As social workers, we call on NASW to nationally mobilize our profession in response to the killing of Trayvon Martin and so many others before and after him. We must move to stop the dehumanization we observe in both the killings and in the events occurring around the investigations of these deaths. We understand that this is not an isolated incident, but a manifestation of the structural racism embedded in the systems and institutions we encounter in our work. We witness structural racism in: child welfare, criminal justice, child and family work, education, etc. The arrest and prosecution of one murderer will do nothing to address the broad application of violence as one arm of this oppression.
Institutional racism is one of our nation’s greatest barriers to reaching its potential. It causes ongoing trauma in communities of color and is damaging to the white community. In our work/agency setting, we observe the ongoing impact of historical trauma experienced by people of color since their enslavement. Trauma prevents people from actualizing themselves and from fulfilling their potential—both for those who experience it and those who witness it. Racism engenders fear of moving outside of segregated communities; of having meaningful cross-racial dialogues; of authentic interracial relationships; and it challenges the mental health of our nation.
The social work community cannot continue to offer symptom management to people suffering from the effects of trauma without speaking to the structures that continue to inflict trauma on individuals, families, and communities. We have a responsibility to find our collective humanity. We are accountable to actions that dismantle manifestations of structural racism. We must challenge laws like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” and practices such as “stop-and-frisk.” The racially based disproportionate application of these types of procedures legalizes, maintains, and upholds structural racism.
We call on NASW to take action. We will not become hopeless, numb, silent, and immobilized. We must use our skills and our profession to stand in solidarity with the communities we serve in order to create a future of equity, justice, and hope, as our professional values and ethics demand.