As Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, I recently published an article entitled A Grand Response from Social Work is Needed in Ferguson written by Dr. Charles Lewis who is the President of the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy. Due to my coverage on the shooting of Mike Brown and the police response in Ferguson, Missouri, I have received lots of comments and responses from both social workers and non-social workers via email and various social media outlets.
As a result of comments I have received on Facebook, 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 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.
As a strong warning, if you are going to proudly display yourself as a social worker in your cap and gown at your School of Social Work graduation, don’t make comments you would not want screen-capped and publicly reviewed. It has been my policy to hide these comments from public view, but this is only a cosmetic solution and does not address the racial divide and attitudes within our profession.
As one social worker and Facebook commenter provider her analysis of the events in Ferguson:
“The police have nothing to do with voting, the police were shooting at a someone who wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time, but a thief who was stealing from a store, then when stopped by the police, charged the police and was shot. This has nothing to do with voting. Look at the autopsy report, instead of hearsay and the media looking for the next big story. I love being a social worker, but it makes my blood boil when other social workers jump on bandwagon going nowhere. Know the facts before you post something like that. Rioting, stealing and destroying other people’s property is not going to help the situation.”
If this is the primary analysis social workers are developing after seeing the events in Ferguson, then I have to question how are we preparing students and professionals to engage and meet the needs of minority communities. The best explanation and analysis that I could find to help social workers understand why they should care about Ferguson is in a video by John Oliver host of HBO’s Last Week Today. Also, you can view an article at the Jewish Daily making a case for why Jews should care about Ferguson.
Not only has the shooting of Mike Brown sparked a national conversation, it has sparked a global conversation on all inhabited continents according to the LA Times. Palestinians in Gaza are tweeting advice to American citizens on how to treat tear gas exposure, Tibetan monks arrived in Ferguson to show solidarity with protesters, #dontshoot protests are happening around the world as a show of solidarity with Ferguson, Amnesty International sends first delegation ever to investigate on American soil, and the United Nations has been holding hearings on the civil rights violations against African-Americans in Geneva, Switzerland.
According to the New Republic,
In a 2005 study from Florida State University researchers, a mostly white, mostly male group of officers in Florida were statistically more likely to let armed white suspects slip while shooting unarmed black suspects instead.Police in that study shot fewer unarmed suspects than the undergraduates did, a difference attributable to professional training. Read Full Article
As part of my research for this article, I did a Google news search using the strings “social workers” and Ferguson, then I used the string teachers and Ferguson. Please, click on the links to view the results. I found two results one of which was the article published by Social Work Helper, and the other was a small blurb in a local news reporting stating that Social Workers are going door to door to assist with crisis counseling.
There is no doubt that there are many social workers already in or headed to Ferguson at their own expense to donate their skills during this crisis. But, the question we should be asking is who is helping to support their efforts on the ground? If you wanted to connect with them, how would you do it? We have many Schools of Social Work and many dues paying social work associations, but has any of them stepped up to offer assistance, help with coordination, provide a point of contact for social workers who do care about Ferguson and want to contribute? If there is, please let me know, and I will help promote your activities. Are social work professors writing letters to the editor, opinion editorials, or looking for ways to incorporate issues in Ferguson in their lesson plans? I found one professor at Columbia University who wrote a letter to the editor in the New York Times via twitter.
— ColumbiaSocialWork (@ColumbiaSSW) August 20, 2014
In the past, I have often been frustrated when it seems social workers are always left out of the conversation when discussing federal protections, pay increases, and job loss which tend to focus on teachers, police, and first responders. Also, I have been equally frustrated when professors from other disciplines are becoming political analysts for media outlets for the purpose of explaining social safety net programs that social workers implement. Lately, I have begun looking at this dynamic with new eyes and a fresh perspective, and I am beginning to form another hypothesis. Is social work not apart of the conversation due to exclusion or is it because social work is not showing up?
Another social worker who I truly respect and admire made the comment, “I am reminded that my profession is ALWAYS active. We don’t have to REACT, because what we do everyday is the action that is part of the solution.” However, I respectfully disagree with this assessment because crisis and emergency situations do not fall into the scope of what we do everyday.
Even during natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, social workers acting outside the scope of their employment were left to their own devices. Without a social work organization leading the effort, it increases the difficulty of volunteer social workers to provide information, get support, as well as help with coordination of resources in order to maximize their efforts.
Human services agencies, Schools of Social Work, and Professional Associations have not exhibited the skill sets to create virtual command centers to steer potential resources to on the ground efforts as well as relay the needs assessment made by ground forces. As a matter of fact, it does not seem that these types of efforts are even viewed as actions to fall within the scope of their responsibility.
Teachers are change agents everyday, but they are reacting to the events of Ferguson in the following ways:
Ferguson students have been out of school for the past two because their community has been a war zone. 68% of students in Ferguson schools qualify for reduce or free lunch. As many social workers know, many students in poverty-stricken communities rely on school lunches to survive.
To help bring some relief to the community, Julianna Mendelsohn, a 5th grade teacher in Bahama, N.C., launched a fundraising campaign to benefit the St. Louis Area Foodbank, with the hope that the organization can offer food assistance to needy students. Mendelsohn set an initial goal of $80,000, and crossed that line today. As of this post’s publishing, her initiative had raised just over $110,000, with two days still to go. Read Full Article
150 Ferguson teachers used their day off as an opportunity for a civics lesson to help clean broken bottles, trash, and tear gas canisters from the streets.
“We’re building up the community,” says Tiffany Anderson, the Jennings School District superintendent. She has organized the teachers helping with cleanup, is offering meal deliveries for students with special needs, and has mental health services at the ready. “Kids are facing challenges. This is unusual, but violence, when you have over 90 percent free and reduced lunch, is not unusual,” Anderson says. “Last week, I met with several high school students, some of whom who are out here helping clean up. And we talked a little bit about how you express and have a voice in positive ways.” Read Full Article
Without school being in session, many educators are concerned with the needs of children due to the high poverty rates.
Today through Friday, Ferguson-Florissant will provide sack lunches at five elementary schools for any student in the district. The schools are Airport, Duchesne, Griffith, Holman and Wedgwood. On Tuesday, Riverview Gardens provided lunch to 300 children. Jennings also opened up its school cafeterias. Read Full Article
Ferguson schools are doubling the amount of counselors in their schools. But, what about the parents and adults in this community? Who will help care for their needs and direct them to resources?
Public schools in Ferguson, Mo., are reinforcing their counseling services for the first day of school Monday in anticipation of students’ anxieties after two weeks of protests in their community. Ferguson-Florissant School District is doubling the number of counselors Monday, and it’s training school staff to identify “signs of distress,” said Jana Shortt, spokeswoman for the school district. Read Full Article
Most importantly, educators have created the hashtag #Fergusonsyllabus to help other educators turn the events in Ferguson into teachable moments. They have also developed a google doc with resources and teaching tools to create lesson plans on Ferguson which can be found here.
— Shana Gadarian (@sgadarian) August 21, 2014
The bulk of this article focused primarily on service needs, but the macro and advocacy contributions needed in this community are even greater. SAMHSA has also issued a press release to help direct Ferguson residents to their disaster relief and crisis counseling hotline which can be found at http://www.samhsa.gov/newsroom/advisories/1408110710.aspx
How can social work contribute and be apart of the solution, or is this somebody else’s responsibility? I would love to hear your thoughts!
Offhand Comments Can Expose Underlying Racism, UW Study Finds
Blatant racism is easy to identify — a shouted racial slur, a white supremacist rally, or the open discrimination, segregation and violence of the pre-civil rights era.
But more subtle forms of bias, called microaggressions, emerge in the everyday exchanges among friends and strangers alike and can offend racial and ethnic minorities.
Such statements, uttered intentionally or inadvertently, draw upon stereotypes and are linked with racism and prejudice, according to a University of Washington-led study. The research is believed to be the first of its kind to explore microaggressions from the perspective of those who commit them, and suggests that whites who are more likely to deliver microaggressions are also more likely to harbor some degree of negative feeling toward blacks, whether they know it or not.
The concept of microaggressions has garnered greater attention in today’s political environment, explained lead author Jonathan Kanter, a UW research associate professor of psychology.
“Our study results offer validation to people of color when they experience microaggressions. Their reactions can’t simply be dismissed as crazy, unreasonable or too sensitive,” Kanter said. “According to our data, the reaction of a person of color — being confused, upset or offended in some way — makes sense, because they have experienced what our data show: that people who are more likely to make these comments also are more racist in other ways.”
The study appears online in the journal Race and Social Problems.
For this study, the team, with the help of focus groups of students of color from three universities, devised the Cultural Cognitions and Actions Survey (CCAS) and administered it to a small group of students — 33 black, 118 white — at a large public university in the Midwest. The 56-item questionnaire asks the white respondent to imagine him- or herself in five different everyday scenarios involving interactions with black people, such as talking about current events, attending a diversity workshop, or listening to music. The respondent then considers how likely he or she is to think or say specific statements. For black respondents, the wording of the scenarios and questions was revised slightly to assess whether they would experience racism. Each of the statements included in the survey was deemed at least somewhat, if not significantly, offensive by black students.
In the “current events” scenario — the one that yielded the highest percentage of “likely” responses from whites — respondents were to imagine talking about topics in the news, such as police brutality and unemployment. More than half of white respondents said they would think or say, “All lives matter, not just black lives,” while 30 percent said they might say, “I don’t think of black people as black,” and 26 percent said they were likely to think or say, “The police have a tough job. It is not their fault if they occasionally make a mistake.” More than half of black respondents identified each of those statements as racist.
Responses on the CCAS were then related to several validated measures of racism and prejudice, to determine if one’s likelihood of making microaggressive statements was related to these other measures. An additional scale controlled for social desirability — the idea that respondents might answer in ways that put themselves in the best possible light.
Results indicated that white students who said they were more likely to make microaggressive statements were also significantly more likely to score higher on all the other measures of racism and prejudice, and results were not affected by social desirability.
The statement that yielded the highest statistical relation to other measures of racism among white respondents came from the “diversity workshop” scenario, in which a class discusses white privilege. Though only about 14 percent of white respondents said they were likely to think or say, “A lot of minorities are too sensitive,” the statement had the highest correlation with negative feelings toward blacks. Nearly 94 percent of black respondents said the statement was racist.
The correlations between statements and attitudes are averages from the study sample, Kanter said, and so the results do not address the intentions or feelings of any one person.
“It doesn’t mean that on a case-by-case basis, if you or I engaged in microaggressions, that we have cold or racist feelings toward blacks,” he said. “But the study says that regardless of the intention behind a microaggression or the feelings of the specific person who uttered it, it’s reasonable for a black person to be offended. On average, if you engage in a microaggression, it’s more likely that you have cooler feelings toward black people, and that whether you intended it or not, you’ve participated in an experience of racism for a black person.”
In many ways, overt racism has declined gradually since the civil rights movement, Kanter said, and white people often assume that because they do not utter racial slurs, or perhaps are well-versed in and value social justice, that they do not have to worry about engaging in racist behavior themselves.
“It can come as a bit of a shock to a lot of white people that their behavior and attitudes are under scrutiny,” said Kanter, who pointed out that as a white male, he has had to confront realizations about his own behavior over time. “The nature of how we’re looking at racism is changing. We’re now able to look at and root out more subtle forms of bias that weren’t focused on before because explicit racism was taking a lot of the attention.”
Taken in isolation, the size and location of the study sample limit the generalizations that can be made, Kanter said. But the idea behind the CCAS is to use it elsewhere and adapt it to focus on other racial and ethnic minorities so as to better understand racism and develop educational tools to combat it. The survey has since been used at the University of Washington, he added, where early results are very similar to those reported in the published article.
Kanter said he’s heard from critics who say the study has a liberal bias, or that the research should examine offenses against white people. But he says the point is to address racism targeted at oppressed and stigmatized groups.
“We’re interested in developing interventions to help people interact with each other better, to develop trusting, nonoffensive, interracial relationships among people. If we want to decrease racism, then we need to try to decrease microaggressions,” he said.
Other authors of the study were UW graduate students Adam Kuczynski and Katherine Manbeck; Monnica Williams of the University of Connecticut, Marlena Debreaux of the University of Kentucky; and Daniel Rosen of Bastyr University.
Increasing Workplace Diversity: The Glass Escalator Phenomenon in Female Dominated Professions
Many assume that most workplaces are meritocracies where effort is rewarded by advancement and success. But as companies in the United States strive to accommodate greater racial and ethnic diversity, this premise has proved questionable for women and non-white men.
Broadly-designed efforts to incorporate black workers into positions where they are underrepresented, particularly in professional or managerial jobs, have been largely unsuccessful. Relatively few black people have attained high-status positions in the medical, legal, and scientific and engineering fields; and racial gaps persist for highly-educated blacks in white collar and professional positions.
To support the advancement of black workers in white-collar occupations, researchers and managers need to understand how implicit behavioral biases can sideline black careers. My research deals with these issues in various kinds of job settings.
Various jobs come with unspoken emotional requirements, rarely codified, that hold workers accountable for creating feelings in themselves or others. For instance, customer service workers are expected to make clients feel respected and valued. Flight attendants must remain calm even when interacting with unruly passengers. Such emotional requirements mean additional labor for workers of all races, yet black professionals in predominantly white environments must also deal with racial dynamics that further complicate this work.
Both inside and outside of the workplace, the implicit emotional rules that black professionals must meet – often, they say, at great cost – are quite different from those applied to their white colleagues. Black professionals are expected to express emotions of pleasantness and kindness constantly, even in the face of racial hostility.
Diversity trainings require them to conceal feelings of frustration even when colleagues express racial biases. Black men in particular report a prohibition on any expression of anger, even in jobs where anger is accepted or encouraged from others. Black women, in contrast, deploy anger strategically as a means to be taken more seriously at work.
Black Men in Female-Dominated Fields
Such gender differences are not limited to emotional performance and even prevail in occupations where men are in the minority. Research shows that white men working in culturally feminized fields – nursing, social work, and teaching – are privileged by the “glass escalator” phenomenon, in which they are afforded advantages and advancement unavailable to colleagues who are women or non-white males.
For example, white men are generally supported by male authority figures, encouraged to pursue administrative or supervisory positions, and enjoy a positive reception from female colleagues who welcome men into “their” professions. But the same advantages do not extend to black men in traditionally female jobs. Black men in these fields experience social isolation from those who might support their climb up the career ladder. Any “glass escalator” that may exist for white men in female-dominated jobs is largely out of service for black men.
Black Men in Male-Dominated Fields
Black men in culturally-masculinized occupations — lawyers, doctors, financial analysts, engineers – are uniquely positioned. In workplaces like this, majority and minority racial and gender statuses inform how black men are expected to present themselves and interact with colleagues. Specifically, black men’s minority status keeps them from fully integrating into their jobs, even as their gender status gives them advantages over their women counterparts.
As the racial minority, black men often empathize with the ways women are treated and use their gendered privileges to advocate for gender-equitable workplace policies. At the same time, black men report wanting closer relationships with other black professional men, but are uncomfortable engaging in the socially stereotyped feminine behaviors that are necessary to achieve this– such as initiating contact, staying in communication, checking up on one another.
Similarly, the black men are reluctant to express or reveal a need for social support, because men are culturally expected to “go it alone.” As a result, black men in white-collar occupations often remain quite isolated at work.
Although black men may be able to bond with white men over “guy things,” they lack access to critical social networks (to elite white friends, neighbors, and acquaintances) that can provide boosts up the corporate ladder. Racial and gendered stereotypes often also force black professionals to develop and maintain alternative types of black masculinity.
Bottom Lines for Employers, Organizations, and Policymakers
Workers of color face numerous challenges in the workplace that differ greatly depending on the field, profession, and specific office setting. The challenges faced by black men and black women are not identical, even in the same work environments. And specific work settings matter, too, because black men in the medical field, for instance, face distinct challenges from those practicing law.
Because one-size-fits-all approaches and generalized diversity policies will not effectively address the specific challenges facing workers of color, organizations, and offices must try to understand how racial and gender dynamics play out in their specific fields and workplaces. Only with such understanding can a workplace succeed at becoming more attractive, accepting, and comfortable for diverse employees.
How to begin? A workplace could start by soliciting buy-in from professional black men, who may have been overlooked in previous efforts to foster equal acceptance. Employers can tie diversity outcomes to concrete rewards for managers and workers. And because black professionals are often required to leave their racial identity at the door – under the dubious rationale that it will reduce race-related stress – perhaps the most important step is to openly acknowledge that racial issues impact workers’ lives.
Find out what the issues are for each workplace and its employees – and then tailor solutions to real-life experiences. Overall, this is important work for employers. As the U.S. workforce continues to diversify, workplaces must be creating acceptance and support from the ground up in order to remain competitive.
How Discrimination Hurts Health and Personal Wellbeing
Since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the United States has used the force of nationwide laws to prohibit discriminatory treatment in the job and housing markets, in government and educational institutions, and at stores and facilities serving the general public. Many legally proscribed forms of exclusion and ill treatment are directed against people because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, age, and disability status. To this day, efforts continue to extend protections to additional groups, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.
Core American values of fairness and equality inspire nondiscrimination measures, but there is also an important health rationale. Research has repeatedly confirmed what common sense suggests: when people are subjected to discriminatory acts ranging from subtle put downs to outright harassment or exclusion from opportunities, their personal wellbeing suffers. Discrimination contributes to health inequalities – and fighting bias can reduce them.
The Harmful Effects of Discrimination
Discrimination typically refers to the unfair treatment of people on the basis of social identities defined by race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or religion. Many Americans report facing discrimination that constrains their livelihood – for example, when they are unfairly fired or denied a job or promotion, when they are denied a bank loan or medical treatment, or when they are discouraged by a teacher from pursuing further education. Banned by law, such blatant forms of discrimination also affect victims’ health by depriving them of jobs, medical treatments, and other benefits and opportunities that keep them out of poverty and open doors of opportunity.
In addition, discrimination harms health by causing personal distress. Being unfairly fired from a job, for example, hurts a person’s sense of fairness and wellbeing as well as his or her economic fortunes. Beyond harm from currently unlawful actions, the wellbeing of those who suffer bias is undermined by everyday ill treatment – for example, when they are called names or insulted, disparaged as not very smart, or treated as if they are threatening or dishonest despite doing nothing wrong. Like other strains and traumas, day-to-day experiences of discrimination can wear victims down, placing them at increased risk for mental and physical illness.
Why is that? Researchers have found that victims of discrimination often have heightened physiological responses, including elevated blood pressure and heart rate. In addition, ongoing struggles to cope with discrimination lead to lower self-esteem or a reduced sense of personal efficacy.
Victims may turn to unhealthy means of coping such as drug and alcohol abuse, and they may stop regularly taking medications or keeping medical appointments. Further, because discrimination is not experienced evenly across the population, researchers find that it contributes to the persistence of disparities in mental and physical health along societal fault lines of race, gender, sexual orientation, or even physical statuses such weight or appearance.
Double Discrimination Can Heighten the Health Burdens
What about the experiences and wellbeing of Americans who are members of more than one disadvantaged group? Since the 1980s, black feminist scholars have argued that research solely looking at blacks, or at women, fails to adequately capture life at the intersection of these two identities that put people at risk for discrimination. Neither the health nor experiences of bias are adequately captured when one such identity group is studied as if it were separate from others.
In my research, I have asked whether multiple disadvantaged youth and adults face extra discrimination and, as a result, greater risk for poor mental and physical health. The answer turns out to be yes. When characterized by more than one disadvantaged status, young people and adults (age 25 to74) are more likely to face multiple forms of discrimination than people not defined by any disadvantaged status or people with just one disadvantaged status.
Because doubly disadvantaged people have extra exposure to bias, they are also more likely to suffer from mental and physical health problems. They simply experience unfair treatment more frequently. For example, black women report racial slights in social situations where women predominate, and they also experience sexist discrimination in their own racial communities.
What Can be Done?
Banning discrimination by law is an important basic step. Anti-discrimination laws must be maintained for currently covered social categories and expanded to protect vulnerable people in statuses still not included – such as sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and weight. In addition, laws and legal practice should acknowledge the unique experiences of multiply disadvantaged individuals. Their discrimination cases are often not successful in court, perhaps because the complexity of multiple forms of discrimination is not well understood.
Laws are not enough, however, unless widely understood and actively carried through. People who work at organizations with an equal employment opportunity office and formal training about diversity are more likely to file discrimination claims when necessary. Knowledge and organizational resources empower people to seek remedies.
Diversity training for managers also helps to reduce the number of discrimination claims.
When legal violations are found, remedies are most effective when they move beyond compensation to individual victims to establish reformed organizational practices. Finally, it is crucial to recognize that the current legal model places the burden of proof on victims, even though it is often very difficult to prove intentional discrimination by an individual, institution, or employer.
Moreover, because Americans today tend to view discrimination as a thing of the past, victims often face social skepticism and self-doubt. The extra mental labor involved in replaying personal experiences and deciding what, if anything, to do can exacerbate stress and health problems. All Americans who care about the ongoing fight against social discrimination must work to raise awareness that serious problems persist and must be aggressively countered both in law and daily practice.
All Americans who care about the ongoing fight against social discrimination must work to raise awareness that serious problems persist and must be aggressively countered both in law and daily practice.
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