Posted in Social Work

“You’re not black black…Ya Know?”: Social Work and Microaggressions

One thing I have experienced among my years of being a minority in various situations is the role in which Microaggressions play.

Definition for the masses,

Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. – 

As social workers I think it is important that we hold each other accountable, but we must also hold ourselves. Finding yourself in a situation where someone is using microaggresions towards you can be overwhelming, stressful, and debilitating if you feel powerless. When I was first just a young chickadee freshman in undergraduate school I remember accepting a role in a play where we had to portray the seven deadly sins. I accepted the role as Lust. During the rehearsal the student director stopped the play and looked at me saying ” You’re a black man, I know that you know how to be lustful.” I also felt sick, nauseas, embarrassed, and angry. I felt like those 5 minutes turned into 120 minutes. I found the courage however to say ” I’m not sure what you mean by that comment but I want you to know that it is offensive.” Although this student director failed to acknowledge what she meant , my interpretation of it was that as a young black man she found US to be overly sexual. Standing up for myself I felt like I was alone in that room. But as I reflect  on that experience I understand that it is important that we do speak out against them. This is one of many experiences I have had.

Below you will find examples of racial microaggressions to help clarify if you’re confuse, or if you just want to educate others. As social workers we run into these situations among fellow co-workers who may reference towards yourself or another employee, or even a client.

Being competenent is  key to be ing successful.

Examples of Racial Microaggressions




 Theme                                              Microaggresion                           Message

Alien in own land

When Asian Americans and Latino Americans are assumed to be foreign-born

“Where are you from?”
“Where were you born?”
“You speak good English.”
A person asking an Asian American to teach them words in their native language.

You are not American You are a foreigner

Ascription of Intelligence

Assigning intelligence to a person of color on the basis of their race.

“You are a credit to your race.”
“You are so articulate.”
Asking an Asian person to help with a Math or Science problem.

People of color are generally not as intelligent as Whites.
It is unusual for someone of your race to be intelligent.

All Asians are intelligent and good in Math / Sciences.

Color Blindness

Statements that indicate that a White person does not want to acknowledge race

“When I look at you, I don’t see color.”
“America is a melting pot.”
“There is only one race, the human race.”

Denying a person of color’s racial / ethnic experiences.
Assimilate / acculturate to the dominant culture.

Denying the individual as a racial / cultural being.

Criminality – assumption of criminal status
A person of color is presumed to be dangerous, criminal, or deviant on the basis of their race.

A White man or woman clutching their purse or checking their wallet as a Black or Latino approaches or passes.
A store owner following a customer of color around the store.
A White person waits to ride the next elevator when a person of color is on it.

You are a criminal.
You are going to steal / You are poor / You do not belong / You are dangerous.

Denial of individual racism

A statement made when Whites deny their racial biases

“I’m not a racist. I have several Black friends.”
“As a woman, I know what you go through as a racial minority.”

I am immune to races because I have friends of color.
Your racial oppression is no different than my gender oppression. I can’t be a racist. I’m like you.

Myth of meritocracy

Statements which assert that race does not play a role in life successes

“I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”
“Everyone can succeed in this society, if they work hard enough.”

People of color are given extra unfair benefits because of their race. People of color are lazy and / or incompetent and need to work harder.

Pathologizing cultural values / communication styles
The notion that the values and communication styles of the dominant / White culture are ideal

Asking a Black person: “Why do you have to be so loud / animated? Just calm down.”
To an Asian or Latino person: Why are you so quiet? We want to know what you think. Be more verbal.” Speak up more.”

Dismissing an individual who brings up race / culture in work / school setting.

Assimilate to dominant culture. Leave your cultural baggage outside.

Adapted from:

Wing, Capodilupo, Torino, Bucceri, Holder, Nadal, Esquilin (2007). Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Implications for Clinical Practice. American Psychologist, 62, 4, 271-286

Posted in Social Work

NASW Code Of Ethics 6.04

I have seen many social workers turn their heads to political statements made in our country. Social Work IS Political. We cannot avoid this or pretend that it’s not. We are bound by our code of ethics to advocate for individuals, groups, or class that are being exploited,or  discriminated against. This includes taking a stand against the following: Police brutality, discrimination against sexual orientations, sexism, racism, and religious persecution, etc. Don’t take the credentials if you aren’t willing to take on the job. As a profession WE MAKE MOVES. We make things happen. We are transformative and impactful to decades of work in this country. We have people who today in this country feel powerless, abandoned, and hopeless. As a profession let’s EMPOWER, and restore voices where they belong. This includes …. you guessed it, accepting that Social Work is political. 

Posted in Social Work

Standing Up When Everyone Else is Sitting Down

How does one stand for what’s right when they are standing alone? 

This question has been one that I used to spend some time thinking about, especially once I started doing field work. Looking through history there has been several great leaders and activist who initially started their movements by standing alone. Being a young 20 something working in the beautiful foothills and mountains of West Virginia there are ideas or world views that sadly do not align with my very own. To refer back to the initial question How does one stand for what’s right when they are standing alone? I think what this question is truly asking is How does one stand up for what’s right when they may lose everything? This isn’t meant to be dramatic or philosophical, however it is meant to cause one to really think, really examine their perspectives and motives.

As a social worker or any helping professional you may find yourself in a situation where the people around you are stuck in a rut of prejudices and cultural incompetencies, however it is important to stand up for what is right. How many of us have heard jokes perpetuating racial, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, stereotypes or stigmas that are harmful? With that same question in mind How many of us have expressed that those things are harmful?

This is just a little entry expressing some thoughts. I find it important to share with the people around me in my professional settings that their words have consequences. As social workers we work towards being cultural competent. We also work towards inclusion and dignity. Sometimes you have to be the one for change to happen. Don’t be afraid of people looking at you weird or telling you to “chill.” We are meant to be bold in our profession.

Posted in Social Work

“He took All his baggage with him”: Emotional Baggage

The idea of emotional baggage can sound either cheesy or exhausting, however I am here to share how it can really put things into perspective when working with teens. I recently found myself doing a series on emotional baggage with a group teens that create discussions around why processing is effective and healthy. At one point in our lives we have encountered a situation that has created a “permanent” spot in our cart of problems and messes. As professionals we have learned to deal with them in healthy ways, however many teens have not. Being a teen is already filled with problems of dramatic teen angst and school dances, however adding trauma, broken homes, poverty, and substance abuse creates a whole world of problems that only some people will come to ever know or understand.

Understanding emotional baggage and its impact on your life allows for individuals to see the positive intentions for using substances or participating in destructive behaviors. It gives them a perspective that was either buried or clouded by their own irrational thoughts to processing. In discussing emotional baggage I found that it was helpful to sum it up with a comic strip found at the begging of this post.  Physically runaway doesn’t solve many of the problems that have become rooted mentally. Using tactics such as distraction or escape also are only temporary approaches.

Group Approaches I’ve found useful:

  • Using actual suitcases or bags to mirror the physical weight of emotional baggage
  • Writing your emotional baggage on luggage tags and clipping on to a suitcase
  • Connecting feeling to situations and discussing the benefits and cost to discussing them ( Cost Benefit Analysis)


Posted in Social Work

“The Little People” : Cultural Humility

Social workers shall function in accordance with the values, ethics, and standards of the NASW (2008) Code of Ethics. Cultural competence requires self-awareness, cultural humility, and the commitment to understanding and embracing culture as central to effective practice.

Cultural Competence – National Association of Social Workers

One of the things I find so important about social work and cultural competence is “cultural humility.” I have seen a few times that professionals who hold degrees my feel that they are more qualified than they really are (Clients are the experts, another topic) and end up causing more harm to the individuals they are working with. I find it helpful to step back and attempt to understand where my client is coming from by simply listening. As a professional it is okay to admit they you don’t know or are’t aware. Allowing clients to  share who they are, their experiences, their opinions is what makes social workers unique. The idea that our practice is rooted in client experiences and interaction. I simply love when my clients can educate me and teach me things. You should never assume that you know something. Its better to ask questions then make guesses that could potentially be harmful. Sometimes clients may feel uncomfortable expressing that what you are saying is harmful. Below is a few TIPS 

  1. Don’t be afraid to admit to yourself that you don’t know
  2. Don’t be afraid to admit to your client that you don’t know
  3. Be willing to let them teach and educate you
  4. Be willing to be open minded
  5. Just because you’ve never encountered or experienced something doesn’t mean it never happened

One example that will always stay with me is one in which one of my former professors shared from her practice. She expressed that she was called into a school to work with a young girl who was referred by her teachers. Adults in the classroom expressed that the student was expressing that she was seeing imaginary people around her. Her teacher and other staff felt that she was too old to be engaged in such things. Once my professor met with the students parent she found out that what the girl was describing was something native to her culture. He mother expressed that in their culture children her daughters age do see “The little people” and that to them it was normal.

An interesting example, but a good example about why cultural competency is important.