Statement by the NASW-MA Racial Equity Shared Interest Group
Co-Chairs Polly Hanson and Michelle Walsh
July 25, 2016
We are living in times when social workers are called into the public square on behalf of racial equity, social justice, and anti-oppression education more than ever before. We are witnessing mass escalation of violence abroad and here at home, including the shooting in an Orlando nightclub popular in the Latin LGTBQ community. The international and intersectional Black Lives Matter movement also calls our attention to police brutality in communities of color as well as longstanding inequities of health care, education, criminal justice, and housing among other areas. It is concerning to see that the nonviolent grassroots work of BLM advocates is being distorted in ways that require the Southern Poverty Law Center to take a public stand that Black Lives Matter is not a hate group.
Our news media is filled with these recent and more tragic events, including Alton Sterling and Philando Castile compelling social workers to live out the ethical principles guiding our profession and to engage in broader education and support for nonviolent direct actions. We recognize that there may be differences between us in how we choose to support the values listed in our NASW Code of Ethics. Nonetheless, social justice, the dignity and worth of all people, and the importance of human relationships and community bind us together through the clinical and macro work we do.
With this shared vision in mind, we call your attention to two recent stories in our U.S. news – that of Charles Kinsey, the black human service provider shot while trying to protect his client and that of Montrell Jackson, the black police officer fatally shot in Baton Rouge, LA alongside other officers. Even with his hands clearly raised, Kinsey could not protect himself from being shot. Even though he worked as a fellow police officer, Jackson expressed disappointment with some fellow police officers in the aftermath of the Dallas shooting for their “reckless comments” and that he would not be looking at them the same again. Both of these black men were professionals, specially trained to serve people and our society. Yet even professional status could not keep these men safe from the impact of implicit bias and cultural racism supported by legally sanctioned institutional racism over time.
This racism has functioned as a historical and economic foundation for this country. This history plays an integral role in the contemporary racism that persists. As professional social workers, the ongoing loss of black lives, and the profoundly violent experience of black people in general, is not something we can allow to continue on our watch. Beyond this, we are obligated to investigate the role implicit racism plays in the decisions we make and the ways in which we move through our daily lives. It is imperative that we commit to educate ourselves and others about the profoundly disparate experiences and legacies of race among us and between us, including the intersectional dimensions of race, class, gender, sexuality, immigrant status, religion, and ability.
As social workers, we affirm our commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement and to investigating the historical forces that have shaped this moment in history, including its global dimensions. We affirm our responsibility to be a force for nonviolent change and social justice in our world. We also affirm the trauma of racism and the necessity for racial justice and healing. To this end, we invite all social workers to engage in the NASW-MA Racial Equity Shared Interest Group, as well as other shared interest groups that reflect the broad intersectional concerns of racial equity in our state and beyond. We also encourage all members to become involved in the national Showing Up for Racial Justice movement and its local Boston chapter. The Showing Up for Racial Justice movement is geared toward preparing white allies and is committed to being in accountable relationship with people of color. Finally, we also recommend involvement in the Boston Liberation Health group, which meets monthly, is open to people of all identities, and is active in various local racial justice action.
Please contact your co-chairs, Polly Hanson and Michelle Walsh (emails below) with further questions. We not only look forward to your involvement, we welcome it!