Social Workers Call Racism "Violence," Urge Sensible Steps to Create Harmony

January 1997

Americans of all races and ethnic backgrounds can learn to respect and appreciate each other’s uniqueness -- a first step in overcoming the divisions that are tearing society apart, according to the nation’s social workers.The National Association of Social Workers has developed a brochure, "Racial & Ethnic Harmony: Respect, Understanding, Cooperation, and Peace," that points the way.The brochure, which includes personal reflections of NASW national staff, notes that every one suffers when people and groups distrust and fear each other. "Social workers help groups learn about and appreciate the differences that can divide friends, colleagues, neighborhoods, and the world," the brochure says. "Diversity is a source of pride for this country, where everyone except Native Americans, who lived here first, claims immigrant ancestry.

"Racial and Ethnic Harmony" -- the theme of the 1997 NASW Public Service Campaign -- takes on added importance in the current political climate in which demagogues blame the economic hardships of many Americans on the poor, immigrants, welfare recipients, people of color, and others perceived as different.

"That we are a nation of many colors and cultures should be viewed as a source of strength and pride, not division and discord," said Josephine Nieves, NASW executive director.

NASW supports an inclusive society in which racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, social, and gender differences are valued and respected.Social workers encourage people to engage in self-examination to identify and unlearn racist beliefs and practices. Social workers also recognize that the racism embedded in our society and its institutions is a form of violence that people need to identify and work to eliminate.

Each year NASW embarks on a public service campaign to foster understanding of the social work profession by focusing on issues bearing on the well-being of the American people. The campaigns begin in March, which is National Professional Social Work Month. The last three public service campaigns have focused on hate crimes, and on what children and others can do to prevent violence. Social workers define violence to include not just punishable crimes but also violence done to people by institutions, by a culture of violence, and by a lack of opportunities. The public service campaigns include the idea that social workers help people to solve problems without resorting to violence.