Social Work in Black and White

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The sign on the door of my first student internship for social work said “empowering women, eliminating racism.”  I wondered how a nonprofit agency that was most known for sheltering abuse victims hoped to eliminate racism. I also wondered how I had missed this mission in all my other professional experiences. Why this place, and why not other agencies that promote the wellness of their patrons? It all circles around a concept called Critical Race Theory (CRT).

Social workers, jacks of all trades, work with all kinds of people in need. For instance, those with substance use disorder, persons with mental health concerns, homelessness, advocacy for children, adoption cases, palliative care, and even social justice campaigns. The dynamic nature of social work is that it must be inclusive and must place its primary focus on helping people in need.

Social Work Code of Ethics

The code of ethics set by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) boasts the purpose of the work in its preamble, “to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty,” (NASW, 2021.) Critical race theorists take this noble calling to the next level by calling out racism when and where they see it, with special focus on the systemic racism roots that causes individual problems, (Sule, 2021, para. 3).

Institutional Racism and Social Work

The black and white of it, so to speak, is that institutional racism directly creates a disproportionately Black service population.  Wage disparity, poverty, single parent households, incarceration, teen pregnancy, doubled infant mortality, and lack of equity in property plague Black communities at alarming rates compared to their white counterparts, (Moore, 2021, para. 2). Therefore, this means that the social worker must assume the importance and intersectionality of race in all service interactions at individual, group and systemic levels to practice ethically. To see this racial injustice on such a scale and not take action would be a debasement of the helping profession.

In conclusion, collaborating with an agency that validates the systemic injustice to both women and minority populations has been inspiring. I am fueled by the action this agency takes with individuals, groups and policy advocacy. I am proud to work with an agency that connects with the booming voice of CRT as it boldly identifies and names racist and sexist practices. This is what the work is, and exactly what it should be.

By: Alicia Wassenich, EKU social work student

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Moore, S.  African Americans: Practice Interventions. Encyclopedia of Social Work. Retrieved 4 Oct. 2021, from

National Association of social Workers (NASW). NASW – National Associacion of Social Workers. (n.d.).

Sulé, V.  Critical Race Theory. Encyclopedia of Social Work. Retrieved 3 Oct. 2021, from

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