Social workers discuss ways to undo racism

Sep 10, 2015

By Paul R. Pace, News staff

Racism triggers deep emotions in the U.S.

It is a word with different meanings for diverse populations. It can bring about shame and avoidance for some and justifiable resentment for others.

Can some good happen from the racial tension of today? Social workers with experience in this area believe it can. But they say it will take courage to dig deep and allow honest communication to bring about professional and personal growth.

It will also take greater awareness of how institutions and systems continue to negatively impact people of color and other marginalized populations, they say.

NASW member Karen Bullock is a professor and head of the Department of Social Work at North Carolina State University, in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

“I believe there is a good-faith effort on the part of many around the country and the world to address the racial tension and violence of contemporary time,” Bullock said. “I believe there are pockets of calm and what appears to be harmony in communities, which is great, but it leaves far too many on a larger scale disinterested in change.”

Racism is a difficult topic for Americans to discuss because it has “a perpetual connection to our country’s heritage of hate and brutality for some, while being for war, peace, honor and dignity for others,” Bullock said.

“Our country was founded on hate, segregation and subjugation, which are the pillars of racism,” she said. “So people in our country who have the most power, wealth and privilege have typically been the direct or indirect beneficiaries of racism. That’s difficult for us to talk about.”

Bullock said it is a topic the nation is divided on in terms of our pure ideology and its beliefs.

“As long as we have economic injustice and political dominance of one race over another, we still see this racial imbalance,” she said. “As long as there is this pervasive dominance of one group over another, racism will not be a comfortable topic for us.”

Bullock also works to make a difference as a member of the NASW National Committee on Race and Ethnic Diversity, or NCORED.

“I am committed to the advancement of policies that address diversity and inclusion issues for social workers,” Bullock said of why she serves. “I believe practitioners on the front line look to these policies to guide our practice approaches and framework.”

It’s critical that these policies are applicable to demographic, political, social and economic trends in society in contemporary times that impact the lives of the clients that social workers serve, she said.

“It’s essential that we continue to do work around racism to come together to learn and explore how racism impacts us as colleagues and how it impacts our clients,” Bullock said. “It’s a difficult topic, but as long as people stay silent about it, we can’t learn from individual experiences on either side of things.”

Bullock said it’s vital that social workers continue to create forums to hear personal stories about racism.

“Unless we are engaged in it for greater knowledge and awareness, we’re closing out an opportunity for us to achieve our professional obligations,” she said.

From the September 2015 NASW News. Read the full story here.

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