SWPI symposium focuses on racial equity

Feb 11, 2014

By Rena Malai, News staff

NASW’s Social Work Policy Institute convened a two-day national think tank called “Achieving Racial Equity: Calling the Social Work Profession to Action” at the NASW national office in November.

NASW-NYC Chapter President-elect Sandra Bernabei, right, talks during the symposium with social worker Kerron Norman, vice president of community-based programs at Andrus, a New York-based organization that offers programs to children and families.

Sixty social work leaders, administrators and educators, as well as policymakers and racial-equity experts came together to discuss and examine the issue of racial equity.

This is the first time NASW has held a think tank about what it takes to achieve racial equity, said Sandra Bernabei, president-elect of NASW’s New York City Chapter. Bernabei and former Chapter President Mary Pender Greene served on the planning committee for the think tank.

The symposium built on NASW’s work on cultural competency and helped put its tool kit, “Institutional Racism & the Social Work Profession” (naswdc.org/diversity), into action.

“The symposium is a beginning for social workers to understand the issue and work to undo it,” Bernabei said. “When social workers have a clear and common understanding of structural racism, what it is and how it is maintained, then we become inspired and mobilized to engage in the work of ‘undoing’ racism.”

NASW President Jeane Anastas and NASW CEO Angelo McClain attended the think tank and spoke about the importance of putting plans in motion that could make total racial equity a reality.

“This is a great coming together of leaders in the social work profession who are committed to undoing racism and achieving racial equity,” McClain said. “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.”

Pender Greene said it is important to recognize that race and race matters are daily issues for both social work clients and staff of color. She said since most social workers were trained to practice in a colorblind manner, there are large pieces of the lives of clients of color that don’t get addressed. This leaves the client void of a place to talk about subtle and not so subtle indignities that are a part of their everyday lives.

“A major difficulty is that many white social workers view racism as individual, intentional acts of meanness and experience, and any discussion of racism in an institution is seen as a personal affront,” she said. “It is the role of the social worker, not the client, to learn the skills and bring issues of race and racism to our work.”

From the February 2014 NASW News. NASW members can read the full story after logging in.