On #Ferguson and Social Work
by Pat Shelly
It is now 18 days after Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African American man, was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a European American police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Protesters and social media adopted “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” as a meme. #Ferguson is filled with photos of people who march with determination to make radical changes so that another generation of young men – and women – will not be decimated just because they have black bodies. The juggernaut of racism is a constant issue in social work, but how is that particular form of deeply institutionalized oppression addressed by our profession?
Since August 9, the day that Mike Brown was killed, my informal survey of blogs, editorials, and other media showed these social workers who were quoted or writing about Ferguson:
Charles Lewis, writing for the Congressional Research on Social Work and Policy (CRISP) (Aug. 18, 2014):
“Ferguson Begs for a Grand Response from Social Work”
NASW (National Association of Social Workers) (Aug. 19, 2014):
“Police Shootings Underscore Need for Social Workers to Press for Reforms”
Norman A. White is an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice in the School of Social Work at Saint Louis University. His approach is an good example of how schools of social work (and other institutes of higher education) can incorporate anti-racist and trauma-informed processes in the classroom.
He is quoted in this Chronicle of Higher Education article (Aug. 26, 2014):
“How Professors In St. Louis are Teaching the Lessons of Ferguson’s Unrest”
“Three years ago, we decided we needed to change the way we looked at offenders and the justice system, and we coined a phrase, human justice, to emphasize the goal of providing dignity to everyone… You can’t be an effective…professional without understanding the lives of the people you may come in contact with.
“We’re looking at how issues like poverty, unemployment, and single-parent households increase the possibility of young people engaging in problem behavior. What’s happening in Ferguson is putting this work more front and center, and it’s opened the door to conversations about economic inequality and the constitution of the police force that needed to happen.”
And Deona Hooper, in her Social Work Helper blog post, “Social Work Appears to be Absent from Ferguson Global Conversation,” offered her sobering opinion of some Facebook comments she received about Ferguson:
“…it makes me extremely fearful that some of these people are actually social workers, and I pray they are not working with minority communities. Maybe its [sic] a good thing the national media and reporters are not patrolling social worker forums and social media platforms to see what social workers think about national and global events. If they did, many would not be able to withstand the scrutiny placed on their statements.”
While not specifically about Ferguson, other social work sources addressed institutional racism or provided personal accounts:
Social Work Policy Institute [SWPI] (2014): Achieving Racial Equity: Calling the Social Work Profession to Action (especially helpful are the definitions of race as a social construct and what racial equity means)
Reynaldo Thompkins, in his “Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian” (N.A.H.) blog often focuses on race and his experiences as an African American man, as a student, and as a social worker. He also provides links to articles from other sources, such as this Atlantic magazine article about a #FergusonSyllabus on race, civil rights and policing.
In this 2013 post, he reflects upon the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, and it still resonates today: “How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?” (the title is a quote from W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk). In a post from 2012, “What Do You Mean, Check My Privilege?,” Thompkins says, “while focusing on the eliminating the systemic injustices perpetrated by ‘others’ in society, it is also equally important (possibly even more important) to continue to change oppressive thoughts and behaviors that may be present in ourselves.”
So, what is the social work profession to do? How can social workers create change and undermine institutionalized racism? As practitioners, as social work educators and field instructors, as leaders and policy makers or as individuals doing our best to walk the talk as human justice advocates, as Professor White would say, how can we realize an agenda of racial justice and equity?
At the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, we solicited items on Ferguson from and for our professors to use in classes (see Casselman, Duca, Pew Research, and Woods referenced below). Every MSW program covers diversity and oppression. The newest draft of revisions for the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS) defines nine competencies for social workers, two of which are the areas of a. diversity and difference, and b. social justice and human rights. The CSWE 2015 EPAS Draft 2 (2014) defines diversity as “the intersectionality of multiple factors including but not limited to age, class, color, culture, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity and expression, immigration status, political ideology, race, religion/spirituality, sex, sexual orientation, and tribal sovereign status” (p.4).
It is this intersectionality that complicates any human rights-based social work practice. We know that society too often imposes not just one but multiple oppressions. The definition of diversity in the above paragraph is a checklist for us to use when we are considering inclusion, respect for differences, cultural competency, and communications. In the realm of social media, it is especially important to be conscious of how even our casual remarks can offend.
According to SWPI (2014), social work education must:
“-Ensure availability and access to core anti-racism/anti-racist curriculum content in social work education programs.
–Operationalize, more fully, how the curriculum can provide tools to address institutional racism, not to just discuss race and poverty in terms of history and advocacy and in understanding the social environment.
-Train social workers to identify and interrupt color-blind ideology.
–Ensure students know that helping is not enough – students need to understand that they have power that can hurt” (p. 17).
The report concludes: “The work of undoing racism and achieving racial equity cannot be relegated to actions by people of color; whites are essential in this effort. At times this will mean sharing power and leadership in deeper ways, and taking proactive steps to undo oppression and racism. The use of community organizing principles and skills are essential” (p.19) to this effort.
https://twitter.com/janeepwoods - symbol in support of white allies, antiracism
What resources can you suggest for teaching about Ferguson or institutionalized racism?
Please share in the comments section below!
Adewunmi, B. (2014, April 2). Kimberlé Crenshaw on intersectionality: “I wanted to come up with an everyday metaphor that anyone could use”. The New Statesman. Retrieved from http://www.newstatesman.com/lifestyle/2014/04/kimberl-crenshaw-intersectionality-i-wanted-come-everyday-metaphor-anyone-could
Alcaraz, L. (2014, August 21). GoComics.com – United Features Syndicate http://www.gocomics.com/laloalcaraz#.U_3Ub6OhoxN
Casselman. B. (2014, August 26). The Poorest Corner of Town. FiveThirtyEightEconomics. Retrieved from http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/ferguson-missouri/
Chatelain, M. (2014, August 25). How to teach kids about what’s happening in Ferguson: A crowdsourced syllabus about race, African American history, civil rights and policing. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/08/how-to-teach-kids-about-whats-happening-in-ferguson/379049/?single_page=true
Cole, T. (2014, August 19). Black body: Rereading James Baldwin’s “Stranger in the Village”. The New Yorker. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/black-body-re-reading-james-baldwins-stranger-village?utm_source=tny&utm_campaign=generalsocial&utm_medium=twitter&mbid=social_twitter
Council on Social Work Education. (2014, March). COEP and COA approved draft 2 of the 2015 Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS). Retrieved from http://www.cswe.org/Accreditation/EPASRevision.aspx
Du Bois, W.E.B. (1903/1999). The Souls of Black Folk. Available at http://www.bartleby.com/114/index.html ) http://www.relandothompkins.com/2013/07/14/how-does-it-feel-to-be-a-problem/
Duca, L. (2014, August 20). 7 documentaries you can stream right now to better understand what’s going on in Ferguson. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/20/ferguson-documentaries_n_5694439.html
Hooper, D. (2014, August 21). Social work appears to be absent from Ferguson global conversation. [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.socialworkhelper.com/2014/08/21/social-work-appears-absent-ferguson-global-conversation/
Lewis, C. (2014, August 18). Ferguson begs for a grand response from social work. [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://crispinc.org/2014/08/18/ferguson-county-begs-for-a-grand-response-from-social-work/
Mangan, K. (2014, August 26). How professors in St. Louis are teaching the lessons of Ferguson’s unrest. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/How-Professors-in-St-Louis/148479/
National Association of Social Workers. (2014, August 19). Police shootings underscore need for social workers to press for reforms. Retrieved from http://www.socialworkblog.org/advocacy/2014/08/police-shootings-underscore-need-for-social-workers-to-press-for-law-enforcement-reforms/?utm_source=tf&utm_medium=twitter
Pew Research Center for People and the Press. (2014, August 18). Stark racial divisions in reactions to Ferguson police shooting. Retrieved from http://www.people-press.org/2014/08/18/stark-racial-divisions-in-reactions-to-ferguson-police-shooting/
Social Work Policy Institute (2014). Achieving racial equity: Calling the social work profession to action. Retrieved from http://www.socialworkpolicy.org/news-events/report-on-achieving-racial-equity.html
Thompkins, R. (2013, July 14). How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.relandothompkins.com/2013/07/14/how-does-it-feel-to-be-a-problem/
Thompkins, R. (2012, February 10). What Do You Mean, Check My Privilege? [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.relandothompkins.com/2012/02/10/what-do-you-mean-check-my-privilege/
Woods, J. (2104, August 14). Becoming a white ally to black people in the aftermath of the Michael Brown murder. [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://janeewoods.com/2014/08/14/becoming-a-white-ally-to-black-people-in-the-aftermath-of-the-michael-brown-murder/