An outgrowth of the ideology of White supremacy, institutional racism in the U.S. is a manifestation of race-based systemic inequity and exemplifies structural violence. Race-based inequities are non-accidental and demonstrate the systematic and avoidable hardship placed on people of color. White supremacist ideals, which serve to objectify and dehumanize people of color, can be traced to the inception of the U.S.—premised on genocide, a founding economic structure of chattel slavery, and the subsequent socio-political development of a racial hierarchy.
Significant race-based health disparities are evident in life expectancy, morbidity rates, healthcare access, health status and health outcomes for racial/ethnic minorities compared to Whites. While individual-level behaviors influence some health disparities, historical influences and differences in the social determinants of health between racial groups create and perpetuate health disparities in the U.S. Identifying structural violence factors and policy interventions may offer paradigm shifting strategies for creating health equity.
Children and families of color are disproportionately overrepresented in the child welfare system—from identification by Child Protective Services as victims to entry into foster care to waits for adoption. A structural violence perspective highlights how systemic discrimination, poverty, unstable and unsafe housing, inadequate access to quality health/mental health care, and other inequities place families of color at greater risk for child welfare involvement. It also considers whether there is structural violence in the child welfare system itself, which in turn causes further harm and trauma to families of color.
This roundtable's three presenters will provide foundational content in each area within a socio-economic, political and historical framework, highlighting the implications on social work. We will then move into a participant-involved dialogue as to the role of social work and social work research in addressing the disparities and suffering raised by the presenters. The current political environment necessitates forthright discussion of how to effectively strategize and counter the harms done by structural violence, and those in a profession for which social justice is an ethical mandate have a central role to play.