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NASW Apologizes for Past Racist Practices in American Social Work

As the nation looks at its long, cruel history of systemic racism, the NASW acknowledges that our profession and this association have not always lived up to our mission of pursuing social justice for all. NASW apologizes for supporting policies and activities that have harmed people of color. 

“The murder of George Floyd at the hands of police in the early months of the pandemic spurred our country and NASW to directly address the effects of racism in our social institutions and among social workers,” says NASW CEO Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW. “While NASW continues to offer antiracist training in communities, publicly denounces violence, and advocates tirelessly for antiracist policy changes, we must also acknowledge the role the social work profession has played in supporting discriminatory systems and programs for decades.” 

For instance: 

  • Progressive Era social workers built and ran segregated settlement houses.
  • Social worker suffragists blocked African Americans from gaining the right to vote.
  • Prominent social workers supported eugenics theories and programs.
  • Social workers helped recruit Black men into the infamous Tuskegee Experiment.
  • Social workers participated in the removal of Native American children from their families and placement in boarding schools.
  • Social workers also took part in intake teams at Japanese internment camps during World War II.
  • And since the founding of the profession, bias among some social workers has limited delivery of health care, mental health treatment, and social services to people of color. 

These and other examples are uncomfortable truths. But they also reinforce our commitment to ending racism in the social work field and working with strong coalition partners to dismantle oppressive and racist policies, systems, and practices across our country. Social workers are called by our Code of Ethics to fight injustice in all its forms and to honor the dignity and worth of all people. While we at times have fallen short of this ideal, our profession has recently reinvigorated and expanded its racial equity mandate. Details of this work are included in the newly released report, Undoing Racism through Social Work: NASW Report to the Profession on Racial Justice Priorities and Action

“NASW, the social work profession, and our society have made much progress on achieving racial equity in the last few generations, but there is still a long, challenging road ahead,” says NASW President Mildred “Mit” Joyner, DPS, MSW, LCSW. “Be assured that NASW will not tire in our quest to help our nation eliminate racism and achieve justice and liberation for all Americans.”

Source: NASW