Abstract: Colorblind Attitudes and Shame As Barriers to Social Work Critical Race Praxis: Results from a Survey of White MSW Students (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Colorblind Attitudes and Shame As Barriers to Social Work Critical Race Praxis: Results from a Survey of White MSW Students

Friday, January 17, 2020
Capitol, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Kristen Brock-Petroshius, MSW, PhD Student, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Javier Garcia-Perez, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Laura Abrams, PhD, Professor, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Background: Racism is both a core problem social work aims to address and an unresolved issue within social work education and practice.  Social work education efforts to train students to advance racial equity in their practice (racial justice praxis) have largely focused on curriculum or knowledge-based approaches.  However, extensive research has shown that affective responses, the emotions that become salient regarding racial issues, play a core role in shaping explicit racial attitudes and behaviors.  Social work education can thus better prepare white social workers for racial justice praxis by addressing the emotional responses that can facilitate or block anti-racist behaviors.

The key question guiding this paper is: what are the cognitive, affective, and behavioral patterns of white MSW students in response to racial issues?  Based on prior studies, we hypothesize that both colorblind racial attitudes and racial affective responses of empathy, fear, guilt, and shame are significant predictors of anti-racist action.  Specifically we predict that fear and shame are correlated with decreased levels of anti-racist action while empathy and guilt are correlated with increased levels of anti-racist action.

Methods:A cross-sectional survey of MSW students in California was conducted in May 2018 with a convenience sample of 135 white respondents from across 73% of MSW programs in the state.  Measures included the Color-Blind Racial Attitudes Scale (CoBRAS), Psychosocial Costs of Racism to Whites Scale (PCRW), the Anti-Racism Behavioral Inventory (ARBI), and the Guilt and Shame-Proneness Scale (GASP). Demographic questions were also included.  Analysis consisted of Ordinary Least Squares regression using a non-parametric approach to estimate standard errors.

Results:Preliminary results show that both cognitive and affective racial responses are significantly correlated with anti-racist behaviors.  Specifically, increased colorblind attitudes and fear predict decreases in anti-racist behaviors (p < .01), while empathy and guilt predict increases in anti-racist behaviors (p <.05).  When shame proneness is added to the model, however, the significance of fear decreases (p < 0.1) and shame becomes a more significant predictor of decreases in anti-racist behaviors (p < .01) while guilt becomes a significant predictor of increases in anti-racist behaviors (p < .01).

Implications:This study finds that while cognitive understandings of racism are very highly predictive of anti-racist behaviors, affective responses are also significantly related.  Even when people cognitively understand racism as a problem, fear and shame may serve as barriers to effective racial justice praxis in social work settings. The implications of this research are thus that social work education also needs to develop interventions specifically aimed towards white students.  Such interventions, in addition to increasing knowledge about structural racism and racial justice praxis, would also aim to address fear and shame as blockers and empathy and informed guilt as facilitators of racial justice praxis.