Black Lives Matter and Social Work

Black Lives Matter and Social Work

Social workers identify inequality and lead efforts to correct imbalances affecting marginalized individuals and populations. That means protecting children from parental abuse; uncovering elder neglect in senior-care facilities; or eradicating racial inequality across our nation. A social worker’s job is to promote human rights, and sometimes that means exposing injustice.

As of June 2020, Black Americans are 2.5 times more likely than white Americans to be killed by the police. Racial bias permeates law enforcement around the nation, leading to targeting policies like “Stop and Frisk,” “Driving While Black/Brown,” and more. As bias grows within the system, Black communities and allies—social workers included, one founder is in workers’ rights—created a movement to stop violence inflicted on Black communities: Black Lives Matter.

What is Black Lives Matter (BLM) and What Does it Stand For?

Black Lives Matter (BLM) started in 2013 after the acquittal of David Zimmerman in the shooting death of African-American teen Trayvon Martin. The movement began with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. It took social media by storm.

Platforms like Twitter and Facebook became channels for social activism. Stories became trends. Trends became protests. Grassroots became mainstream. Millions of dollars were raised and billions of views were generated, all without the filter of major news organizations. Any injustice from street-level to systemic could be brought to light. That meant human rights issues could be shared instantly to reveal aggressors, all the while helping non-people-of-color understand the inequalities people of color face every day.

The Organization’s History: What Sparked the Movement 

The movement came in response to the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police officers and self-proclaimed vigilantes. #BlackLivesMatter was first typed in 2013 after the death of Trayvon Martin. It echoed louder in 2014 after the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. Tens of thousands joined in marches and protests that swept across the nation. 

Now six years later, it’s more relevant than ever. Black Americans are still dying. Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and Dion Johnson: all of these lives were lost this year.

BLM ensures those deaths weren’t in vain. Everyone from individuals to large multinational corporations are donating, protesting and working to change the Black experience in America. The nationwide reform is starting to take shape. California, Nevada, Texas and Washington, D.C., have all banned chokeholds, some members of Congress even want to ban chokeholds altogether. Major cities like Minneapolis, New York City and Los Angeles are voting to defund their police forces. Even CEOs are stepping down to create greater leadership opportunities for people of color who otherwise wouldn’t have access. 

Social Worker Involvement in BLM

A career in social work is one of empathy. It’s easy to understand that many social workers stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, as many of the marginalized groups they serve are the same groups affected by racial inequity. Since the beginning of the movement for equality and equity among all.After the Grand Jury decided not to indict the officers charged with the death of Michael Brown in 2014, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) called for “the Justice Department to review the Ferguson incident to determine whether civil rights violations charges should be filed.” After the death of George Floyd in 2020, over 16 NASW chapters nationwide made it clear how the social work community was to act in the aftermath.

The NASW Texas Chapter stands in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. We must all call out the racism embedded in our country and communities at the macro and micro level, and as we watch the protests across the country escalate, we cannot remain silent about the outcomes people of color face in America … .The message is clear: we must call out inequities when we see them, and this is why NASW/TX doesn’t want to just issue a statement of solidarity with Black Lives Matter—we want to support social workers as they move to becoming more antiracist in their work.

NASW Texas, Statement on Black Live Matter

Cancelling Racial Disparity

From leading social work schools issuing strongly worded statements, to city mayors vowing to increase social services funding; the responses within the world of social work have been wide-reaching and uniform—there is an injustice present, and it needs to be stopped.

“The lives of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed, Breonna Taylor and countless others matter. As do the Black lives taken by COVID-19. We at CSSW condemn anti-Black racism in all its forms and are committed not just to making statements, but to taking action. As school leadership convenes in the coming days and weeks, we will be asking the CSSW community to join together in collective activism to fight against the perpetuation of anti-Black racism. More details will be released as initiatives take shape, but in the interim we would encourage you all to be self-reflective, to seek out support and care as you need it, to be vigilant and to be safe. We can no longer just rest on our vocal commitment to social justice; we must be ready to act, and the time to do so is now.”

Columbia School of Social Work Call to Action on Anti-Black Racism

“We’re committed to seeing a shift of funding to youth services, to social services, that will happen literally in the course of the next three weeks, but I’m not going to go into detail because it is subject to negotiation and we want to figure out what makes sense.”

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio on defunding the police, New York Times

The response of social workers and social work organizations nationwide is unified—there is a systemic failure in the relationship between Black individuals and law enforcement. Social workers play a crucial part by impacting policy change, advocating for underrepresented communities, and eliminating disparity. They involve themselves in activities that bring about reform or acting as support systems for those suffering the most from this unrest. Social workers are a valuable part of the Black Lives Matter movement and can greatly help bring about the change this country needs.