Nation must do more to address racism in aftermath of Sterling incident

Apr 29, 2014

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) applauds NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for imposing a lifetime ban and $2.5-million fine on Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for making racist and demeaning remarks about African Americans.

However, NASW recognizes more work must be done to end racism that is deeply ingrained in our nation’s social systems, communities and institutions, including professional sports.

In many ways Sterling’s racist world view is a metaphor for lingering racist attitudes that continue to exist in America. They also show we do not live in a post-racial society, despite the election of the nation’s first black president.

TMZ posted audio of a conversation Sterling had with his girlfriend V. Stiviano. During the call Sterling criticized Stiviano for posting photos of herself on Instagram with black people, including former NBA player and Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Magic Johnson.

“In your lousy (expletive) Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with — walking with black people,” Sterling said. Sterling also told Stiviano not to bring Johnson to basketball games.

Sterling’s comments were widely criticized, even by President Obama. Clippers team members protested by wearing their uniforms inside-out to hide the team logo. And the Clippers lost major sponsors including CarMax, State Farm Insurance, Kia Motors America, and Virgin America airlines.

Under the ban imposed by Silver Sterling cannot attend NBA basketball games or practices, enter any Clippers’ facility, take part in team business decisions or attend NBA Board of Governors meetings. However, he will be able to sell the team and will likely make a huge profit, according to CNN.

NASW commends the NBA and other industries for taking quick action against Sterling. However, our nation’s institutions must continue to take steps to address racism long after the furor over his hateful words subsides.

For instance, NASW member and race relations expert Chad Dion Lassiter, who is president of the Black Men at Penn, University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice, said NBA owners, players and staff should take anti-racism training. The NBA also needs to address a corporate structure that put its mostly African American players practically in bondage to owners, he said.

NASW also calls on all sectors of the social work profession to address racism and acts of individual intolerance that do not honor the core social work values of service, respect, and human dignity.

Social workers have a long history of addressing intolerance. Past NASW President and National Urban League Executive Director Whitney Young Jr. and social worker and National Council of Negro Women Chairwoman Dorothy Height were key players in the Civil Rights Movement and worked to end entrenched prejudices that kept people of color and women as second class citizens.

More recently, past NASW President Elvira Craig de Silva, DSW, ACSW, formed a task force to find ways social workers could battle entrenched racism. The task force’s work led to a 2007 report Institutional Racism and the Social Work Profession: A Call to Action.

The work continued last November when NASW’s Social Work Policy Institute convened a two-day national think tank, “Achieving Racial Equity: Calling the Social Work Profession to Action.”

“This is a great coming together of leaders in the social work profession who are committed to undoing racism and achieving racial equity,” said NASW CEO Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW, who spoke at the event. “This is an opportunity for all of us to learn and to consider how we must continue to be aware and all take responsibility to address structural racism.”

NASW hopes the Sterling incident, and other recent incidents of racial intolerance such as racist comments made by  Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy and the shooting of black teenager Trayvon Martin, will spark a more sustained effort to end racism in the United States.

“This moment can become a movement,” Lassiter said.

To learn more about what social workers are doing to end discrimination and prejudice visit the NASW’s Diversity and Equity website.