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Statement: Social Workers Must Take Action Against Racism

Friday, May 29, 2020  
Posted by: Jamie Klufts
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Social Workers Must Take Action Against Racism and Race-based Violence, Oppression, and Discrimination


As social workers committed to justice and enhancing human well-being, we cannot sit idly by as acts of racism, hatred, violence, and murder are repeatedly targeted toward black and brown people in our society. Silence is not an option and expressions of outrage and dismay are not enough.

We should not be shocked to learn of the brutal murder of George Floyd, a black man who was suffocated to death by the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis earlier this week. We should not be shocked that earlier this week a white woman in New York called the police on Christian Cooper, a black man, who simply asked her to follow the dog leash rules of the park they were both enjoying. We should not be shocked that Breonna Taylor, a black woman in Kentucky, was shot to death by police in her own home in March. We should not be shocked that Ahmaud Arbery, a black man out for a jog in a predominantly white neighborhood in Georgia, was hunted down like an animal by two white men and shot to death in February while their friend and co-conspirator videotaped the incident. 

We should not be shocked because racism is so deeply ingrained in our country’s systems, policies, and people. We must also acknowledge that these four incidents are just the ones picked up by the news media. Acts of racism, violence, oppression, and discrimination against non-white residents happen every minute and hour of every day in every single part of our nation. How many black and brown mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, have to die with no accountability in our structural systems? We must use this realization to not just talk about these recent atrocities, but take action. 

Firstly, as a profession, we not only have the responsibility to understand how racism impacts our colleagues, clients, communities, and ourselves, but also the responsibility to advocate for systems-level social change. Silence and inaction is not an option. 

We must acknowledge that the social work profession is nearly 70% white. This means that not only do we as a profession function in a system of white supremacy, we also, largely and collectively, benefit from white privilege. As defined by Peggy McIntosh in White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, white privilege is an unearned advantage based on race. Because the United States is rooted in a culture of white supremacy, this means that through systemic exploitation and oppression of non-white people, our society often reinforces and prioritizes the wealth, power, and privilege of white people. This system is supported and perpetuated through culture, beliefs, ideas, policies, laws, and institutions that make these unearned and unfair advantages appear rational and ethical. 

We all have hidden and implicit biases that, without intention or conscious thought, affect our understanding, actions, and decisions. Through education, determination, and practice we can all become more aware of what our personal biases are and work to counteract the ones that reinforce white supremacy or cause undue harm to non-white people.  

Given that we all show up with different lenses and levels of privilege, educating ourselves is a powerful step that can inform, empower, and inspire action and racial justice advocacy.  

As social workers, we must commit to becoming educated and advocating for the “creation and proactive reinforcement of policies, practices, attitudes, and actions that produce equitable power, access, opportunities, treatment, and outcomes for all, regardless of race, ethnicity, or the community in which they live.” As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” So, we must ask ourselves If not us, then who? If not now, then when?

At NASW-MA, we are committed to advocating for policies and legislation that advance racial justice. We are committed to creating educational opportunities for social workers related to race and racism. We are committed to learning, growing, and leaning in, even when it is hard or uncomfortable, with strategic guidance from and in partnership with our Racial Justice Council.  

For social workers committed to joining us in this fight, the following resources can help:

Taking Action:

Becoming Educated:

National Association of Social Workers - Massachusetts Chapter
11 Beacon Street, Suite 510, Boston MA 02108
tel: (617)227-9635 fax: (617)227-9877 email:
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