Implicit Bias in Social Work: A #MacroSW chat

by Pat Shelly

Implicit Bias in Social Work: #MacroSW chat was held June 25, 2015.

For an edited version of the hundreds of tweets over the hour-long discussion, go here.

In this twitter chat, we discussed implicit bias in the social work profession. What follows are some introductory thoughts.

To find resources shared during the chat, see below, at the end of the Links and Resources section.

The terrorist hate crime and murders at Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17th were allegedly committed by a young white man who espoused racist, white supremist reasons as justification for his actions. He held overtly prejudiced beliefs, and acted with deliberate intention. Is racial prejudice evidence of an abnormal psychology? Was the suspect in the Charleston shootings mentally ill or a sociopath? Or is he a thug?

One explanation for the basis for killings of African Americans in the U.S., particularly by law enforcement, has become more prominent in the media recently. It states there is a belief by many officers in the stereotype of the dangerous black person. This is implicit bias: not a conscious avowal of a stereotype but a covert attitude, with a lack of awareness that these biases even exist. Implicit bias can also be positive; a white person may have a bias in favor of African Americans, for example, or be unbiased regarding all religious faiths.

Most of white Americans consider themselves to be not predjudiced based on race or ethnicity. Social workers have, as a fundamental value, the obligation to help all people, “with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vunerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.” (NASW, 2008)

Over 40% of social workers are involved in some form of advocacy or community organizing for at least part of the their professional lives (Center for Health Workforce Studies et al, 2006, p.10). Our cultural competency requires understanding oppression based on race, color, gender, ethnicity, age, ableism, gender expression, and more.

Does this mean that our profession has less implicit bias because we consciously work to address oppression in all its forms?

Pcitureos African American male face with words at top on left,

Screenshot from an IAT measuring implicit racial attitudes

At the website for  The Implict Attitude Test (IAT), you can take an anonymous test that measures attitudes toward or beliefs about certain racial, ethnic or religious groups. You may be favorably surprised at your results; there is also the possibility you will receive disappointing results.

We urge everyone to take at least one test in the 14 IAT topic areas before participating in the chat. It will take 10 to 15 minutes.

Join the chat!

Protest sign saying

Image courtesy of The New Tri-State Defender

Questions for the 06-25-15  #MacroSW Chat:

  1. What is implicit bias?
  2. Have you tested yourself on any level of your own implicit biases? Why is looking at this / knowing this helpful?
  3. What experiences have you had – in the workplace? In your personal life?
  4. Have you received any training (in you BSW or MSW coursework, in your workplace, elsewhere) on implicit bias and best practices to address it?
  5. What were the responses you had when confronted with such bias?
  6. How can we take knowledge of implicit bias into our workplaces?
  7. Would you recommend taking the IAT test to others? Why?
Please share resources with us – leave a comment at
(below, under Links, you will find resources shared by participants during the chat on 06-25-15)


Bester, D. (2015, May 23).  Recognizing the role of implicit bias in institutional racism. New Tri-State Defender. Retrieved from:

Center for Health Workforce Studies & NASW Center for Workforce Studies. (2006). Licensed Social Workers in the U.S., pg. 10. Retrieved from

Implicit Attitude Test (IAT):
Project Implicit. (2011). Preliminary Information. Retrieved from:

Lewis, C. (2015, June 22). The insanity of racism. [Post]. Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy. Retrieved from:

NASW Code of Ethics:
National Association of Social Workers. (2008). Code of Ethics, Preamble. Retrieved from

Roberts, H. (2011, December 11). Implicit Bias and Social Justice. Open Society. Retrieved from

Upworthy (2015, March 25). This test will tell you whether you’re prejudiced without knowing: here’s how it works. Retrieved from

Implict bias and the courts:

Toobin, J. (2015, May 11). The Milwaukee experiment: What can one prosecutor do about the mass incarceration of African Americans? The New Yorker. Retrieved from:

Implicit bias and police:

Grove, Tracey G. (October 2011). Implicit Bias and Law Enforcement. The Police Chief 78. Retrieved from:

Quora. (n.d.) Does implicit bias play a key role in how police officers interact with black people? Yes, no and why? [Post] Retrieved from


Resources from twitter chat participants:

(These are not cited in APA style!)

Please remember to check out #CharlestonSyllabus as well as #FergusonSyllabus.
(Your search term should include the hashtag)

Social Work students support families of victims in Charleston Massacre:
Charleston Strong USC NSW 2016 Fundraiser.
Students in the MSW 2016 cohort at USC have set up a tshirt fundraiser to raise money for the victims and their families of the tragedy in Charleston. All profits will go to Mother Emanuel Hope Fund, the official fund for the families of the victims and your order is secure through the tfund website. Please help us to support this cause as we will be selling tshirts as well as organizing an event to assist those affected by this tragedy. Any questions can be sent to Amber at

Other recommended links:

Everyday Feminism

Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian:

NPR’s Code Switch

Follow    @ShowUp4RJ    Show Up for Racial Justice:
Showing Up for Racial Justice is a national network of groups and individuals organizing white people for racial justice.

FILM Race: the Power of An Illusion —

Freud and the Mental Iceberg

2015 State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review. Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity

Regulating the Social Pollution of Systemic Discrimination Caused by Implicit Bias by L. Elizabeth Sarine. California Law Review, October 2012.

The science of your racist brain (2014, May 9). Indre Viskontas and Chris Mooney. Mother Jones. (subconscious racial prejudice)

Webinar on Cultural Humility offered by the Network of Social Work Managers, with Dr. Robert Ortega, Associate Professor, University of Michigan School of Social Work. June 18, 2015. Link to recordings, slides:

Reflections on Cultural Humility:

Transforming race today: Structural racialization, systems thinking and implicit bias by John A. Powell,

Webinar on Treating Communities of Color: What does cultural competency mean for behavioral health practitioners? June 10, 2015. With Roberto Lewis-Fernandez and Charles E. Lewis and Ranna Parekh. (no download link or recording available)

Cultural Competency tests: Just 3 of many to be found –

Tools and Processes for Self Assessment. National Center for Cultural Competence, Georgetown University.

Self-Test, American Association of Family Physicians (2000).

NASW proposed standards for cultural competency (May 2015 draft)

Other – The Provider’s Guide to Quality and Culture:

Police:   White House recognizes Boston police for community policing (May 2015)

Adler-Bell, S. (2015, March 12). Why white people freak out when they’re called out about race. AlterNet. Retrieved from:

Brown, R. (2013). [Post] White people can’t talk about race. [Post]. The Race Card Project . Retrieved from:

DiAngelo, R. (2012). What does it mean to be White?: Developing White racial literacy. NY: Peter Lang.

DiAngelo, R. & Sensoy, O. (2014). Ways of speaking, thinking, seeing: Cultivating humility, curiosity, and vision in service of anti-racist practice. Journal of Understanding and Dismantling Privilege, 4(2).

Lupita Nyong’o Black Women in Hollywood Honoree Speech on Black Beauty (via Essence) March 3, 2014

Pinterest [Karen Zgoda]: Social work and cultural humility.

Slave codes enacted 389 years ago [Infographic]

Woods, J. (2014, August 19). Ferguson: 12 ways to be a white ally. The Root. Retrieved from:

Storify summary of this chat:



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