From the Pen of the President: August 2020
NASW-Illinois Chapter President Grisel Rodríguez-Morales, MSW, LCSW
I am proud to be part of a meaningful profession with an undeniable commitment to human rights and social justice, that has made immense contributions toward improving human well-being in diverse settings and regions around the world. A profession capable of responding to the social and political crises and challenges that continue to permeate our society.
Last month marked the 15-year anniversary of the heatwave that killed over 700 people in Chicago over the course of a single week: mostly older adults, mostly from communities suffering from decades of economic disinvestment. These are the same communities that have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The same communities that frequently suffer from other plagues, such as violence or racism. In the PBS film, Cooked: Survival by Zip Code, Dr. Linda Murray poignantly says that even if city officials had responded in a more appropriate way to the heatwave, mortality rates in poor communities would have been different than in better resourced communities. Although infuriating, that reality didn’t surprise her. Eric Klinenberg, author of, Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, similarly expressed that the heatwave, “is a story about deeper social fault lines that make some members of a city vulnerable and keep others protected and blissfully ignorant about what’s happening to people who live quite close to them.” These unequal outcomes are essentially racialized outcomes.
In his book, How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram Kendi talks about those who believe, “if we stop identifying by race, then racism will miraculously go away.” I compare these assimilationist ideas with those who practice racial colorblindness, which I believe has no place in our profession. There is also no space for cultural incapacity nor destructiveness, or statements like, “I don’t see color,” or “We are all alike.” This is where cultural competence takes great relevance. The groundbreaking work of Terry Cross has helped us recognize that “competence” implies having the capacity to function effectively as an individual and as an organization within the context of the cultural beliefs, behaviors, and needs presented by consumers and their communities. While it is important to always engage in self-evaluation and to learn from others with humility, we cannot end at the individual level. We also must closely examine the systemic and institutional practices that create racial inequity and injustice.
Our work towards eradicating racism is of highest priority. I have appointed a chapter task force on racial justice. This task force will review the issue of police reform in Illinois, assess where our members stand on this issue, and assist the chapter to identify and develop programs based on members recommendations.
I encourage you to learn more about this newly formed chapter task force on racial justice (available later this month) and to join in this crucial work. Social work has a responsibility to continue working on achieving racial justice and dismantling racism while serving clients within racist systems. The power and voice of our profession must endure!
Grisel Rodríguez-Morales, MSW, LCSW, is Manager of Health Promotion Programs at
Rush University Medical Center. She currently serves as president on the NASW-Illinois Chapter Board of Directors and is former Chicago District Chair.