Latino Critical Perspective in Social Work, Social Work, April 2016
In a recent issue of the journal Social Work, Elizabeth Kiehne, MSW, describes LatCrit and proposes ways in which it can be useful in the field of social work. Social workers are challenged to broaden their perspectives and cultural competencies when dealing with clients, particularly clients from cultures that differ from the social worker’s home culture. Often it is helpful to bring in new theoretical perspectives when dealing with a client from, for instance, a Latin American culture. In this case, Latino Critical Perspective, or LatCrit can be a useful tool in a social worker’s cultural competency array.
What is LatCrit?
LatCrit grew out of critical race theory (CRT). CRT arose in the 1970s during the years following the civil rights era. During that time scholars, lawyers, and activists noted that racial and social progress had dramatically slowed and in some cases even reversed. In the place of explicit, state-sponsored racism, a more subtle and covert form of racism had emerged. For instance, scholars identified the fallacy of race neutrality as one of the most flagrant challenges and threats to equality.
CRT challenged the normative white paradigm, recognizing the distinctive realities of people of color. It recognized whiteness as a socially constructed norm or standard, and blackness as the marginalized other. According the CRT, racism and race are defining features of social existence that permeate every facet of life.
But CRT in its earlier stages was mainly focused on the dynamic of white-black binary. LatCrit extended the lessons and questions of CRT to the experience and realities of Latinos in the U.S. LatCrit expanded the perspective beyond the binary to explore how different races and ethnicities, and in particular that of Latinos, experience racism and prejudice. For instance, Latinos experience prejudice based on their nativity (or perceived nativity), in that they are often seen as being “un-American”. So how can a LatCrit perspective help in social work?
Kiehne argues that a shift in emphasis in social work away from the macro to the micro in recent decades has led to an abandoning of emphasis the mission to fix broken social systems that give rise to client problems; instead social workers are opting for an individualistic approach to social challenges. LatCrit can be a tool in a revival of macro focus. Kiehne says:
By advocating for efforts that target the structure of oppression, LatCrit echoes the call for self-criticism and reflexivity in social work that leads to an increase in mezzo and macro practice…. LatCrit can help guide the revival of mezzo and macro social work practice that challenges the status quo and targets the broken structure itself. Arguably, these efforts would better address the root of client problems rather than merely treating symptoms of a larger issue, leading to more lasting and efficacious solutions. Furthermore, social work practice from a LatCrit perspective would guide the profession away from implicit victim blaming. As [Paulo] Freire noted, people who are oppressed often vent their oppression in maladaptive ways, such as through drinking or violence. By highlighting the dysfunctional system that leads to client problems, LatCrit reduces the risk of practice from a cultural or individual deficiency perspective ….
Of course, no theoretical perspective is perfect, and Keihne is quick to point out some issues that arise from the use of LatCrit (such as less reliance on empirical data, etc.). Still, LatCrit can be seen as a useful perspective for culturally competent social work, especially in a move to revive macro practice.