The COVID-19 pandemic is sweeping through communities of color like a thief in the night, stealing parents, grandparents, children, siblings and leaving behind grief, trauma, economic and educational instability. Every day, we have to worry about our health and safety, not only from a deadly virus, but from white people all around us. We wonder if we are safe in our homes, on a jog, at the park, or even while delivering a baby.
Whether dying at the hands of racist white people or due to systems constructed and upheld by white supremacy and patriarchy, Black death is something America has normalized.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed how our health and economic systems disproportionately impact African Americans, continuing to oppress us. We have been blamed for our own deaths and for our chronic illnesses. But African Americans aren’t dying because we are poor. We’re dying because we’re Black.
When we turn to the traditional sources for our health and well-being—social workers, therapists, doctors—we encounter systems not built for us. We experience a health care system rooted in providing us less care, and we stare at white faces.
White people must examine their own implicit bias and ensure the Black people who are hurting and fighting have access to mental health services and see themselves represented in the people providing care.
It’s time for white people—especially white social workers, who tend to be women—to listen and act to help end racism. We don’t need white saviors. We need people who will listen to the requests that have come from Black people for so long in the search for Black liberation and act based on what we say we need.
I am aware of the level of responsibility that comes with social work. As a Black woman and mother, I have an even greater responsibility to care for my people and for myself. I have had to learn how to speak up, to not be afraid to voice my opinion and to ask for clarity on policies within complex systems, including the health care and mental health spaces, to be able to properly advocate.
Being the lone voice in a room of powerful and well-intentioned white leaders focusing on issues affecting my community is an even greater responsibility.
It’s exhausting, but it makes me work harder.
It’s time for white social workers, caregivers, doctors, nurses and the entire health care system to work harder. Yes, it’s exhausting, and you are already exhausted. I understand the bone-weary exhaustion of simply surviving each day. But there is more work to do, and it’s time for you to do it.
Listen. Learn. Mute. Examine. Study. Think. Analyze. You will never understand, and that is OK. But you must act. Thousands of experts around this country are telling you how. It’s overwhelming. It’s daunting. It seems too big to tackle.
That’s how I feel in my black skin every day in this country. It is time for you to share the burden of exhaustion and work harder to dismantle our systems from within.
It is time to act.
Algeria Wilson is the director of public policy for the National Association of Social Workers, Michigan Chapter. Last month, NASW-Michigan kicked off a series of conversations regarding racial justice at the intersection of social work. You can follow Wilson at @AlgeriaWilson on Twitter.