Prepare the Profession to Address Structural Racism and Its Impact on Ourselves and Our Clients

As of 2013, there is not a single profession in the US that requires its professionals to demonstrate an understanding of structural racism, nor has a single profession or association established an official base of competencies to address race and racism.

Still, in every institution we touch, data show that white people have considerably better outcomes, even when we control for a host of other factors. Recent killings of young men like Trayvon Martin, the lack of legal repercussions and the ensuing national conflict underscores the urgency of this issue. While the U.S. has made some gains with respect to representation and race relations, the country is hungry for an effective way to achieve racial equity.

NASW would build on existing ‘cultural competence’ frameworks to develop a practical and actionable ‘racial equity’ framework. In addition to being culturally competent, we must 1) officially define racism as a systemic phenomenon, 2) set actionable competencies to guide professional development, and 3) develop best practices for planning, executing and measuring the reduction and eventual elimination of racial inequity.

A racial equity orientation offers a compelling approach that has produced quantifiable results where more traditional social services approaches have fallen short. The short-comings of traditional approaches have been documented across disciplines.[i] Simultaneously, social workers from Texas, to Massachusetts, and Washington State have seen unprecedented results using principles of anti-racist community organizing to guide the work, rigorous cross-systems collaboration, and leadership involvement in examining the roots of the problem.[ii] We know it can be done. Our Grand Challenge is to learn from these examples and scale what works to the whole profession and the entire country.




[i] See (1) Braveman, Paula A., et al. “Health disparities and health equity: the issue is justice.” Journal Information 101.S1 (2011); (2) Van Ryn, Michelle, and Steven S. Fu. “Paved with good intentions: do public health and human service providers contribute to racial/ethnic disparities in health?.” American Journal of Public Health 93.2 (2003): 248-255.(3) Kempf-Leonard, Kimberly. “Minority Youths and Juvenile Justice Disproportionate Minority Contact After Nearly 20 Years of Reform Efforts.”Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice 5.1 (2007): 71-87. (4) Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. “Rethinking racism: Toward a structural interpretation.”American sociological review (1997): 465-480.(5) Noguera, Pedro, and Jean Yonemura Wing. Unfinished business: Closing the racial achievement gap in our schools. Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint, 2006.

[ii] (1) Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (2010). Disproportionality in Child ProtectiveServices: The Preliminary Results of Statewide Reform Efforts in Texas, Texas Department of Family andProtective Services. Available at: (2) Boston Public Health Commission (2007). The Disparities Project Year One Report. Available at (3) City of Seattle (2011). Race and Social Justice Initiative: Accomplishments 2009-2011. Available at (4) Johnson, Lisa M., Becky F. Antle, and Anita P. Barbee. “Addressing disproportionality and disparity in child welfare: Evaluation of an anti-racism training for community service providers.” Children and Youth Services Review31.6 (2009): 688-696.


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