Belonging to an ethnic group is always a challenge because it becomes the source of isolation either discretionary or forced in response to various oppressive forces such as discrimination, prejudice, sexism, homophobia, ageism, etc. as well as differing prejudices and biases. This paper will focus on evaluating oppression of African Americans. It will investigate the stereotypes and biases they face as well as the steps they have taken to challenge oppressive forces. Moreover, the paper will provide insight into the role of social workers in the process of handling these challenges and determine the benefits of this experience for the further professional activities.
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African Americans face a great variety of stereotypes and biases, which make their lives complicated and sophisticate their socialization with other ethnic minorities, especially dominant groups (Diller, 2010). First of all, they are believed to be less educated than white people.
This stereotype is true for both adults and children. It can be easily explained by historical consciousness, i.e. remembering the epoch of enslavement when the black people were illiterate and had no opportunity to obtain education, and insufficient supply of educational resources such as books, study materials, and qualified teachers at segregated schools for black kids. Even though the times have changed and, nowadays, African American children, for the most part, have equal access to education, the stereotype remains and has become a source of obstacles in their lives.
Another source of bias against African Americans is their gender. It is the area of intersection of racism, ageism, and sexism. That said, black men are often seen as the source of danger to white society while black women are less threatening.
Because of it, however, there is the difference in the level of oppression against African American males and females. Because maleness is believed to be a source of power and physical strength, these are black women, who more frequently than men fall victims to discrimination and assault (Diller, 2010). The same can be said about age. Children, who attend schools where they belong to a racial minority, often prefer not to go to classes because they are afraid of being prejudiced. If it were not for their personal experience, they would not have been afraid.
One more way to oppress African Americans is to isolate them by adopting corresponding legislation. This phenomenon is known as racial segregation. However, it can be aggravated by prohibiting interracial marriages or transracial adoptions (Schaefer, 2012). Taking similar steps aims at making it impossible for the representatives of racial minorities to disclose from their ethnic group and integrated into the dominant one. Finally, black people are believed to be poor not because they lack knowledge or skills but do not have the entrepreneurial drive and spend most of their time and energy on sex, gangs, and drugs instead of developing and achieving goals (Pinder, 2010).
Even though being an African American meant being a subject of oppression, for the most part, they managed to overcome this problem. Of course, the challenge of discrimination and prejudice remains, but its level is individual instead of overall established by the law. African Americans took several steps to handle this problem. Fundamentally, all of them included mass activities because only demonstrating unity could contribute to amending legislation.
Primary tools for challenging various oppressive forces, especially discrimination, included fighting for civil rights, racial equality, social justice, and desegregation of public places such as schools, restaurants, theaters, cinemas, hospitals, and even churches. It includes numerous strategies for reaching the set objective from civil rights marches to sit-ins and kneel-ins, which suggest that black people refused to leave the public places where they would not be serviced or permitted to pray in the same church with white people (Haynes, 2012; Landsberg, 2014). These steps not only contributed to establishing relative social equality but also helped develop tolerance towards people of the black minority.
Another response to oppression was creating African Americans’ own music and religion. By doing so, African Americans prompted that they are not interested in popular culture; all they need is having equal rights and access to primary needs such as healthcare, education, housing, employment, etc. (Pinder, 2010). The accent is made on preserving uniqueness but having the right to decent living and self-determination, i.e. the right to decide which social group to stick to – black or white.
Because discrimination and prejudice are issues of personal choice, this problem can be handled with the help of social workers. Social workers responded to this challenge by developing the framework for dealing with it, which aims at totally integrating African Americans into society and making white people see the blacks and treat them as equals not because they are obliged to by the legislation, but because they are willing to do so.
Their framework consists of four frames and rests on the postulates of color-blind racism. The first one is referred to as abstract liberalism. It implies transmitting economics to social affairs and creating the society of equal opportunities and individualism where everyone would be free to choose what is best for them and face no limitations in making these choices. The second frame is known as naturalization, i.e. promoting the idea that race is a natural occurrence.
That is why it cannot serve as a criterion for disintegration and oppression. The third one is introducing the concept of cultural racism. Social workers believe that racism has nothing to do with race as such. Instead, it derives from the cultural background and upbringing. This frame aims at stopping the inertial belief that blacks are worse than whites and can be treated in a different way. Finally, the fourth frame is minimization of racism. The idea behind this frame is to make white people understand that everyone has a place in the sun whether it is education or employment. Moreover, social workers promote the idea that race is not a determinant of success anymore because there are enough opportunities for everyone to succeed in life (Bonilla-Silva, 2013).
In addition to it, social workers aim at achieving a set of objectives, which would eradicate the problem of racism from social consciousness. These goals are as follows: to motivate leaders to promote the idea of focusing on competence and qualification instead of race; develop culturally competent workspace; to engage community to solving the challenge of racial inequality; to foster cooperation between institutions located at different levels of social system to handle the issue; to organize trainings for the better understanding of the history or racism and its negative impact on the quality of life of those belonging to ethnic groups (Social Work Policy Institute, 2014).
However, it should be noted that the framework and objectives mentioned above are general and should be adapted with regard to peculiarities of the place of social worker’s practice.
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In the conclusion, it should be said that working with culturally diverse groups is positive not only for those belonging to these groups but also social workers. Learning from the life experience of those oppressed is beneficial for designing new programs of fighting for racial equality and social justice because social workers obtain an opportunity to find out the details of oppression and, thus, focus on eradicating similar problems. Moreover, it can help social workers become better people and members of society and bring up their children as decent people, who treat others equally without regard to their gender, race, and cultural or socioeconomic background. All in all, such experience would help realize that the issue of racial inequality is a real matter of concern, which should be paid attention to and handled.
Bonilla-Silva, E. (2013). Racism without racists: Color-blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in America (4th ed.). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Diller, J. V. (2014). Cultural diversity: A primer for the human services (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Brooks Cole.
Haynes, S. R. (2012). The last segregated hour: The Memphis kneel-ins and the campaign for Southern Church desegregation. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Landsberg, B. K. (2014). Enforcing desegregation: A case study of federal district court power and social change in Macon County, Alabama. Law & Society Review, 48(4), 867-891.
Pinder, S. O. (2010). The politics of race and ethnicity in the United States: Americanization, de-americanization, and racialized ethnic groups. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Schaefer, R. T. (2012). Racial and ethnic groups (13th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Social Work Policy Institute. (2014). Achieving racial equality: Calling the social work profession to action. Web.