By Wurzweiler Faculty
We appreciate the Stern College students for expressing their thoughts in public discourse on the tough issues of systemic racism, public protest, and the cultural shifts we are witnessing and living through at this moment in history. These are critical issues in our time. Students, faculty, and staff in undergraduate and graduate programs should engage in thoughtful analysis, commentary, and finally, take action.
As social workers, scholars, and educators, it is imperative that we contribute to the discourse. We spend a lot of time at Wurzweiler understanding not just what historical and systemic racism is, but also how it translates into the daily lives of our citizens today, as well as how it disproportionately impacts, degrades, and devalues people of color. In the cases of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Michael Chauvin, Rayshard Brooks, Daniel Prude, Atatiana Jefferson, Aura Rosser, Botham Jean, Stephon Clark, Philando Castille, Alton Sterling, Michelle Cusseaux, Fredrick Gray, Janisha Fonville, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Ahmaud Aubury, and many more, there were clear examples of denial of due process which led to the unnecessary deaths of our citizens. These are the names of those killed in recent memory, but the list could continue and extend back to and before the Jim Crow era.
Black Lives Matter is experienced by many as an extension of the Civil Rights movement; a 21st Century endeavor to call attention to disparities in policing, housing, health care, education, and voting rights. This is a large movement that endeavors to complete the unfinished business from the 20th Century, which spawned the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964. While many advances have been achieved, the facts before us cannot be ignored; grave injustices and inequalities continue to exist.
Black men, women, and children have been the subjects of systemic racism in our country for more than 400 years. Black men are 50% more likely to be wrongly accused and convicted of crimes (1). One in 1,000 black men are killed by a police officer (2). Black male offenders continue to receive longer sentences than similarly situated White male offenders. Black male offenders received sentences on average 19.1 percent longer than similarly situated White male offenders (3).
The argument “all lives matter” can be experienced as a denial of the unique dangers and inequities facing the Black community. To say “Black lives matter” is not to say other lives don’t matter, but says there are unique dynamics that have resulted in a sense that Black lives did not matter. If you are a Black man or woman who has lived in a country where those empowered by privilege, status, or title unjustly and systematically treat Black human beings with reckless disregard for their lives. It is as if your house is on fire and you are seeking help to put the fire out. There are other houses that matter too, but they are not on fire at this moment.
The data shared here is but the tip of the iceberg. There are other ways in which our major institutions have created disadvantages. They involve policies, laws, and informal practices around housing, lending, city planning and zoning, access to education, medical research, access to medical care, law enforcement, policing patterns, and sentencing patterns. All of our major institutions have held hands to create what James A. Kushner in 1980 labeled ‘Apartheid in America.’ It is time for all of us to become students of inequity, to understand what it is and how it is written onto human lives and experiences, and, with that understanding, to help create change.
At Wurzweiler, this is our work. We understand human pain and work together to better understand the ways in which systems and policies impact human lives, sometimes forever. While any one of us may not be personally responsible for inequity, we must recognize our role in not perpetuating racism and working diligently to create an equal and just society for all.
Debbie Akerman, PhD, LCSW
Charles Auerbach, Ph.D, LCSW
Joan Beder, LCSW, DSW
Nancy Beckerman, LCSW, DSW
Timothy B. Conley, Ph. D., LCSW, CAS
Jill Becker Feigeles PhD LCSW
Hanni Flaherty, LCSW, PhD
Ronnie Glassman, DSW, LCSW
Lisa Henshaw, LCSW, PhD
Lynn Levy, LCSW, PhD
Susan Mason, LCSW, PhD
Akiva Perlman, PhD
Tzipora Shub, LCSW
Sari Skolnik, LCSW, PhD
Gary L. Stein, JD, MSW
Christine Vyshedsky, LCSW