Marta is interviewing for an internship at a nonprofit agency that offers a variety of services to a large urban population. Because the population the agency serves is ethnically and racially diverse, the interviewer asks Marta how she would handle working with racially diverse populations. Marta responds, “Oh, I would treat everyone the same regardless of their race. I would listen to what they have to say and try to meet their needs based on their presenting concern. Everyone has the same types of concerns regardless of race or ethnicity.”
Marta’s response may be well intentioned, but is it the proper response for a social work professional?
In your everyday interactions with your clients, once they have presented their concerns, it can be easy to focus on the micro or mezzo work, primarily utilizing your theoretical and practice behavior skills. As a generalist and clinical social worker, you will rely on your finely tuned knowledge base and skills, on which much of your education will be founded, to effectively work with your clients. But what about meeting their needs at the societal level? What does the NASW Code of Ethics say about social workers’ response to diversity and their responsibilities to their clients?
This week you will analyze the impact of racism and privilege on your clients and analyze concepts related to racism present in a case study. You will also apply relevant social work skills to that case. Then, you will analyze how discrimination impacts clients of multiple races or ethnicities.
Adams, M., Blumenfeld, W. J., Castaneda, C., Catalano, D. C. J., DeJong, K., Hackman, H. W,… Zuniga, X. (Eds.). (2018). Readings for diversity and social justice (4th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge Press.
Chapter 12, (pp. 87-96)
Chapter 13, (pp. 96-102)
Chapter 15, (pp. 106-111)
National Association of Social Workers. (2007). Institutional racism & the social work profession: A call to action. Retrieved from https://www.socialworkers.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=SWK1aR53FAk%3d&portalid=0
Plummer, S.-B., Makris, S., & Brocksen S. M. (Eds.). (2014). Social work case studies: Foundation year. Baltimore, MD: Laureate International Universities Publishing. [Vital Source e-reader].
Working With Individuals: The Case of Mary”
Mary is a 47-year-old, single, heterosexual Caucasian female. She lives with her 52-year-old sister and 87-year-old father in the home in which she was raised. She also has a 45-year-old sister who lives 10 minutes away and a 23-year-old daughter living on her own. Mary and her family members do not maintain friendships outside the family. Mary has been unable to work for the past 3 years because she says she has felt too frightened to go too far from her home. As a result, she has been financially reliant on her family members for these last few years. Prior to this lapse in employment, she had been a school bus driver and an administrative assistant at a warehouse distribution center. Mary has no history of drug or alcohol abuse. She is well groomed and physically fit with a diagnosis of hypoactive thyroid, for which she is treated with Synthroid®. Mary was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and adjustment disorder, not otherwise specified (NOS) by the clinic psychiatrist.
Before meeting with me, Mary saw a social worker in a private practice for 2 years. She entered treatment with that clinician because she said she was traumatized by a romantic relationship with a married African American man she had met at work. Her trauma symptoms began 6 months after she ended the yearlong romantic relationship. Mary said the romance occurred because he had “brainwashed” her, as there could be no other reason she would have slept with him. Mary believes that bad people are capable of “brainwashing” good people to perform bad deeds. Mary was raised in a home that espoused racism, and she and her family members believe that African Americans and other people of color are untrustworthy and bad. She said, “I take after my father, and he thinks black people are just evil.” Mary said she understands her feelings about race are not right.
Mary considered her initial attempt at treatment unsuccessful for two reasons. First, she felt the therapist (a Caucasian woman) judged her and her family harshly for their racial beliefs and this got in the way of the two of them building a trusting working relationship. Second, she did not feel relief from her PTSD symptoms. Mary ended the relationship with that social worker 6 months ago. Mary then approached her primary care physician about her symptoms, and the doctor prescribed an antidepressant. When, after 3 months, Mary asked to have her dosage increased, the doctor suggested that she get a psychiatric evaluation and consider returning to therapy. Mary’s insurance company suggested our agency for the psychiatric evaluation and approved 10 sessions.
Mary said she felt sad, frightened, and anxious most of the time. She had no appetite, slept most of the day, had no interest in dressing, and rarely left the house. When she did go out, she felt the need to be accompanied by of one of her sisters.
Mary presented as angry during our initial sessions. She requested that one of her sisters attend the sessions with her, to which I agreed. My intent in agreeing to have her sister in the room was to help Mary feel safe and create a strong rapport. During the early sessions, most of what Mary said began as half sentences that she asked her sister to complete. Mary referred to her sisters as her “caretakers and minders” who “know me better than I know myself so you should talk to them.” Mary said that if she talked for herself she would get “it wrong.” The “it” and the “wrong” remained elusive in meaning when I asked her what that meant.
Mary agreed, after two sessions, to meet with me alone. We used our first individual session to establish Mary’s goals for therapy. Among her goals was developing ways she could feel safer about going outside alone. Over the next eight sessions, I used cognitive behavioral therapy interventions to help Mary build coping strategies for recognizing triggers to frightening thoughts and to help her manage her anxiety symptoms. I also used psychoeducational interventions to help Mary develop routines for proper sleep hygiene, healthy eating, and regular exercise.
After several sessions, Mary shared insight into her feelings about dating an African American man. Mary said that being attracted to an African American man frightened her and that there was no future for her relationship with this man because he was married. Mary believed that she had jeopardized her secure position in the family because being with an African American man challenged the family’s ideas about race and their view of themselves as separate and unique from non-family members. Once the family discovered Mary’s relationship with this man, she believed her only way back into their lives was to accept the role of a “crazy sister” in need of protection and whose judgment about people was faulty. By forming a relationship with an African American man, Mary had shown her judgment to be outside of the norm in the conventions of her family.
In our final two sessions, Mary said that she no longer felt like she was the “crazy woman in the family” and she felt safe going to the grocery store alone. It was my impression that Mary may have been the identified patient in her family but exploring this idea would require family therapy.
Post an explanation of the relationship between racism and privilege. Furthermore, explain how the concepts of racism and privilege relate to “Working With Individuals: The Case of Mary.” Explain the impact of racism and privilege on social work practice. Provide recommendations for how you as a social worker might use an empowerment perspective when responding to Mary. Be specific and provide examples from the case. Also, identify specific skills social workers might employ.
Respond to at least two colleagues with a critique of their posts and alternative recommendations for how you as a social worker might respond to Mary and her beliefs. Be specific and provide examples from the case. Also, identify specific skills social workers might employ.
Racism is showing prejudice based on one’s racial classification. Privilege is having individual rights or advantages (Institutional Racism, 2006). The relationship between racism and privilege, the Person who is being discriminated against or the Person doing the discriminating may be privileged in a specific environment. Everyone in Society holds some form of privilege. Using myself as an example, I visit my Mother with my Friend. I’m able to walk into my Mother’s Kitchen and look through the refrigerator. My friend wouldn’t be able to do this, I have the privilege to do so.
Impact of racism and privilege related to “The Case of Mary”, Mary was privileged enough that she didn’t have to work. Mary’s family are racist; they feel that all African Americans are untrustworthy, dangerous, and will brainwash others. I would use Interpersonal Capacity and Collaboration as an empowerment perspective when responding to Mary. I would initiate formal and informal discussions about racism that would address behaviors, attitudes, practices, and policies (Institutional Racism, 2006).
The “norm” in the United states has always been that whites have privilege even though people are been made to believe its not the case. They have and are exposed to some opportunities which is not the case with people of color. Privilege provide an invisible advantage with the majority (whites) getting unearned benefits. Racism is “prejudice plus power” (Adams,. et al. 2018). It can also be considered as that trait that distinguishes people from a particular race from the other especially those from the majority from the minority. The relationship between racism and privilege is, those considered privileged feel superior and better than others of different race which leads to social barrier, discrimination and racism. Those from the privileged race are taught that they are better than those from other races and turn to have the tendency of despising or hating the less privileged races.
In the case of Mary, we can see both concepts of privilege and racism. Mary things she is has privilege over people of color and was also racist to blacks. She states she and her family believe black Americans and other people of color where of no good and cannot be trusted (Plummer, Makris & Brocksen, 2014). They felt their family had no need of friends or relationships outside the family. Mary allowed her family’s belief of racism to control her life and emotions to the extend she had a mental breakdown when she had a relationship with a black American married man. She had to be crazy to get her family’s support (Plummer, Makris & Brocksen, 2014).
The impact of racism and privilege in social work practice can be in both addressing what clients are facing and how to remedy or bring about a change to this social injustice. These they can be done by educating client to recognize the ignorance of privilege and racism. Meaning the majority have to accept that they are a part of the society that they are oppressing. Also, to understand a client’s needs in relation to racism and privilege, a social worker most understand the impact of these two concepts on their clients. Empowering each other by preventing and stopping racism when it is witnessed. The NASW also states some effects of racism and privilege in the social practice which includes lack racial diverse policies and lack of training (NASW, 2007).
A social worker can use the empowerment perspective in helping Mary. Since Mary said she had to be the crazy one of the family to get her family’s backing, the best thing a social worker can is to help her gain her independence and move away from her family’s influence until she is able to express her believe and eventually educating her family. Also focusing of getting Mary comfortable to speak for herself will be vital because in her first 2 session she let her sister speak for her (Plummer, Makris & Brocksen, 2014). Racism is a brainwash which is what Mary was taught. Mary suffered from her family because she had a relationship with a man of color and with this therapy Mary will understand her relationship was not because she was brainwashed by the black man but because her heart went out to him. Lastly, empowering Mary with the resources she will need to get a job will help her also gain independence from her family. The skills or active listening, communication and building rapport will be very important for a social worker working with Mary.
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