By Dean Scott Ryan
School of Social Work
Photo Courtesy of the Association for the Study
of African American Life and History
In its preamble, the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics (2021) states “the primary mission of the Social Work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.”
The preamble emphasizes that Social Workers must promote social justice and social change on behalf of clients (individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities). To successfully promote social justice and social change, Social Workers must inherently practice resistance.
This resistance can be in the form of fighting against oppressive laws and policies, fighting against discrimination, economic, and racial inequality, fighting against institutions and organizations causing injustices such as law enforcement with police misconduct, an ineffective criminal justice system, and failing schools.
This type of resistance is what the Association for the Study of African American Life and History meant when they selected the theme for Black History Month 2023 to be “Black Resistance”, according to ASALH’s website.
The resistance is to “ongoing oppression, in all forms, especially the racial terrorism of lynching, racial pogroms, and police killings since our arrival upon these shores,” states ASALH in the explanation of this year’s theme, with the definition of "pogroms" meaning an organized massacre of a particular ethnic group.
According to the Pew Research Center (2023), “Black Americans’ resistance to racial inequality has deep roots in U.S. history and has taken many forms - from slave rebellions during the Colonial era and through the Civil War to protest movements in the 1950s, ’60s and today. But Black Americans have also built institutions to support their communities such as churches, colleges and universities, printing presses, and fraternal organizations. These movements and institutions have stressed the importance of freedom, self-determination, and equal protection under the law.”
This long history of resistance to oppression is what we are being reminded of this year.
Tragically, the need for this resistance is even more important as we continue to see the structure and culture of our policing system fail the very citizens it alleges to protect. We see this seemingly play out all too frequently in our communities.
We saw this with Friday’s release of the video showing the incomprehensible beating and killing of Tyre Nichols by a gang of Memphis police officers. This despicable and upsetting violence perpetrated by individuals sworn to uphold the law is a clear example of the failure of our policing system.
For certain, there are also shameful efforts underway to minimize the understanding of Black people’s historical struggles. Look no further than Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. This month, he barred Florida high schools from teaching a pilot course in AP African American studies.
DeSantis called the curriculum “woke” and an “indoctrination.” The curriculum covers units such as “Freedom, Enslavement, and Resistance.” DeSantis’ efforts present a new generation of all races, ethnicities and genders with a modern opportunity to “resist.”
“This is a call to everyone, inside and outside the academy, to study the history of Black Americans’ responses to establish safe spaces, where Black life can be sustained, fortified, and respected,” the organization said. The battle is not just Black people’s. It is all people’s.
As Social Workers, per the NASW Code of Ethics (2021), we are obligated to advocate against injustices, against oppression, and advocate against institutions that fail in providing service, social justice, and the dignity and worth of the person.
This year’s Black History Month theme perfectly expresses the continued need of “Black Resistance” and is a reminder to Social Workers that resistance to injustices is part of our mandate.
As former U.S. Representative John Lewis (D-Ga) stated on Twitter in 2018, two years before his death: “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble."
Click the following link and participate in Black History Month events: https://asalh.org/festival/
Scott D. Ryan
Dean and Professor
School of Social Work
The University of Texas at Arlington