by Mary Pender Greene, LCSW-R, CGP, Sandra Bernabei, LCSW, and Lisa V. Blitz, Ph.D., LCSW-R
Previously, we explored the Undoing Racism® principle of analyzing power (see http://www.pisab.org/our-principles). Now, we examine our roles as gatekeepers and our responsibility to identify and analyze manifestations of racism.
Gatekeeping is our responsibility as social workers. Regardless of our title or role, we influence the culture and norms of our agencies (Ou Jin Lee & Ferrer, 2014). People often see gatekeepers as people with sanctioned power, but gatekeeping is a responsibility for each of us. We cannot defer to others and say that we are powerless. We guard the gate—overtly or unconsciously influencing the workplace climate, using our networks to increase diversity or maintain the status quo, and persuading or discouraging leadership regarding equity and inclusion efforts.
Our previous discussion of accountability emphasized building accountability with people of color, intentionally connecting with those who are most marginalized. Accountability is particularly important in how we use our gatekeeping power. If we do not create accountability with people of color, we will, by default, become accountable to the power we do not acknowledge—the power of the status quo.
Central to our ability to encourage multicultural, anti-racist practice is the ability to identify and analyze manifestations of racism that occur in human services organizations (Griffith, Childs, & Jeffries, 2007). Social and structural racism are endemic, part of the fabric of our history and society. Without explicit intent to see, understand, and address subtle and overt manifestations of racism, organizations naturally conform to the culture in which they exist. The reverse can also be true. By working to change our organizations, we can also influence and change the culture of the broader community.
Racism is manifest in the outcomes of systems. NASW, our school systems, our child welfare systems, and our criminal justice systems all know this, and know that we must do things differently to get a different result. It can be difficult, however, to move from seeing the outcome and realizing that something is wrong to looking toward your own organization and seeing the problem.
We start by openly and non-defensively asking ourselves hard questions. Assume that the answer is “yes” (even if you are not convinced), and seek to understand how. It is easy to turn to the ways in which we do not do these things, which can mask the subtle ways in which they are enacted anyway.
Ask: How have I (and this program, this policy, this practice) excluded the leadership, contribution, and participation of people of color on this issue? In what ways are the voices and lived experience of people of color omitted, silenced, minimized, and/or marginalized in understanding this issue or in making this decision? How do I/we communicate distrust to people of color? How would this discussion or decision making process be different if it was put in the hands of people of color?
Ask these questions even if you are a person of color—your voice needs to be heard, but it is not the only colorful voice. Perhaps your own voice has been silenced, and this inhibits you from reaching out to others. Perhaps you have been taught to lead by people who do not work from an anti-racist frame, and your work reflects your education. Perhaps you have become accustomed to being silenced, ignored, or insulted and find that you unconsciously do the same to others. Go back to our discussion on networking, find your partners, and use your gatekeeping power to challenge the practices that silence.
Ask these questions even if you see your organization as diverse—diversity, equity, and inclusion are different concepts requiring different work. If we stop at diversity, we have not changed the system. Diversity can be celebrated, while equity and inclusion remain elusive. Look again at our discussion on analyzing power, and use this as a guide to continually review the power structure of your organization.
Then, take action. Network. Find partners and allies. Brainstorm. Problem solve. Connect to an organizing base. Recognize that some people may be unhappy that you are challenging the status quo, but your network gives you encouragement, creative solutions, and energy. Over time, as your conviction builds and you gain experience, you will become increasingly competent and confident. At that point, anti-racist gatekeeping becomes almost second nature.
As gatekeepers working from an anti-racist frame and embodying anti-oppression values, our organizational influence makes us agents of transformation. Recognizing our power, and being accountable for how we use it, is liberating—for all of us.
Next time, a hard discussion on internalized oppression.
Griffith, D. M., Childs, E. L., & Jeffries, V. (2007). Racism in organizations: The case of a county public health department, Journal of Community Psychology, 35(3), 287–302. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2565803/
Ou Jin Lee, E., & Ferrer, I. (2014). Examining social work as a Canadian settler colonial project: Colonial continuities of circles of reform, civilization, and in/visibility. CAOS: The Journal of Critical Anti-Oppressive Social Inquiry, 1, 1-20. Retrieved from http://caos.library.ryerson.ca/index.php/caos/article/view/5/1
Addressing Racial Disproportionality in Child Welfare (Child Welfare Information Gateway). Retrieved from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/racial_disproportionality.pdf
Disproportionate Impact of K-12 School Suspension and Expulsion on Black Students in Southern States (University of Pennsylvania). Retrieved from http://www.gse.upenn.edu/equity/SouthernStates
NASW Statement on Racism. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.naswdc.org/pressroom/events/911/racism.asp
Racial Disparities In Criminal Justice (ACLU Report). Retrieved from https://www.aclu.org/issues/mass-incarceration/racial-disparities-criminal-justice
Mary Pender Greene, LCSW-R, CGP, is an organizational consultant, psychotherapist in private practice, career/executive coach, professional speaker, and co-founder of the AntiRacist Alliance.
Sandra Bernabei, LCSW, is President of the National Association of Social Workers—New York City Chapter. She is a founding member of the AntiRacist Alliance.
Lisa V. Blitz, Ph.D., LCSW-R, is a social worker, researcher, and educator with 25 years of experience in mental health and social justice centering on culturally responsive trauma-informed practice and organizational development.