supremacy of one group over others by reason of race, color, ethnicity, or cultural heritage (Clark, Weismiller, Whitaker, Waller, Zlontnik, & Corbett, 2006; National Association of Social Workers, 2007).
Social work’s model of anti-racism intervention acknowledges the embedded systemic and multidimensional nature of racism (National Association of Social Workers, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009). Despite these strides and political and social gains of the Civil Rights era (for discussion of this development, see the entry “Civil Rights,” Pollard, 2013 in this encyclopedia), overt and explicit forms of racism (for example, segregation or lynching) appear to have attenuated over the years. Examples of notable milestones of the social work profession’s commitment to eradicate racism include the establishment of National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) during the 1960s to address issues of racism and poverty in America. In addition, NASW established several committees, policies, and innovative strategies to eradicate racism, including: The Social Work Profession: A Call To Action to address institutional racism.
At the macro level, the profession has demonstrated its commitment to combat racism through advocacy efforts and policy reform. For example, Social Work Congress passed Social Work Imperative #6 to address the impact of racism, other forms of oppression, social injustice, and other human rights violations through social work education and practice. In the National Association of Social Workers 2012 Document to the Obama Administration the profession recommended ending the practice of racial profiling through the promotion of initiatives that fairly target the perpetrators of crimes, rather than those who represent a particular racial or ethnic minority, and urged passage of the End Racial Profiling Act.
Additionally, NASW testified at the 110 Congress to include the End Racial Profiling Act (H.R.4611/S.2481) seeking corrective action against “profiling” by federal, state, and local law enforcement officials who routinely use race, ethnicity, or national origin when choosing which individuals should be stopped, detained, or searched.
However, the implementation of the aforementioned practices are merely lip services if the actions of individuals within the social work profession ignore racism, dismiss valid claims by issuing statements as state chapters within the organization rather than as a united national and international profession.
[E]Race[ing] Colorism Globally
Racism has taken place throughout various parts of the world. Therefore, this portion of the entry highlights those examples through the theme of colorism. Racial classification based on color is a significant factor in the globalization of racism. True to prediction and into the 21st century, the world is plagued with unrest relative to color in the United States and around the world. W. E. B. Du Bois (1999) in his classic 1903 work, The Souls of Black Folk, envisaged that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line (racism)—the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea.” It is clear that issues of “Color in a White Society” (National Association of Social Workers, 2007, p. 25) continue into this day. As stated previously, race is a social construct that precisely captures categories and classifications served to justify colonialism, slavery, exploitation, and official forms of discrimination (Fredrickson, 2005; Hochschild & Powell, 2008; Smedley & Smedley, 2005; Du Bois, 1999; White, 2005). However colorism is a construct rooted in characteristics of skin tone (Hochschild & Powell, 2008; Robinson, 2013). According to Culbreth (2006), types of colorism include “interracial colorism” and “intraracial colorism.” Whereas, interracial colorism involves a member of one racial group making a distinction based on the skin color of members belonging to a different racial group, in contrast, intraracial colorism involves a member of one group making distinctions based on the skin color of members belonging to the same racial group.
As asserted by Robinson (2013), “One lesson taught by slavery and colonialism was a social discrimination and hierarchical structure between members of the same race, based on skin color, a phenomenon known as colorism” (p. 580). Partisan practices date back to the American chattel system of slavery where slave owners used skin color as the basis to divide work chores and blacks. Moreover, the “blackest” slaves were perceived as the healthiest and better laborers and the lighter-skinned blacks were better suited for intelligent tasks, such as craftsmanship or lighter labor (Kerr, 2005). Dark-skinned slaves worked in the field and performed more physically demanding tasks and lighter skinned slaves (resulting from mothers raped by slave masters) were given more prestigious jobs (Hunter, 2002; Johnson, 2001).
Kerr (2005) contends that derogatory attention to African features was revealed by objectionable, taboo “complexion tests,” which included “the brown paper bag principle,” and in songs, rituals, rhymes. A quote embedded in Jim Crow Laws—“If you’re light you’re right, if you’re yellow, you’re mellow, if you’re brown stick around, but if you’re Black get back, way back”—upholds earlier research conducted by Kenneth and Mamie Clark (1947) in which majority of the black children who participated in the “doll test” preferred the white dolls and rejected the ones which looked like them. These lasting effects of racism are also reinforced by media portrayals which spotlight negative images (Watkins, 2009). Additional examples include Toni Morrison’s (1970) virtuosic first novel, Bluest Eye, as well as Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry’s (2011) documentary Dark Girls and Kiri Davis’s (2005) film, A Girl Like Me—power narratives which dig beneath the surface to explore roots of the psychological effects of colorism from America to isolated corners of the globe. Research suggests that skin color paradox has a negative impact on dark-skinned blacks.
In the United States of America, researchers found evidence of profound social stratification by skin tone. African Americans with darker skin tone reported significantly less or lower: educational attainment, employment opportunities, income status, home ownership, marital status, political representation, as well as, longer prison sentences (Culbreth, 2006; Hughes & Hertel, 1990; Ladson-Billings, 2000a; Robinson, 2013). This dark-light paradigm premised on color accords well with research that shows that since slavery, as light skin hue has been considered more attractive and appealing than dark skin (Clark & Clark, 1947; Herring, Keith, & Horton, 2004). Consequences have resulted in the blatant form of colorism—the practice of skin lightening or skin bleaching to lighten ones complexion for blacks in the United States and Afro-Jamaicans in the West Indies (WI) as a means of improving beauty and ultimately increasing opportunities for economic and social mobility (Charles, 2009; Robinson, 2013).
In Jamaica, WI, Robinson (2013) examined skin-bleaching perceptions in Afro-Jamaicans. Findings from her study suggest that British values of significant preference for light skin over dark was upheld by participants and that bleaching was a significant benefit of an exaggerated sense of beauty (Robinson, 2013). Earlier literature (Charles, 2009; Hickling & Hutchinson, 2000) confirms that the attainment of whiteness is a symbol of social acceptance. Skin bleaching poses serious concern for health officials and necessities governmental policy (Robinson, 2013).
Colorism also has immigration policy implications for persons arriving from other islands in the West Indies. For example, while past U.S.-Cuban agreement has supported the “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” policy for Cuban migration and eventually legal permanent resident status of Cubans if they made it to shore, darker-skinned immigrants, such as Haitians, who made it to land have not received the same treatment. As observed by the scholars Abu-Jamal (2004) and Danticat (2004), Haitians (unlike Cubans) are met with distorted American dreams, confined in de facto prisons, indefinite detentions or eventual deportation back to their home island.
In Brazil, slavery lasted for more than 300 years and was compounded by the divide of blacks based on color. Post-slavery, Brazilian blacks systematically occupy lower status in many venues of social, economic, and political life (Reichmann, 1995). Almost a decade later, Telles (2004) found that darker-skinned Brazilians reported lower earnings and occupational status, less access to education, and experienced various forms of discrimination when compared with lighter-skinned Brazilians. Concerning gender, Brazilian women tended to be classified in whiter categories than men (Telles, 2004).
In Africa, researchers (Ajose, 2005; Blay, 2007; Ladson-Billings, 2000a; Lewis, Robkin, Gaska, & Njoki, 2011; Ly, 2007) have also found that despite dangerous outcomes from skin bleaching chemicals (such as mercury), which may cause skin cancer, kidney disease, brain disease and increased infertility rates, skin bleaching in Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Ghana persists. For example, Blay (2007) reported that the light skin privileges embedded by colonialism in Ghana’s social history and culture perpetuates persistence of skin bleaching despite negative health outcomes. In the case of the Tanzanian women, a study by Lewis et al. (2011) found that skin bleaching was associated with self-objectification, colonialism, and Westernization. Regardless of the hemisphere, rac(ism) for blacks is woven throughout the fabric of every society (Jones, 1997) and it requires a collective response from social workers and like-minded disciplines interested in eradicating racism in America and globally (Ladson-Billings, 2000a; National Association of Social Workers, 2007; Wise, 2005).
Implications for Social Work
This article has trans-disciplinary—black studies, anthropology, sociology, history, social work—implications. As an exemplar, black social worker trailblazers and their colleagues in the profession have made notable milestones to eradicate racism. Still, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) asserts that racism is pervasive in U.S. society and remains a silent code that systematically closes doors to many individuals (National Association of Social Workers, 2007).
Despite social work’s concerted efforts to remedy racism institutionalized in systems through cultural competence, social diversity, policy statements and legislative action, racism continues to plague America and international societies in the 21st century. Gibson (2014) and others call for social work educators to include multifaceted pedagogical approaches across the curriculum.
To ensure the profession’s social responsibility to combat racism, innovative and deliberate social work using anti-racism practice tools (Bent-Goodley, 2001; Gilbert, Harvey, & Belgrave, 2009; Ladson-Billings, 2000b; National Association of Social Workers, 2007; Chisom & Washington, 1997) are needed.
The urgency to tackle racism through academic curricula and Council on Social Work Education practice standards (Clark et al., 2006; Council on Social Work Education, 2008; National Association of Social Workers, 2007) necessitates the inclusion of conventional models of education and practices grounded in African-centered pedagogies. There is opportunity for the social work profession to promote positive images and historical narratives of women (from Harriet A. Jacobs [1813–1897], to U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama)—children (Celia, a slave [1836–1855] to Thessalonika Arzu Embry)—and men (from astronomer-scientist Benjamin Banneker [1731–1806] to U.S. President Barack Obama). Effective examples are occurring at micro, messo, and macro levels (e.g., President Obama’s Race and Beyond: Moving Forward with “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative; NASW social work pioneers). Contemporary examples are also documented in descendants of African ancestry who are prominent academics in varying disciplines—black studies, English, fine arts, history, social work, sociology, and teacher education (Rodgers & Cudjoe, 2013) and community leaders JWT (J. Walter Thompson) Differenter/Innovators of Change (Thacker, 2015)
On the macro level, reform is needed in federal and state systems, and a change in language, one that does not dehumanize persons. This article reinforces themes, which are aligned with the 2014 Social Work Month theme, “All People Matter” and the profession’s value of respect for the dignity and worth of the person. Moreover, discussions central to eradicating racism must transcend conversations outlined in United Nations post-2015 agenda. Social work proposed by scholars (DeGruy, 2005; Franklin et al., 2006; Whitaker, Weismiller, & Clark, 2006) assert the need for critical approaches, which include a shift from an invisibility syndrome to social responsibility, a balance of power in institutions, and actionable social policies that acknowledge grievous injustice, uphold the promise of “forty acres and a mule” (Darity, 2008), and confront racial exclusion.
In looking forward, the realities of racism endured by blacks in the United States and globally will not be resolved solely by the efforts of social workers at individual, mid-level, or macro-structural conversations. Instead, a collective revolutionary action of blacks, dedicated social workers, and like-minded individuals will be rallied through intellectual protests which include authentic historical phenomena (chants, dye-ins, marches) infused into pedagogy, educational core competencies, culturally competent practice, community organizing, policy reform, and grassroots social activism.
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