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5 Ways White Social Workers Can Respond to the Charlottesville Aftermath

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Charlottesville Unite White Supremacists Rally

In the past 48 hours, we have witnessed the President of the United States make statements that led many to believe that he equates neo-Nazi and White supremacist groups with left wing protest groups as equals. We have also witnessed the President seemingly defend neo-Nazi and White supremacist groups – and even suggest that “very fine people” participated in the “Unite the Right” rally at which racist and anti-Semitic slogans were widely chanted.

These statements have drawn widespread condemnation from both sides of the political spectrum. Yesterday, on Fox News’ Fox & Friends television show, Republican commentator Gianno Caldwell even notes that the President seemingly refuses to place blame on the White supremacists that initiated the rally. You can read a copy of the transcript of the press conference at which all this occurred here. To say that the President’s demeanor and words at that press conference are a disturbing development in our nation’s history would be an understatement. While expressions of racism and the reign of White supremacy writ large are nothing new in the United States, the events of the past week have indeed rocked our nation and our profession.

As social workers, our voices and actions in these times will speak volumes about how true we are to implementing the National Association of Social Workers’ Code of Ethics that guides our profession. When we become a social worker, we make a commitment to “promote social justice and social change with and on behalf of clients” in all situations. So, how, exactly, do social workers begin to do this work in these times? Here are five ways you can start to do this work.

First, we need to educate ourselves about the history of neo-Nazi and White supremacist actions in the United States. Knowledge is power. Moving beyond the idea that rallies such as last Saturdays’ are one-offs, or that there is nothing to be done with a world spiraling out of control is also vital for social workers. Start by learning about the prevalence of neo-Nazi and White supremacist groups in your very own state, a map of which can be found at the Southern Poverty Law Center.  Social work faculty should check in with their colleagues and their students on how we can further educate ourselves.

Second, have a frank talk with yourself about how you may have benefitted from White supremacy (in the larger sense). “Owning” our own White privilege contributes to the social justice effort. Once we see how privilege works, we can see the other side of the coin that goes along with it, namely, oppression. To learn more about White privilege, consider this checklist and how the content relates to you.

While it may feel uncomfortable to realize just how much White people benefit from a larger system of White supremacy (even without being actively racist), this is a vital step in helping our society to shift. Doing this personal work will assist you in learning to center the voices of people who are oppressed in the journey to foster social justice. As author Roxane Gay points out in her book Bad Feminist, “when people wield the word ‘privilege,’ it tends to fall on deaf ears because we hear that word so damn much it has become white noise.” Don’t let the idea of addressing White privilege become white noise!

Third, take stock of your own thoughts about the events in Charlottesville and the President’s statements. Think about how you can advocate for social justice in response to all that has occurred. Standing up to oppression means stepping up in a time like this to speak out against hate and oppression.

While it can often be a losing battle to debate members of neo-Nazi and White supremacist groups directly, there are other ways to speak out. Let your community know where you stand – be that your family community, your work community, your geographic community or your social media community. Denounce oppression, but remember, you can also take a strengths-based approach and speak to what you think can contribute to peace and unity in our country.

Fourth, check in with your clients, especially, for example, your clients of color and/or those who are Jewish, in order to see how they have been impacted by the Charlottesville aftermath. As part of our professional social work education, we are taught that in order to truly understand our clients’ behavior, we have to think about their human behavior in the social environment. Given this, your acknowledgment of what is going on in your clients’ social environment can function as an engagement tool that can support your ultimate goals for intervention. Then, consider the ways in which you can partner with your clients to address social justice concerns germane to the case.

Fifth, if you’ve followed the first four steps, you are doing great.  However, it’s also important to remember that we don’t want to become a fix-it-all person or a guilt-ridden person with a savior complex.  In owning who we are and what has impacted us, and in standing up for social justice, we must also avoid what Dr. Robin DiAngelo refers to as “White fragility.

This phenomenon can be defined as a condition when even low levels of racial stress become intolerable, thus setting in motion defensive actions.  The idea is that as White people, we exist in an environment that is insulated from race-based stress as a result of White privilege.  In some situations, when White people are challenged by the realities of White supremacy, we may become sad, guilty, hostile, defensive or even fearful.  We need to be aware of such reactions and must learn to manage them so that they don’t hinder our social justice efforts.

The idea is that as White people, we exist in an environment that is insulated from race-based stress as a result of White privilege.  In some situations, when White people are challenged by the realities of White supremacy, we may become sad, guilty, hostile, defensive or even fearful.  We need to be aware of such reactions and must learn to manage them so that they don’t hinder our social justice efforts.

Social workers, you are primed to act in times like these! In fact, I argue that you are compelled to act, per the Code of Ethics. Remember, as Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel famously noted, “we must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”

The author would like to extend her sincere thanks to one of her accountability partners and colleagues, Dr. Shannon Butler Mokoro of Salem State University’s School of Social Work, for her consultation on this essay.

Dr. Elspeth Slayter is a professor of social work at Salem State University in Salem, Massachusetts, United States. With over twenty years of experience in forensic social work, Dr. Slayter specializes in supporting people with disabilities in addiction, criminal justice and child welfare settings. As both a person with disabilities and as a disability services researcher and practitioner, Dr. Slayter draws on her experiences to inform a blog focused on the promotion of anti-oppressive social work practice with people with disabilities.

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News

What Propaganda Looks Like in the Digital Age

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Criticism of Facebook began last week after a news report revealed that the social network enabled advertisers to seek out self-described anti-Semites and other anti-Semitic topics. The company responded by saying that it would restrict how advertisers targeted their audiences on the social network. Google also came under fire at the same time after news that it allowed the sale of ads tied to racist and bigoted keywords. Google responded by claiming it would work harder to halt offensive ads.

Joel Garreau, a professor of culture, values and emerging technologies at Arizona State University and the founding co-director of the Weaponized Narrative Initiative, weighs in. Weaponized narrative is the new global battlespace, Garreau said.  “America and other Western democracies – and indeed the very Enlightenment – are under attack.”

Q: “Weaponized narrative” used to be called propaganda, but you could choose not to pick up the leaflet 50 years ago. Now we’re inviting it into our lives via social media. Does this give it more power?

A: This may come as a shock to some folk, but dropping leaflets out of airplanes is to weaponized narrative as hand grenades are to weapons of mass destruction. Weaponized narrative is warfare in the information environment.  It uses words and images instead of bombs and bullets – often to greater effect. Against the United States, for example, our opponents aim to weaken society by fragmenting our fundamental agreements on what it means to be an American. Or even what it means to be a patriot.

Sun Tzu, 2,500 years ago, talked about the use of information in warfare. What’s new and so powerful is that the volume, velocity and variety of information has exploded all around us. We can’t keep up. A fast-moving information deluge is the ideal battleground for this kind of warfare – for guerrillas and terrorists as well as adversary states.

Q: What role should Facebook and Google be taking in this environment?

A: Facebook is to be applauded for drilling down and finding out that their corporation had in fact been used as a weapon against the American election.  But look how long it took for this information to come out.  America’s goal must be to identify and respond to these attacks as they are going on – so we can actively defend ourselves. And unfortunately, the capacity to understand the attack – much less defend against it – is now in the hands of corporations that are famously secretive.

Q: Hate speech is protected. We can “avert our eyes” as the Supreme Court said. Should government be regulating this in some way or should it stay out of the issue?

A: Great question. Our Weaponized Narrative Initiative has two aims: First, to figure out what is coming at us. Second, to do something about it, rapidly. That’s why we’re bringing together an occupationally diverse group—not just academics, but Washington policy wonks and military folk and authors and others.

Q: What can you tell us about the human factor in this? Are people approving hate-based ads and other targeted content or is it regulated by algorithms?

A: We’re paddling as hard as we can to answer questions like that.   But both the authoritarian enemies that are attacking us and the Americans corporations that control the social media are fanatically devoted to secrecy. I heartily applaud Facebook’s revelations.  They didn’t have to do that.  They could have swept it under the rug.

But that’s part of the problem. It took almost a year for Facebook to reveal its research that merely confirmed what many of us had long suspected. And Facebook still hasn’t told us exactly how these attacks worked. What I would like to see happen is for American corporations see it as their patriotic and humanistic duty to tell their customers instantly about an attack, so we can do something about it.

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Global

How Social Services Across Europe are Supporting the Integration of Unaccompanied Children

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Photo Credit: @AP

The European Social Network (ESN), in co-operation with its Swedish member, the National Board of Health and Welfare, organises the seminar ‘Migrant children and young people – Social inclusion and transition to adulthood’, in Stockholm on 23-24 October to address challenges in integrating unaccompanied children and young people in communities across Europe.

According to Eurostat figures, in 2015 and 2016 over 2.3 million asylum seekers arrived in the EU. It is expected that about 1.3 million of those will be granted refugee status.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that 25.9% of migrants entering Europe are children, of whom 34% are unaccompanied.

The challenge is huge for local social services, most of them squeezed from years of austerity policies. The European Social Network, which monitors social services across Europe, has been working on the issue of unaccompanied children for several years to support the role of local and regional social services in ensuring the successful integration these vulnerable children in our societies.

With more than 130 participants from 18 countries already signed up, the seminar ‘Migrant children and young people – Social inclusion and transition to adulthood’ promises to be a unique opportunity to share insights on migrant children and young people’s inclusion in local communities and their transition to adulthood across Europe.

The registration is open to any individuals and organisations with an interest and expertise on the topic.

Also, the European Social Network is interested in hearing from people with direct experience of migration themselves and will fund the participation and accommodation of members of organisations representing unaccompanied children in care, young migrants or migrant families.

The programme

Based on a questionnaire that was conducted earlier in 2017, ESN collected data and examples of how local public social services are supporting the inclusion and transition to adulthood of unaccompanied children and migrant young people across European countries.

On top of local practices, several international organisations will take us through the policy instruments that have been developed so far to support unaccompanied children and migrant young people. International organisations confirmed so far are the European Commission, the European Parliament, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, the OECD, the WHO and UNICEF.

The Swedish Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, as well as other representatives of national authorities, local authorities, NGOs and the media, will also be part of the debate. More information on the programme, the speakers and how to register can be found on this page, or do not hesitate to contact Valentina Guerra, ESN Policy Officer.

ESN and its work on unaccompanied children

The European Social Network (ESN) brings together people who plan, manage and deliver local public social services, together with those in regulatory and research organisations. It supports the development of effective social policy and social care practice through the exchange and transfer of knowledge and experience.

ESN has been working on unaccompanied children and young people since 2005, when a first report was published on the theme of the social inclusion of young asylum seekers and immigrants. Some of the issues highlighted in the report are still of relevance today, and even more so given the exceptional number of unaccompanied children and young people reaching EU countries since 2015.

Therefore, ESN published a second report in 2016 analysing the impact of the refugee crisis on local public social services in Europe and addressed the support for unaccompanied children at the launch of our publication “Investing in children’s services: improving outcomes”.

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Environmental Justice

Can We Talk About Climate Change For A Moment?

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Three Hurricanes Looming off the East Coast of the United States

It is becoming increasingly more difficult to deny the effects that human activity has had on the earth. Decades of research and technological advances have given humans the opportunity to develop more viable alternatives as transitioned from an agrarian society to a more industrious one. Industrialization has allowed us to streamline and improve manufacturing processes thereby improving productivity and growing the economy. But this hasn’t always been to the advantage of the planet and its volatile atmosphere.

One of the major downsides of industrialization is the resulting pollution that negatively impacts the earth’s atmosphere which has been linked to climate change. Today’s environment has been tortured and assaulted by humankind to put it lightly and measures protecting the planet, current and future generations is critical for ecological sustainability. Environmental issues resulting from industrialization include contaminated water, like the lead found in Flint, Michigan, damaged soil, and diminished air quality.

Over the last few years, there have been multiple bipartisan efforts to improve legislation and protections that speak to the ongoing research and scientific evidence backing climate change. And for a while, despite those dedicated critics of climate change, it appeared that Congress had struck the same chord as the evidence of global warming and climate change was undeniable. The previous administration undoubtedly made both climate change and environmental protection a top priority as it took steps to improve efforts to address the global impact and effects of climate change by joining the Paris Climate Agreement.

Climate change has always been one of those highly contested topics of contention. Either you believe or deny that climate change is real or that it is some strategic ploy by liberals to overstate the effects of fossil fuels and CO2 emissions in the environment in order to divert focus their real agenda. As crazy as the latter may sound, and it is quite far-fetched, there are many who believe that climate change is a fictitious liberal scheme.

Unfortunately, one of those believers of the latter currently resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and has rolled back both legislation and conservation efforts influenced by years of scientific predictions aimed at improving the environment and preventing the extinction of various species. The current administration’s dismissal of the scientific evidence and research supporting climate change as if it were a collection of alternative facts is reprehensible. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see and feel the change in the earth’s climate.

Despite the surmounting evidence and bipartisan efforts to address climate change, President Trump still persists and continues to ignore the severity of climate change. He recently issued an executive order revoking an Obama-Era Order requiring federally funded projects meet standard requirements for flood risks as a precaution to future risks or damage.

This one act seems to have emitted a direct response from Mother Earth herself. As if she was personally insulted, Mother Earth has taken it upon herself to show us just how extreme climate change can be. Harvey. Irma. Jose. Katia.  All four of the category four and five hurricanes have been or will potentially be the cause of great harm and the unfortunate loss of life in the regions affected.  Parts of the west coast are on fire and Mexico just had its biggest earthquake to hit in over 100 years. Who says climate change is real?

Politically, there are plenty of reasons cited from both sides of the aisle as to whether or not claims of climate change or true or false, but perhaps Congress should take a moment to listen to Mother Earth herself to find the answer, because she seems to be speaking loud and clear.

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