by Kris Kelsang Lipman
URIP Intern, MSW Candidate NYU Silver '14-'15
Every year when Women’s History Month/Social Work Month rolls along, I think about how those of us who are marginalized often have to compartmentalize ourselves to be seen and acknowledged by society’s dominant culture. I am mixed, of color, queer, a survivor, so many other things, AND a woman at the same time…and in the profession of social work, it’s hard to find spaces that intentionally and willingly make room for all of the layers and contradictions that make up my Self.
Throughout this last year in my work with URIP, I have struggled with how I fit into this movement as a woman of color who is light skinned and sometimes white passing, and what it means to honor my experience with racism while holding the privileges of being spared from so many injustices that darker skinned people face. I have felt incredibly inadequate in this pursuit and allowed my internalized ideas of how I should or shouldn’t interact with my colleagues to negatively impact our work. Some of these processes have been somewhat conscious but much of it has completely existed in the realm of counter-transference, making the impacts that much harder to understand. This level of analysis into the ways that our internalized racism manifests in our relationships with clients or colleagues rarely happens in my classrooms. Considering that the classroom is designed as a space to bridge theory and practice, it definitely would have been helpful to have some more course material on this.
So many women of color in a social work classroom or workspace can testify to our lack of representation in reading materials, struggle with accessing positions of authority, or constant tokenization- no doubt ingrained in social work practice via cultural competency curricula. Like that time in Human Behavior we were talking about “trauma”, that key word that gets casually thrown around in EVERY other conversation in class. And someone was talking about how to “work with rape victims”, and every time she said the word victim, NOONE mentioned that not everyone likes that term or finds it empowering. And the 14-20 year old girl inside me who was raped, assaulted, and harassed more times than she can remember spent the rest of that class feeling like a victim, shriveling up into herself, and staring out the window. We all know the statistics. We know I wasn’t the only one who may have felt triggered and unsupported.
When it comes to race in the SW classroom and profession, we know the climate. In 2004, of all licensed social workers in the U.S., 84.5% were white and 81% were female. And yet the lack of dialogue about the internalized sexism, heterosexism, and competitiveness between us is astounding. And deep reflection on how internalized superiority weaves into that competitiveness for white women is NOT made a priority by social work leaders. In our profession, understanding and resisting the “white savior complex”, or the notion that people of color are unable to care for themselves or do not have the capacity to decide what’s best for them, is paramount. But I can count on one hand the number of times it’s been addressed in class.
So what does it mean to be a group of predominantly women leaders in a field dominated by western whiteness (not solely in body but also in mind), with the potential to do so much good and simultaneously so much harm? Is it possible to come to a shared definition of racism and ultimately a shared vision of how to undo it together, as a diverse collective of fierce, humble, and radical women social workers? Honestly, I don’t know. But as I reflect on my experience as an intern this year with URIP, I am hopeful.
Over the past eight months, I have been inundated with tasks and projects, all of which have pushed me to constantly reflect on how I bring my whole Self to this movement and profession. I have felt incredibly incapable, and have wallowed in self-pity and loathing for weeks at a time. I have seriously reconsidered pursuing this career.
I have also been inspired by the incredible dedication that I’ve seen in so many social work students who devote themselves to critiquing and improving upon our profession. I have learned to be brave enough to be authentic when I am with my peers, colleagues, and supervisors. I have been held accountable with brutal honesty by people who I have only just met. I have never worked with a multi-racial group of women who attempt to intentionally support and meet each other, and who strive to create a shared vision of equity, hope, and justice like the members of URIP’s Steering Committee do. With this endeavor comes lots of turmoil and frustration. Not every day is pleasant or fun. In fact most days it’s a real struggle. I learn a lot about the importance of accountability from doing this work, and the importance of doing what I say I will do. This practice of creating authentic and accountable relationships has been wholly redefined and genuinely modeled for me in delightfully unexpected ways. It is because of my labor with this collective of powerful women that I know now just how trying yet possible the work of undoing racism is.
So this month, really what I want to say is thank you. Thank you to the URIP Steering Committee for your courage, complexity, and commitment to our work. Thank you to all of you, the women leaders of our profession, for your strength, your wisdom, and your vision. This graduating MSW looks forward to working with you…
by Carlette Quinto
URIP Intern, MSW Candidate NYU Silver '14-'15
What does love within the racial justice movement look like?
Audre Lorde, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
Love with action, solidarity, community building, artistry, and dialogue.
Love acknowledges our humanity. Love is not colorblind. Love protects and serves communities. Love is fighting for justice when there is injustice in our community. Love is solidarity with our brothers and sisters. Love is not blind and racism continues to exist because it serves folks in power. Love is acknowledging that racism still exists and is killing black and brown communities everyday. LOVE IS BEING ACCOUNTABLE.
Racism is dehumanizing for all of us. Colorblindness is complacency. Racism does not protect and serve communities. Racism is NOT fighting for justice when there is injustice in our community. Racism is a social construct that has been legitimized to serve as a purpose of order. Racism is not blind and racism exists because it continues to serve folks in power. Racism is not being in solidarity with our communities of color. Racism exists and is killing black and brown communities.
Love and racism can parallel each other. Love and racism are expressed and seen in all cultures through various practices, gestures, and words. Love is both gentle, powerful, and a spiritual experience. Love and racism can also be gentle, powerful, and a dehumanizing experience that manifests itself in our institutions, organizations, and practices. Love is a social construct that serves a purpose just as racism is seen to serve as a purpose of order. Love is not blind and racism continues to exist because it serves folks in power.
Love allows us to be critical lovers and thinkers of the institutions we are a part of and resist the urge to partake in unjust practices and demand for a change within our own schools of social work. Love is acknowledging that our profession has racist practices and we have no choice but to create change for the future of the social work profession. Love is being accountable social workers, and liberated gatekeepers. LOVE is HOPE.
Love is action. Love is not being complicit to social injustice. Love is the resistance of the criminalization of black and brown folks of color. Love is marching in the streets. Love is solidarity. Love brings back the humanity that we have been stripped of for centuries. Love is being able to share an honest conversation with our loved ones. Love is being self-reflective. Love is standing up against racism. Love enables us to continue to UNDO RACISM ONE DAY AT A TIME until it is a distant memory.
About the author: Tatum Stewart is a graduate student at the Columbia University School of Social Work where she studies social policy as it relates to immigrant and refugee populations both in the United States and abroad. Home for her is Champaign, Illinois.
The professionalization of social work has exerted a conservative influence on social work, inhibiting social workers from practicing transformative social work and instead reinforcing the oppression of those we serve. As institutions that expand this professionalization, it is integral to constantly reassess its conservative impacts and mitigate those impacts by asserting the teachings of radical practices that ensure the dismantling of oppressive systems. The implementation of radical social work, like many social work practices, is achievable by developing certain skills and using those skills in field-based practices. The training and implementation of radical practice is essential for the social work profession as we search to take back spaces where we realize truly fundamental, positive changes.
The word “radical” in the context of social movements has not always been a word associated with positive meanings and feelings, even for radicals themselves. Grace Lee Boggs elaborates on the shift in the ideology of radical social activism: “When I became a radical nearly seventy years ago, we ran the “risk of seeming ridiculous,” as Che Guevara put it, if we thought Love had anything to do with Revolution” (Boggs, 2007, p. 46). Radical activism once emphasized a top-down style society, engendering a commitment to “agitate and mobilize angry and oppressed masses to overthrow the government.” Recently that vision of radical change has become a more spiritual and communal vision that looks to create a dialogue founded on mutual Love. Dialogue is the primary method of the radical practitioner. It is a tool that allows for community building as its participants train in open-mindedness, learn different truths from each other, and learn how to better equip themselves to remain open to new truths. In this way, radical social work as it has been redefined has altered the vision of how to build community and realize social change. Social change cannot to be pursued unless we build a community founded on Love without judgment. With Love and appreciation of others we enter an ongoing dialogue where all voices are heard and understood—even if this practice of patient Love does not achieve the large-scale and immediate social revolution many social change agents of the past (and present, myself included) once envisioned.
Radical practice, like other practices, must be developed. Schools of Social Work are ideal spaces to teach it: most simply through the implementation of the practice within the program as a means of learning the practice. The creation of a program oriented around radical practice would allow faculty and students to learn the practice by experiencing it. As a student myself, I have been surprised how many instructors utilize uninspired methods of teaching: the banking concept of education that includes one-sided lectures and long-winded PowerPoint presentations duplicating the material in dry readings. The dialoguing that allows for the exchange of personal histories and of personal truths—the same personal stories from others that challenge our own identities and allow us to grow, is completely absent at times. Radical practice, through dialogue and honesty, would increase a sense of community among students and also between faculty and students, establishing a community of activists with whom we feel close enough to ask for guidance, support, and inspiration in our activism within our personal lives and our social work practice.
By reflecting on how our roles may shape us into “handmaiden[s] of the status quo” as Mimi Abramovitz describes it, Schools of Social Work and associated communities can then better search for more transformative and meaningful practices through work based in radical ideology. Schools would structure curriculums to be based on radical practice. The practice will improve learning experiences for faculty and students as well as teach students how to implement radical practice themselves in their lives and practice. For as I have only recently come to understand, radical practice is not only a tool to use with our clients, but also a tool to implement in our own lives to enhance our personal experiences and our own sense of community within and beyond the social work sphere as we learn to constantly self-reflect and seek to understand.
About the Author: Yuki Ohsaka is an international student from Japan at the Columbia School of Social Work (CSSW) who wants to organize back in her home country, Japan and promote international solidarity for undoing oppression. She is also interested in community organizing in post-disaster areas for long-term sustainable recovery and development. She is a founder and leader of Disaster Management & Preparedness Caucus at CSSW.
“Dear Non-American Black, when you make the choice to come to America, you become black. Stop arguing. Stop saying I'm Jamaican or I'm Ghanaian. America doesn't care.”
― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah
When the class was divided into POC and white students, I remembered the quote of Adichie’s (2013) book Americanah, a story of a young Nigerian woman who emigrated to America for a university education. You do not become and cannot fully comprehend the racial identity you are labeled with right after you arrive in the United States. It takes time to fully understand the change of your racial identity. Mohanty’s (1993) article described the fluid nature of identity formation of international students in the U.S. and her transitions of identity using her own experience.
I feel like race is a mask, which is forcefully put on me in the U.S., regardless of my experience and original identity. As an international student from Japan, I often recognize that anti-oppression dialogue in my school is often focused on race and oppression solely in the American context. The way that the readings were assigned based on racial identities did not make sense to me. I read the articles, but I did not associate with their experience of oppression. Looking Asian does not necessary mean I have an “Asian identity” in an American sense. The dialogues, which are underpinned by American racial categorization, exclude people who do not quite fit into their racial category. I felt extremely marginalized, when I needed to choose the “Asian” section of the readings for class and needed to label myself as an Asian student of color in the discussion.
Even though it is logical to place racism as a main topic of anti-oppression dialogue, since it has been historically the main factor of oppression in the U.S., intersectionality of other identities is often undermined. Lorde (1983) eloquently expresses the idea that it is impossible to separate different forms of oppression. Raising awareness of various identities overlap offering us each a unique and sometimes specific experience at these intersections of identities. However, labeling people into standardized American racial identities and letting people talk from the standpoint of their race not only marginalizes people who do not fit into a particular American racial categorization, but also contributes to creating a hierarchy of oppression.
Yet, this experience of being forcefully labeled into a category with social meaning helped me to understand how I am perceived by my colleagues and clients in my social work practice. The discussion was beneficial for me to consider why I feel uncomfortable and have difficulty talking in discussions at CUSSW about racial oppression in general being automatically labeled into American racial categorization and ignored my identity as a Japanese.
As an international student from Japan, I am living in two cultural and social contexts that label me in two completely different ways. Moving across societies makes a person recognize that power and privilege is not something that is fixed with a person (Sonn & Lewis, 2009). I come from a country where people’s racial difference is not prevalent. I grew up in Japan as a Japanese person, belonging to the predominant group consisting of people with Japanese nationality with the same culture and language in common. When describing these “Japanese people like me” by nationality, they consist of 98% of the Japanese population. In Japan, oppression has more to do with sex, gender, class, education, ability, nationality, and ethnicity.
On the other hand when I came to the U.S., I was labeled something else entirely. I arrived in the U.S. and I am learning racism and the attached meaning and history of oppression. At the same time, I recognized this American racial label does not match my self-perceived identity.
Race-wise, I am perceived as an Asian American person, but I have a completely different experience. Yet, reading Asian American literatures and living in the U.S., I recognize that there are discriminatory practices against people who look Asian. From my perspective, I clearly see Asian people in the U.S. are oppressed and stereotyped because of their race, compared to how Japanese looking persons are treated in Japan.
Yet, there is a notion that Asian people should not feel oppression, because they are a “model minority” and gets less oppression than other POC. The term “model minority” clearly draws a line between POC and non-POC, and marginalizes Asian populations within POC. It hinders Asian people to express their anger about oppression by successfully generating a hierarchy of oppression. Due to this notion of Asian Americans as model minorities, they become the “visible minority that is invisible (Yamada, 1979, p36)”. That is, Asian Americans became un-deserved to speak about oppression.
My experience in the U.S. convinced me that power and privilege is not something fixed within a person, but socially constructed markers automatically labeled on a person depending on the socio-cultural context. And it might not necessarily be the markers that a person feels fits to one’s own experience and self-perceived identity, especially if a person is completely new to a society like me. Understanding of this notion of self-perceived identity and socially labeled identity, will promote inclusive anti-oppressive dialogues for people who do not quite fit into standardized American racial identities.
Adichie, C. N. (2013) Americanah: a novel. New York: Alfred A. K
Lorde, A. (1983). There is no hierarchy of oppressions. In Worcester, N. (Eds.), Women's health: readings on social, economic, and political issues. Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Pub. Co.
Mohanty, C. T. (1993). Defining genealogies: feminist reflections on being South Asian in North America. In the women of South Asian descent collective (Eds.), Our feet walk the sky women of the South Asian Diaspora.
Sonn, C. C. & Lewis, R. C. (2009). Immigration and Identity: The Ongoing Struggles for Liberation. In Psychology of liberation: theory and applications. Springer-Verlag.
Yamada, M. (1979). Invisibility is an unnatural disaster: reflections of an Asian American woman. In Moraga, C., & Anzaldua, G. (Eds.), This bridge called my back: writings by radical women of color. NY: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press.
About the author: Tatum Stewart is a graduate student at the Columbia University School of Social Work where she studies social policy as it relates to immigrant and refugee populations both in the United States and abroad. Home for her is Champaign, Illinois.
Classmates who identified as “white” were asked to raise their hand just prior to our discussion on racial oppression. I confidently knew not to raise mine. But then those same classmates were asked to leave the room. Their discussion was to be different and separate from the discussion for “non-white” people. I became alarmed at the unexpected split of my racial identity. I froze as I rose from my chair, caught between leaving and staying, equally uncomfortable with both, debating how to logically separate my racial experiences in this instance. Which discussion do I “belong” to “more”? Since I had a “part-white” upbringing, do I have a right to the “minority” conversation even though I consider myself non-white? Do others perceive me as having “ethnic legitimacy” (Root, 2000), a “true” right to the racial identity I have come to claim? In the end, I hesitantly lowered to my seat in the non-white discussion, prepared to reclaim my non-white identity.
The tentative repossession of identity happens often in race-oppression discussions that tend to be constructed on an “us/they” framework – in the case of this discussion, the oppressed minorities versus the privileged white man. I do not, cannot, frame white people in the same distancing way that my non-white classmates do at times with the “us/they” mindset. The white man is not a “they” — a faceless privileged Other — for me; He is my father. A white father, who, in a way others may think is ironic, has been a gateway to understanding my Japanese mother and accepting her culture as part of my heritage. I understand he has white privilege. I see that he benefits from and is a part of a larger white, patriarchal society that has systematically oppressed non-white groups. I understand when my classmates (as well as myself) are frustrated with white (male) privilege that it is a problem of which my father is a part as well as myself as his daughter. But the use of the word “they” to refer to white groups alienates me from the discussion. “They” in the context of my racial experience is the marker of a pervasive view that races may be easily categorized, that racial experiences are separate from one another and do not overlap (Pryce, 1999). “They” ignores the “contradictions” that exist in all of our racial identities, much like the ones I feel exist in mine. These “contradictions” are experiences we perceive as an atypical racial experience because we have allowed the way we identify to be contained by the stereotypes that accompany the racial categories created by white patriarchy to divide our society.
Throughout the discussion I was troubled by the idea that my racial identity was not authentic either by my standards or other participants. I was not “truly” non-white. I was not “truly” representative of any kind of Asian experience. The issue of Asians as a model minority was briefly raised. Model minority: a term and concept created by a white, male, conservative politician during the 1960s to show the American Dream must be true because Asian groups were “succeeding” (a trend that is not true for the numerous ethnic sub-groups in the “Asian” racial category). No one sought to expand on the issue, seemingly prepared to leave the concept unchallenged. Meanwhile, I was brought back to all the times I have uncomfortably witnessed the difference in treatment of my mother. Her treatment reflecting common stereotypes that Asian women are submissive, less “political” (or, rather, uncaring about social issues) (Mohanty, 1993; Yamada, 1981), and acquiesce to any treatment with a smile (Yamada, 1981). I felt the exclusion of Asian-American experience that I have felt happen before in other race-oppression discussions. Yet, even as I acutely felt the omission of this experience, I could not find my voice, to bring myself to say what I have witnessed and socially inherited as my mother’s daughter because I was also my father’s daughter. Does my white invalidate my perceptions of my Japanese? Do I have a right to express an Asian experience? I felt like an interloper in a discussion based on the unspoken agreement that racial experiences were often in the singular: others only experienced one and by only experiencing the one they were more validated in their interpretation and representation of it (Root, 2000).
How do we work to overcome the white patriarchal “us/they” framework that simultaneously simplifies our racial experiences and racially differentiates and divides us?
As a social worker and an ally, I begin to answer this by participating in social work practice and community organizing in ways that are always vigilant, conscious, and informed of the social and cultural histories of oppression of different racial groups within and, if possible, outside of America. At the same time, keeping in mind that these same categories of race are a construction of white patriarchal society, and for that reason understanding the racial experience of a person (or even a group) is much more complex than even the social histories that correspond with their racial category.
There is no doubt racial categories must be recognized. It is by such categories that we have been divided and that groups have been systematically oppressed. Following this understanding, though, there are at least two other understandings I have developed to supplement it. First, there exists a valid experience of oppression by all non-white racial and ethnic groups regardless of whether or not oppression has been exerted with the same force on all groups (Lorde, 2009). Second, it is possible to have mixed racial experiences that may seem to defy our categorization of race and the experiences we have determined to correspond with that race—and I would argue that such an experience is not confined only to individuals of mixed race (Pryce, 1999).
As I reflect on my racial experience, it is not one I am comfortable understanding in divisible parts, racial parts. My awareness and identity do not divide. It is not a simple matter of introspection and claiming to one more and the other less because I do not feel I am representative of either. So as I enter new conversations about race and oppression, I hope to find the courage not only to humanize my father and bring out the experiences of my mother, but also to expand on the racial ambiguities I experience and am still discovering.
Lorde, Audre. “There Is No Hierarchy of Oppression.” I Am Your Sister. Eds. Rudolph P. Byrd,
Johnnetta Betsch Cole, Beverly Guy-Sheftall. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 219-220. Print.
Mohanty, Chandra. “Defining Genealogies: Feminist Reflections on Being South Asian in North
America. Our Feet Walk the Sky: Women of the South Asian Diaspora. Ed. Joan Pinkvoss. San Francisco: The Women of South Asian Descent Collective, 1993. 351-358. Print.
Pryce, Delina. “Black Latina.” Hispanic. Hispanic, March 1999. Web. 22 October 2014.
Root, Maria P.P. “A Bill of Rights for Racially Mixed People.” Readings for Diversity and
Social Justice. Ed. Adams, M. et al. New York: Routledge, 2000. 120-126. Print.
Yamada, Mitsuye. “Invisibility is an Unnatural Disaster: Reflections of an Asian American
Woman.” This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color. Eds. Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa. New York: Kitchen Table, 1981. 35-40. Print.
by Kris Kelsang Lipman
URIP Intern and MSW candidate, NYU '14-'15
*This piece was inspired by a fellow AAPI SW student, who was willing to share their truth with me and with URIP. Thank you. I am so grateful.*
Fellow Asian American, South Asian, and Pacific Islander Social Workers,
We know that anti-AAPI racism is not a featured topic in many anti-racist spaces. Ours is a struggle that is intentionally invisibilized by the powerful institutions in this society. In my organizing work and in the classroom, I’ve heard our cries and demands to be acknowledged. We demand accountability on behalf of our governing systems, and white people, but most of what I’ve heard is a critique of the lack of attention paid to our communities by other people of color. And I’ve realized that our misplaced anger towards our fellow communities of color is preventing us from fully embodying anti-racism in our relationships and movements. I don’t know if we are all truly aware of the insidiousness of anti-Black ideology and the many ways that we continue to internalize it. This is why creating spaces for AAPI people to explore our positions in the U.S., historically and in relation to Black people, is so important. And why I am so grateful that our first lab for AAPI SW students is centered around this very conversation.
URIP has not yet facilitated a workshop that holds space for the perpetuating of racism between Communities of Color. We also do not have a history of holding spaces exclusively for certain Communities of Color. There would certainly be a great number of things to be gained from hosting such spaces, and this is something that URIP is working towards. That being said, I do think that at some point in our work a student dialogue about the AAPI experience (which is a problematic term in itself considering our vastly contrasting experiences) would be valuable, especially in light of the many particular ways that we share experience and history in the U.S. context. That being said, complex and layered experiences exist within every racial group’s experience in the U.S., and our AAPI struggle to be seen, heard, and acknowledged is not unique here.
When I re-read the description of our next lab, what comes to mind is how the AAPI perpetuation of anti-Black racism is inextricably linked with our collective experiences here in the U.S. We know the many ways in which the model minority myth harms our people. In this city we are people from over 70 countries, and the vast majority of our language and cultural needs are dismissed by social service providers. We are undocumented, but no one would ever know it by following mainstream media. Methods of aggregating data continue to uniform our experiences into one chunk of misleading numbers. The truth is, we are living in poverty. In Flushing, 1 in 4 Asian residents is living under the poverty line. In 2006, New York City’s Asian population had a higher percentage of near-poor people (22 percent) than whites (13 percent), blacks (19.4 percent), and the general population (19 percent) (Asian American Federation, 2008). And for our South Asian youth, being poor is often the standard, with 55% currently living in poverty. What we know to be true as Social Workers, is that the services offered for AAPI peoples is NOT at all in proportion to the number of us who are struggling and in need of support.
We are disenfranchised, displaced, and disempowered. Period. AND it is important for me to continually remind myself that we have been framed as this model minority by white supremacy specifically as a tool of social control to stifle resistance in our communities while simultaneously, and almost inevitably, solidifying our cooperation in the oppression of Black people. This system is put in place to ensure that anti-Black racism is not seen for what, as Scot Nakagawa says, it truly is: the fulcrum of White Supremacy. I would add to Scot’s analysis that the systemic control and dehumanization of the Indigenous peoples of this land is a main priority in this hierarchy as well. For years I attempted to do anti-racist organizing work without having really understood the function that a Model Minority group in the U.S. serves in furthering the oppression of Black people. I think I prevented myself from embracing this truth intentionally, probably from my fears that our struggles would be further invisibilized by it. That is EXACTLY what this white supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy wants me to believe. The truth is, addressing and internalizing this truth will not invalidate our struggles. Exploring the ways that AAPI communities are strategically manipulated in order to maintain this order of white supremacy IS inherently a conversation about the ways in which we are oppressed. And addressing anti-Black racism is imperative in the struggle for our liberation, and the liberation of all.
It’s time to throw ourselves into this work of undoing anti-Black racism, in our classrooms, our communities, our profession, and this country. The internalizing of all these white supremacist messages is exactly what prevents us all from being able to know ourselves and our radical anti-racist history. We must organize with each other to undo anti-Black racism within the Social Work profession. Because WE are accountable to Eric Garner, Melissa Alexander, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Tiffany Edwards, and to all Black people.
Because Social Work is accountable to undoing racism.
See you tomorrow at our lab?
Kris Kelsang Lipman
“If we can see the connections of how often this happens in history, we can stem the tide of these things happening again, by speaking out against them.”- Yuri Kochiyama, Japanese Concentration Camp Survivor, Activist, and Inspiration to all
Asian American Federation. 2008. Working but Poor: Asian American Poverty in New York City. PDF found here: http://www.aafny.org/doc/WorkingButPoor.pdf
Social work students and alumni march with thousands of others in protest of the grand jury decision in the Michael Brown case. We stand in solidarity with Ferguson and call for social workers to take action. Read our full response to the decision. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to stay updated on upcoming actions.
Angelica Martinez, Columbia University, School of Social Work
To the Schools of Social Work, how do we, as an academic institution and as students, change our view of the world from a consumer perspective to a human one? While this question sounds easy, it’s strangely difficult to understand what that can mean to me, to others, and to the rest of the world. Have we strayed so far in wars against one another, and imposing our theory of change that we have forgotten to smell the roses? Literally! When do we stop teaching about race and oppression and simply model positive human interactions? When do we start a dialogue about the human race?
I am baffled by this wave of clinical social workers whose primary ambition is to open a private practice. While it’s great that social work students are thinking that they want to help save the world, one person at a time, it is also based on a livelihood that feeds on someone else’s “dysfunction”. Private practice in social work is adapting to the Capitalist model. This model changes social work from “agents of change” to “agents that will help people for some change”. This model perpetuates the need to commodify human interaction.
The change within the field of social work, moving from grassroots activism and strengthening communities to the privatization of our practice, is rational because it relates to how society functions as a system of institutional oppression. This system thrives on power dynamics, whether it’s to obtain power, sustain it or impose it. This society functions because someone is benefitting with someone, from someone or at the expense of someone. I was born into a society that understands that there is a dominant culture, and therefore, ideas, identities, and individuals outside of that culture are seen as adversarial. The elimination of other ideas, labeling others as “different” and creating a culture of fear has allowed society to instill a narrow idea of how life should be. This is oppression. Where human beings are not heard, seen or valued as human beings. It creates a hierarchy among people and groups of people, in which some are better than others. For example some are “richer”, some are “prettier”, and some are in positions of power, or are given decision-making power, such as the role of a clinical social worker, which is to know the best methods for helping others become functional members of society.
That’s exactly how the academic institution of social work and its current students are maintaining this system of oppression. As social work students in the clinical arena, we do not seek to help individuals find enlightenment or to engage in thoughtful discussions. We seek to find interventions that are best suitable for an individual to become a functional piece in society, to become useful to an employer, a neighbor, or family members so that others may find peace. We hope by aiding our clients in skill building and coping mechanisms, that they too may find peace in their daily life by adapting to a society that only sees them as a resource. As students, we are tirelessly learning about different cultures, different struggles and studying statistics that we fail to recognize our peers and other human beings as being human. Grace Boggs claims, “Too often we regard health care and education as commodities, and we remain complicit as our elected representatives reduce us to consumers.” As social workers, we have not only fought for education and health care as commodities, but we have offered our services as a commodity as well. We have created a science within social work that allows us to label, diagnose, and get paid based on evidence that only tells us that some human emotions and interactions are intolerable, even criminal, in an industrial society. The science created by the social work profession is based on human reactions to the problems that are created by this same system of oppression. We have now modeled our social work strategies to mirror the system of oppression that we have failed to eradicate in the past.
As a student, I too bought into the evidence-based practice curriculum and “the more knowledge the better I know how to change society.” I have learned that in reality, change is not based in a textbook or past revolutions, but understanding that change happens through human interactions. It’s not out of the box thinking that is going to change society, it’s out of the textbook thinking. Having authentic relationships with communities will help the social work profession grow.
If we were not benefitting from this structure, would we still do this work? Would we, as social workers, still aid our neighboring communities? We can change our academic institution to mirror a community we would all like to be a part of. We can go outside, plant some roses, and embrace the community without an agenda.
By Beatriz Rivera, URIP Intern 2014-15
My definition of genocide is the senseless killing of a group of people with a shared ethnicity, racial background, religion, sexual orientation or any other form of self-identification. This past summer, there were a number of events that I can only describe as genocide. The tragedy of Mike Brown, Ezell Ford, Eric Garner and other unarmed individuals are only three of countless and senseless killings of unarmed persons of color.
It’s been a few months since these events happened, but despite the months that have passed between then and now, I’m frustrated, traumatized and exhausted of hope. As a student of color and student of social work, I am feeling a new weight aside from the usual mid-semester workload, a weight that feels like pressure to tend to this urgent threat. The usual big sigh that I exhale to release negativity, tension, stress, and pressure is not enough to stop what is happening to my communities of color, to my people, to my wellness and to my sense of self.
What does this mean for me as a student of color at a predominantly white institution? And what does this mean for me as a student of color studying Social Work; a profession which demands that we closely and critically analyze policies, health care, education and other systems that virtually all clients are embedded in. It’s an insult not to talk about the disparate impacts that are happening to communities of color because of racist institutions of power.
My fieldwork, The Undoing Racism Internship Project (URIP), fortunately provides me the necessary space to talk about this and helps me to carry this emotional burden. At URIP, I’m encouraged to process these events giving me the space for validation and debrief, but URIP is not the traditional fieldwork setting all students have.
I know I’m not the only one.
Latin@ Caucus, Black Caucus, Criminal Justice Caucus, and Columbia University Black Law Students Association are just a minute number of student led organizations that have tended to this urgency. Recent student-organized events at Columbia such as “He Was No Angel: The Devaluing of Black Life” and “Voices Against Mass Incarceration” are only two of many
events organized by students bringing hundreds of community members and students alike to address the killings of unarmed black people all over the country.
And it’s not just student-led organizations, but individual students who feel this urgency. Students like Julissa Collado, CSSW 15’, who works with community organizations to take action and bring powerful social justice figures like Cornell West and Carl Dix to discuss these atrocities in solidarity with communities of color. She stated “There is no more waiting for the right time. The 60’s and 70’s are long gone but I am a firm believer that transformation only happens through lessons learned in history. I organized because it was important. I organized because the local community members need to know that students care. I organized because we have heart. People are dying. Our communities of color are being murdered. This is not just a “you” problem, this is a “we” problem. And as students and as youth we are the change agents of our generation. Our silence is over.”
Julissa and all other student-led organizations don’t have the luxury to turn off what is happening in the world, to our culture, and our people. We are not waiting to receive our degrees; we are standing against injustices and organizing our communities, we are working as activists because it’s part of our being and our duty to address this threat NOW.
We are not the only ones.
Legion of Black Collegions, Queer People of Color, and Stanford Black Law Students Association are just other student led organizations among many around the country that are also responding. Campaigns like MU4MikeBrown and #HandsUpDontShoot are receiving nationwide attention and a call to action by all.
We shouldn’t be the only ones.
So how can CSSW support us in the midst of this crisis? Looking to the ethical guidelines for the Social Work profession, it is imperative that Columbia University School of Social Work (CSSW) support and sustain movements for racial justice. The National Association of Social Work’s Code of Ethics states that “Fundamental to Social Work is attention to
the environmental forces that create, contribute to, and address problems in living.” The absurd, asinine and nonsensical constant killing of people of color by police departments is definitely a problem in living because people are not living at all. So if a system is known to “protect and serve,” who is it really protecting and serving? And what is the force that creates who is
worthy of this protection and service? Our duty as social workers is to identify the forces of power that are pulling the strings in health care, welfare, criminal justice, and how as an entity of power, among other educational giants, the school is contributing to a person’s struggle to survive.
Action needs to be taken. CSSW needs to incorporate an analysis of race and racism as it has unfolded and manifested in the United States in their curriculum. First, have all students of the school attend the two and a half Undoing Racism Workshop created by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond for a foundational overview of the impact of race and racism in the United States and in our lives. Second, have professor training around facilitating conversations of race to make sure comments and microaggressions don’t go unchecked. Third, make a written assignment of race mandatory that will explore personal feelings about race, but also includes our perception of racism in a historical context as well as the context of today.
The events that transpired this summer were difficult to swallow, I believe if CSSW aimed toward an anti-racist curriculum, it would be held accountable to students of color and the profession as whole. It’s not enough that we learn about policies, how to manage non-profits, evidence-based practices, and program development. We must critically analyze our institution and make sure we don’t perpetuate the very racist systems that oppress communities of color. As a pioneer of the social work profession, we must lead the way in that is not just about providing a helping hand, but unpacking and dismantling the weight of racism, together.