By Janlee Wong,
NASW-CA Executive Director
The stunning massive and near universal outcry and protest the killing of George Floyd and many others by police has galvanized people across the nation and the world. No one can watch the video of Floyd’s killing without feeling pain and demanding justice. Liberal or conservative, white, or black, Asians, Latinx, American Indian/Native Americans and so many others have called out not just for the prosecution of the those involved in the killings, but for the end of racism.
Many Americans have called for systemic and institutional reform of not just police departments but major changes in education and the socioeconomic condition of African Americans and other oppressed people. Social work has long viewed racism with a systemic and institutional lens. In 2007, NASW produced a seminal paper on “Institutional Racism and Social Work, A Call To Action.” Sadly, the issues raised in the paper continue to this day demonstrating how little has changed and how intractable racism is.
The deaths of unarmed African Americans at the hands of police or former police like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and so many others have stripped away any pretense of that we have no racist police forces and for that matter a racist society. Any distractions or lies that this is not racism are immediately batted down as people refuse to be diverted from seeking the truth and changing the system.
To achieve true and lasting change, we need to eliminate racism from all our systems. This includes overt racism and institutional racism. We need to vigorously practice anti-racism. If students of color do poorly in substandard schools, it is the schools that need to be changed and not the fault of the students. If people are poor and cannot advance, it is the system that denies them good jobs, opportunity and advancement that need to be changed and not the fault of the people.
We have an opportunity now with a nationwide movement to significantly impact and change our systems. To eliminate the racism that keeps some people oppressed and in poverty. We can design systems that guard against and continuously fight racism in all its forms. If we persevere, we could possibly see the end of systemic racism. If we do not, we will see racism again and again kill, hurt, and oppress our people.