Dear GSS Community,
This past weekend a grocery store in Buffalo, NY, was the location of a horrific mass shooting, killing 10 and injuring 3 others. Our hearts and prayers are with the entire city of Buffalo and, most significantly, the families and loved ones of the victims who were targeted so senselessly. Targeted because 11 of the victims were Black, just as the shooter, an 18-year-old white high school student, intended. Buffalo joins a tragically long list of American cities where innocent Black and Brown citizens are targeted for no other reason than the color of their skin.
As professional social workers, we want to help others make sense of how such a terrible thing could happen to unsuspecting Saturday shoppers in a grocery store. We want to be able to explain the root cause so we can help prevent others from becoming victims in the future. But where do we start? Where do we direct our focus and our efforts?
A scan of the media reveals fairly broad agreement that this latest massacre was a “racially motivated hate crime.” Of course, this would be difficult to deny, given the 180-page white supremacist manifesto and detailed plan published in advance by the shooter.
There’s far less agreement on the cause. Blame ranges from “mental illness” to “domestic terrorism.” But I have to ask, does it really matter which is to blame if our country remains unwilling to address either?
In 2017, in the wake of the Neo-Nazis and white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, NC, I invited all members of Fordham GSS and our professional community “to lead with compassion and commitment to elevate the dialogue about race, equity, and inclusion.” I once again extend this invitation. However, I want to challenge all of us to go beyond elevating the dialogue. Social Workers need to serve as the voice and the catalyst for purposeful action within our organizations, communities, and governments.
If not us, then who? I believe social workers are uniquely positioned to take on this commitment to expose the deep roots of racialized hate, and from social media to Congress, demand meaningful change. We have the professional knowledge and skills needed to confront the systemic forces that sustain our country’s tolerance of racism and violence. This recognition of the power of systems, of person and environment, has always been foundational to our profession. It is this unique perspective that sets social work apart from other helping professions. I’m confident in our professional knowledge and skill, as well as heart and tenacity to make a difference where others have not.
Debra M. McPhee, Ph.D.
Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service