On behalf of the members of the Society for Social Work and Research, we write our Call and Commitment to Ending Police Brutality, Racial injustice, and White Supremacy.
Over the past several weeks, our country has witnessed the worst of humanity. It isn’t the first time in recent history, and sadly, it won’t be the last. Acts of horrific brutality and callous indifference for human life at the hands of some law enforcement, and vigilante justice for the “offense” of being Black, continue the legacy of racial terror and historical trauma in the United States, the foundation of which stems from the toxic forces of white supremacy and racism. This foundation permeates our cultural fabric, our local, state and federal governments, and the systems and institutions that we have built to oversee and deliver services, programs, resources, rewards, and punishments. It interacts with an economy that has solidified gaping inequalities and inequities designed to serve the few—those at the highest peaks of the income and wealth distributions—and with pervasive voter disenfranchisement that grossly shifts the balance of power in favor of this group.
It should be clear at this point that incremental change alone cannot accomplish a new course, at least not before sacrificing the well-being, health, safety and lives of countless more persons of color. What happens next in this country will be driven, in part, by laws and policies that address the root causes of racial inequities and economic disparities in nearly every facet of American life. How can we get there? As social work scholars, we are uniquely situated to participate in the fight for a more just society. In concert with other changemakers, in conjunction with the communities most affected by white supremacy, and building on our connections to grassroots organizing, we — as educators, researchers, and activists — can and should lead the debate about policy and practice solutions. In doing so, we must articulate the moral imperative to acknowledge and confront structures and systems that continue to fail so many. In addition, as human beings, we have to combat our own fears about speaking out, address our own inherent racism, and work diligently toward a society in which every person is valued regardless of their background and given an equitable opportunity to develop their potential, be civically engaged, and physically and mentally healthy.
To this end, we take the position that social work scholars and educators must:
Engage with local, state, and federal policymakers to create policies that eliminate state-sanctioned violence and hold accountable perpetrators of violence.
Further, we urge that we all should embrace the following activities as part of a concerted and united effort to end police brutality and effectively combat racism and white supremacy:
- First, respectfully acknowledge the scores of impacted Black people around the world who have been asking to be seen, heard, helped, and championed for an extremely long time, to little avail. Once you have done so, engage in a process of continual self-reflection on our own biases and racist beliefs, and work to make our pedagogy and scholarship challenge rather than reinforce these biases.
- Ensure that historical and contemporary implications of racism and white supremacy that shape today’s social problems are transparent in our pedagogy and scholarship.
- Recognize the silence and complicity of our societal institutions, and the social work profession, in reinforcing and perpetuating institutionalized forms of racism and the marginalization of people of color, and act to break this silence within our own curricula, hiring, admissions and other practices through reforming our academic institutions and professional organizations.
- Seek to influence the development of funding sources for research that explicitly addresses racism, white supremacy, discrimination, disenfranchisement, and oppression, and establish ways to incentivize and support such research within our institutions of higher learning.
- Incorporate the voices, input, and feedback of marginalized and oppressed groups most affected by our work in the conceptualization, design, implementation, analysis, and translation of our research.
- Elevate the strengths and resilience of oppressed and marginalized groups in all facets of our work, rejecting a lens of pathology and deficit-based analysis.
- Disseminate our scholarship broadly in publicly accessible ways that can meaningfully contribute to social change efforts.
- Use our scholarship and expertise, as appropriate, to support advocacy and political efforts that strive to dismantle racism, white supremacy, and other social injustices and create meaningful structural change.
Racism and white supremacy – along with the derivative problems of state-sanctioned violence, voter disenfranchisement, and xenophobia – demand our attention as scholars, as educators, and as humans. Our nation has never lived up to the ideals upon which it was purportedly founded, and in this moment when the persistent and unmitigated scourge of racism dovetails with a worldwide public health crisis, our contributions have never been more necessary. In such times, the wisdom and ideas generated by our scholarly community – driven as they are by a fundamental attachment to our code of values – can provide a meaningful vision of a just future. We are compelled to act.
Board of Directors
Society for Social Work and Research
We thank the SSWR Social Policy Committee for drafting this statement. Committee members are Darcey Merritt, New York University (Chair),Ernest Gonzalez, New York University, Julia Henly, University of Chicago, Kimberly Hudson, Fordham University, Brenda Jones-Harden, University of Maryland, Jennifer Manuel, New York University, Daniel Miller, Boston University, Lenna Nepomnyaschy, Rutgers University, David Pate, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Cassandra Simmel, Rutgers University, Kristen Slack, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Brenda Smith, University of Alabama, Amy Thompson, University of Texas at Austin, and Emmy Tiderington, Rutgers University