Resources for Social Workers Working with Racial, Ethnic and Minority Populations
In any type of social work environment, social workers will work with different racial, ethnic and minority populations. Race is defined by physical characteristics, like skin tone, which relate to certain global regions. Ethnicity describes shared culture. Minority groups are groups that lack power in society, regardless of country of origin or race.
If you become a social worker, you must be prepared to work with diverse populations. Regarding race, non-white minorities are the fastest-growing population in the United States. By 2045, the U.S. Census predicts the country will be minority white.
Role of Social Workers in Minority Community
Today and throughout history, racial and ethnic minorities have experienced disparate socioeconomic status in the United States. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), there is a relationship between socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity. Discrimination and marginalization based on race and ethnicity hinder upward mobility for racial and ethnic minorities trying to escape poverty. Disadvantaged communities tend to have:
- Low economic development
- Poor health conditions
- Low levels of educational attainment
Social workers help minority groups get the tools and resources they need to thrive. They work with at-risk individuals, groups and families. They may provide clinical counseling support for mental and behavioral issues. They also might participate in advocacy for minority populations, providing recommendations to drive social change.
If you’re studying for a Master of Social Work program because you’re interested in working with minority and disadvantaged populations, or you’re already in the midst of your social work career, the following minority social work organizations, books and academic articles are helpful resources for social work with minority groups.
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Racial, Ethnic and Minority Social Work Organizations
- American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity: The American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity was founded as the American Association for Affirmative Action (AAAA) in 1974. The organization promotes an understanding of affirmative action, policies and action steps to ensure access, equality and equity.
- The Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights: The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition of more than 200 national organizations focused on advancing and protecting human and civil rights through outreach and advocacy.
- Local and Regional Government Alliance on Race and Equity: The Local and Regional Government Alliance on Race and Equity is a national network of government working to achieve racial equity. The group covers 80 jurisdictions and provides racial equity and communication tools.
- MediaJustice: MediaJustice focuses on advancing communication rights and access for disadvantaged communities. The organization works to achieve equal digital rights for all races.
- National Action Network: The National Action Network is a civil rights organization founded in 1991 by Reverend Al Sharpton. The organization promotes a modern civil rights agenda fighting for justice and equal opportunities regardless of race, ethnicity or minority status.
- National Association of Social Workers: This is the largest national professional association of social workers. The organization focuses on ethnicity and racial social justice and provides equality practice tools and professional development opportunities in this area.
- National Association of Black Social Workers: The National Association of Black Social Workers is comprised of social worker members of African ancestry. The group is dedicated to empowering and enhancing the quality of life for people of African ancestry through research, advocacy and social work practice.
- Racial Equity Institute: The Racial Equity Institute is an alliance of organizers, trainers and institutional leaders dedicated to achieving racial equality in systems and organizations. The organization presents a blog, podcast, research, studies, services and trainings to promote racial equity.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health: The Office of Minority Health is dedicated to eliminating health disparities by improving the health of ethnic and racial minority populations. The organization supports data collection and research, policy development and promotion, and program funding.
Racial, Ethnic and Minority Social Work Books
- “Heavy: An American Memoir”: This 2018 memoir by Kiese Laymon uses essays and personal stories to describe growing up in a Black family in America, identifying national failures in the process.
- “How to Be an Antiracist”: In this memoir, author Ibram X. Kendi uses lessons in ethics, history, science and law to detail what an antiracist society would look like and how individuals can build it.
- “The New Jim Crow”: This book by Michelle Alexander details the racial bias in mass incarceration and how the criminal justice system has become a new racial caste in America, as Black men and communities of color are disproportionately found in the prison system.
- “The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century”: Authors Grace Lee Boggs and Scott Kurashige examine racism from political, environmental and economical angles to address how to create radical social change.
- “Social Justice and Social Work: Rediscovering a Core Value of the Profession”: This book, edited by Michael J. Austin, uses historical and philosophical arguments to illustrate social justice as a core social work value. It explains how social justice can drive social work education and practice.
- “Social Work and Social Justice: Concepts, Challenges and Strategies”: Authors Michael Reisch and Charles D. Garvin explain how social justice concepts and goals can guide socially just social work practices. The book touches on topics including welfare reform, mental health and social work ethics related to social justice topics.
- “So You Want to Talk About Race”: Author Ijeoma Oluo examines race in America, reporting on issues like white supremacy, police brutality and mass incarceration. Oluo guides readers on subjects including affirmative action and intersectionality and provides guidance for how to have honest conversations about how race and racism impact American life.
- “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism”: Author and antiracism educator Robin DiAngelo, Ph.D., examines how racial insulation hinders the ability to respond to racial inequalities in constructive ways. The book proposes ways to engage more constructively in racial dialogues and promote racial equality.
Racial, Ethnic and Minority Social Work Academic Articles
- “Caseworker Perspectives on Mental Health Disparities Among Racial/Ethnic Minority Youth in Child Welfare”: This article published in 2017 in the Journal of Social Service Research shows how promoting antiracist perspectives in agency policies and social worker training can challenge racial stereotypes and address racial disparities.
- “The Construction of Social Class in Social Work Education: A Study of Introductory Textbooks”: This article analyzes the content of 50 introductory social work textbooks and explains how the relevance of social class has been overlooked or denied. As class differences directly relate to diversity and inequality, the article promotes the teaching and knowledge of class issues for social worker success.
- “Cultural Differences in Perinatal Experiences for Women with Low Socioeconomic Status”: This study published in Health and Social Work examined differences and similarities in perinatal experiences between women with low socioeconomic status by race, ethnicity and nativity. The study emphasized a need for social workers to conduct depression screenings in conjunction with psychosocial assessments.
- “The Dynamics of Social Support Inequality: Maintenance Gaps by Socioeconomic Status and Race?”: This article by Markus H. Schaefer and Nicholas Vargas addresses whether race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status are associated with American adults’ connections to resources over time. It examines how social capital contributes to a variety of outcomes.
- “Institutional Racism and the Social Work Profession: A Call to Action” (PDF, 322 KB): This 2007 document by the NASW addresses institutional racism, also known as structural racism. It includes a vision for how social workers can address structural racism and achieve positive outcomes.
- “Practitioner Biases and Child Service Use Disparities: Implications for Social Work Education”: This article by Marlys Staudt examines how social worker biases may be responsible for disparities in children’s mental health and related services.
- “Social Workers: Agents of Change or Agents of Oppression?”: This article was written by two social work teachers who talk about experiences with student resistance to attempts to address issues of race and racism. It also includes a discussion on how race, class and gender affect student response to social justice concepts.
Become Educated to Advance Social Justice in Social Work
Racial, ethnic and minority injustice continues to be a prevalent issue affecting all of American society. To achieve equality and improve services for minority clients, social workers and social work students can educate themselves on minority issues and best practices for working with disadvantaged populations.
Information on this page was last updated in June 2021.