About a week or so ago, actress Lupita Nyong’o openly discussed her challenges with being a dark skin woman. She talked about praying nightly for lighter skin as a child, and how being darker felt like an obstacle for her to overcome. I thought this was very brave and very honest of her. I think most women of color deal with some form of colorism. And the racism that exists in our society often effects us causing us to internalize those feelings (resulting in internalized racial inferiority) and acting them out in our own lives. For Lupita it meant wishing she was lighter and struggling with her own self worth in part, because of her color.
For some of the people I work with internalized racial inferiority plays out differently. I have worked with clients that use skin lightening creams and skin bleaches (which are loaded with toxic chemicals) to be lighter. Women who use a straightening perm in their hair until it falls out and wear weaves that rip at the roots of their scalps until they have bald patches. I don’t say this to make light of it or make fun of this issue. I mention it because its a real daily struggle for many. When a woman as beautiful and intelligent as Lupita struggles with self worth over her color, it speaks to a much larger problem in our society.
While there are the occasional models and actresses of darker skin that reach success, the majority do not. Skin color still acts as a barrier to success in many forms.
March is Social Work month! Many people get confused about what social workers do. I think Social Work month is the perfect time to help clarify it. I gathered some of the common questions and misconceptions about social work and answered them.
1) What do social workers do? Social workers work to help people. They don’t just help as someone would try to help a friend talk through a problem, or assist someone in filling out a food stamp application. Social work is considered a “Helping Profession” along with doctors, nurses, psychologists and teachers. There is education and training behind their professional helping. There are bachelor, masters and doctoral level programs. There are state educational and experience mandates as well as licensing exams in order to ensure that professional social workers are qualified to help. There is ongoing training and education to promote best practice.
2) Where do social workers work? A social workers help comes in many forms. Social workers work in a wide variety of fields.Some work providing talk therapy in mental health clinics, hospitals, and private practice offices. These are often the therapists you run into when you are seeking help for an issue like depression, anxiety, or PTSD. There are social work administrators that run agency’s. They work on ensuring enough money comes into programs, balance budgets, seek out new funding streams and focus on things like staff moral and overall program and agency development. They also work in substance abuse, child welfare services like foster care and adoption, the legal field and advocacy, work with people with developmental disabilities, and in community development.
3) Who do social workers work with? They work with every age group, from programs servicing infants and toddlers from 0-3 with developmental issues, to counseling programs and groups for teens, to working with the elderly in senior programs. Social workers provide services to families living in poverty and to wealthy families and everyone in between.
4) What do you like best about being a social worker? That I get to partner with people to create better circumstances and less stressful lives for themselves and their families. This can help them in the moment, and have a long-term impact for their children and family.