The aim of most social workers and social welfare agencies is to promote equality for all and ensure that populations are not disproportionately suffering based on a demographic factor. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case. The Progressive welfare movement, one of the early groups that aimed to promote social welfare as a cause, was run primarily by middle-class affluent white people (Stern & Axinn, 2011). Some criticize the Progressive movement for aiming to socially control immigrants, and others suggest that organizations and others of its time disproportionately neglected African-American women. Immigrants were made to conform to American family values and standards as it was believed that this would alleviate them of their poverty (Lavalette & Penketh, 2014). African-Americans, particularly women, were excluded from the first welfare legislation and programs were not established in majority African-American areas (Lavalette & Penketh, 2014). Additionally, benefits themselves were often distributed on the basis of qualifying factors that excluded African-American mothers (Lavalette & Penketh, 2014).
Unfortunately, African-Americans are still disproportionately affected by racism in public welfare and in almost all areas of life. The National Association of Social Workers, for example, states that there is a disregard “for personal rights and human dignity” that prevents “visibility identifiable people of color who apply for assistance at a disadvantage (2016, p.68). It has also been noted that social services and social workers themselves are not blameless. The main reason for this is that the system is designed by, and mainly delivered by, people of European descent and many of the recommendations made are based on research that pushes people of color towards a European American ideal (Lavalette & Penketh, 2014). This necessarily excludes African-Americans, for example, who have a different family system and different norms, or recent immigrants who are unfamiliar with social systems like the “mainstream” American one (Lavalette & Penketh, 2014).
- Lavalette, M., & Penketh, L. (2014). Race, racism and social work: Contemporary issues and debates. Policy Press.
- NASW Press. (2015). Social Work Speaks, 10th Edition: NASW Policy Statements (10th edition). Washington, D.C: NASW Press.
- Stern, M. J., & Axinn, J. (2011). Social Welfare: A History of the American Response to Need Plus MySocialWorkLab with eText — Access Card Package (8 edition). Pearson.