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News & Press: NASW-Michigan News

NASW-Michigan Statement on Charlottesville Violence & Responding to Hate

Thursday, August 17, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Duane Breijak
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Dear NASW-Michigan members, fellow social workers, and social justice allies,


With the recent events in Charlottesville, and the many other hate crimes and protests that have occurred over the past several months, we have spent a great deal of time engaged in conversations related to the state of our nation and all communities in which we are missioned to serve. The President’s recent comments are disheartening to say the least. This is now, more than ever a call-to-action for us as social workers and allies to contact our State Representatives and Senators and to join other likeminded groups. This is now a time to ensure our communities that we offer safe spaces to receive care and services without judgment regarding one’s race, ethnicity, gender, religious beliefs, gender identity, sexual orientation and other identifiers which have historically led to the marginalization of people and communities in our Nation. We ask that you refer to the Code of Ethics to help continue providing services and advocacy.


NASW National, NASW-Michigan, and other chapters throughout the country are taking active roles in resisting the hate groups and messages that exist.  We hope you will join us at the annual Legislative, Education & Advocacy Day (LEAD) at the Lansing Center on November 1st to advocate and learn with nearly 1,000 social workers. This 6 CE event will have a wide range of workshops, including topics on civil rights and hate crimes, effective lobbying techniques, the basics of running for office, what social workers need to know about the opioid crisis, the intersection of criminal justice and social work, community organizing with veterans, and how to respond to xenophobia and islamaphobia. Registration will be open soon at We hope this event will expand your skillset and create new collaborations across the state.


We have recently received a memo written by Professor Jessica Toft, PhD, LISW. She is the current Board President for the Minnesota Chapter:


“The National Association of Social Workers establishes and maintains the ethical code and standard by which all practicing social workers are bound. Perhaps even more important, the NASW Code of Ethics has been developed by social workers and social work leaders over the years to represent the values of what is inherently and inescapably a value-laden profession that works with and on behalf of those disenfranchised and oppressed in the United States. The Code requires us to challenge social injustice (see relevant portions below), and that is why I am writing to you today.


Recently, the President of the United States essentially retracted his condemnation for the hate groups’ display of violence, including the vehicular homicide of a young woman and 19 injured in Charlottesville, Virginia by comparing them to protestors of hate groups. In his press conference on Tuesday afternoon, he stated that, “Well I do think there is blame. Yes, I think there is blame on both sides. You look at both sides. I think there is blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it. …” (New York Times, Aug. 15, 2017). He equates the actions of white supremacist and fascist groups to the protestors of these hate groups.


Our conscience and knowledge as social workers simply counter such an ahistorical representation and view of the state of racism, antisemitism, xenophobia, and misogyny of this country.

The facts of the matter are that white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK showed up in a college town with lit torches, guns, shields, bats, hooded robes, and inciting speech. Many of these are historically documented symbols and tactics used to intimidate and control African Americans. Virginia had 90 confirmed lynchings between 1877 to 1950 amid a backdrop of 3,959 total in the South alone. The Equal Justice Initiative (2015) states, “Lynchings were violent and public acts of torture that traumatized black people … and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials” ( Some were held on courthouse lawns and attended by elected officials, a contention Ida B. Wells seconded in her historic recounting (Wells, 1970). During the 1930s, anti-lynching laws were often proposed, but Southern senators filibustered these bills. History shows that elected officials rarely protected African Americans in the South.


Thus, the sight of torches and hooded robes in Virginia reenacts these dreaded historical scenes and what for African Americans, especially, is a painful history of racial violence with impunity. To describe the motivations and actions in a similar light between white supremacists and protesters of hate groups disregards United States history and replicates the omission of appropriate blame and accountability by elected officials.

In today’s world of Tweets and revisionist history, we must hold up the documented stories and witnessed history of the United States as part of our mission to fight for social justice. We should also be alert to an unfortunate historical legacy. The Southern Poverty Law Center has documented 917 hate groups across the country (  CNN reports that the total number of hate groups from the presidential campaign season (2014) to today is up by 17%.


Regardless of your race, political affiliation, socioeconomic class, religion, or sex, these facts should alarm you. Although full democracy has always been aspirational, rather than truly realized, the blatant challenge of hate groups to the promise of equality and unity should be countered by the President and by social workers. None of us are fully a member if some of us are not. The white supremacists’ creed that certain of us should not be equal is a cut too deep for any democracy, aspirational or otherwise.


As social workers, we should contact our elected officials to ask them to speak out against the President’s softening tone regarding groups that endorse racism and scenes of historical hate. Also speak with your colleagues and family members and urge them to contact their elected officials. The call of unity must begin with our recognition of each other’s equal humanity and Hannah Arendt’s contention that we all have the right to have rights.”


In solidarity,

Abigail Eiler, LMSW                                                             

Board President, NASW-Michigan Chapter.

Maxine Thome, PhD, LMSW

Executive Director, NASW-Michigan Chapter.

Read the full NASW Statement Here

Selected relevant sections from the NASW Code of Ethics:


The second value in the Code states:

Ethical Principle: Social workers challenge social injustice.
Social workers pursue social change, particularly with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people. Social workers’ social change efforts are focused primarily on issues of poverty, unemployment, discrimination, and other forms of social injustice. These activities seek to promote sensitivity to and knowledge about oppression and cultural and ethnic diversity. Social workers strive to ensure access to needed information, services, and resources; equality of opportunity; and meaningful participation in decision making for all people.


In the Social and Political area, the Code specifically states:

6.04 (c) Social workers should promote conditions that encourage respect for cultural and social diversity within the United States and globally. Social workers should promote policies and practices that demonstrate respect for difference, support the expansion of cultural knowledge and resources, advocate for programs and institutions that demonstrate cultural competence, and promote policies that safeguard the rights of and confirm equity and social justice for all people.

(d) Social workers should act to prevent and eliminate domination of, exploitation of, and discrimination against any person, group, or class on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, marital status, political belief, religion, immigration status, or mental or physical disability

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