Racism Permeates Social Work Ideology and Practice

Part of the Practical Social Work book series (PSWS)


White social workers’ fond belief in their liberalism and non-judgemental open mindness is endorsed in a study by Bagley and Young (1982). This suggests that social workers are more ‘racially tolerant’ than the general populace because only 3 per cent of them are racialist, i.e. hold crude racist views, compared with 20 per cent of the population as a whole. By identifying racism primarily in its overt forms at the level of attitudes, this definition of racism focuses on personal forms of racism and endorses its manifestation as the preserve of fanatical right-wing movements, groups and individuals. Making racism in social work practice a matter of individual import ignores the role of institutionalised racism and discounts the significance of indirect or unintentional racism. It pathologises the overtly racist few, ignores the subtle racism of the majority, and obscures the interconnections between structural forces and personal behaviour. Moreover, it converts racism into a matter which can be educated away, thereby ignoring the link between its eradication and the transformation of our socio-economic and political structures. Also, because only a ‘few’ white social workers are considered racist, it condones the belief that anti-racist struggles are activities which a small number of white social workers undertake as either educational exercises promoting understanding of other people and their cultures, or political activities undertaken outside working hours.


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© British Association of Social Workers 1997

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