Implicit Bias in Social Work: #MacroSW Chat – June 25, 2015

Hosted by @UBSSW – Pat Shelly, University at Buffalo School of Social Work

In this twitter chat, we discussed implicit bias in the social work profession. This post contains some introductory thoughts intended to guide the discussion. Resources shared during the chat can be found below, at the end of the Links and Resources section in this post.

A summary of the twitter chat can be found here:

The terrorist hate crime and murders at Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17th was allegedly committed by a young white man who espoused racist, white supremist reasons as justification for his actions. He held overtly prejudiced beliefs, and acted with deliberate intention. Is racial prejudice evidence of an abnormal psychology? Was the suspect in the Charleston shootings mentally ill or a sociopath? Or is he a thug?

image courtesy of Notes from An Aspiring Humanitarian
image courtesy of Notes from An Aspiring Humanitarian

One explanation for the basis for killings of African Americans in the U.S., particularly by law enforcement, has become more prominent in the media recently. It states there is a belief by many officers in the stereotype of the dangerous black person. This is implicit bias: not a conscious avowal of a stereotype but a covert attitude, a lack of awareness that these biases even exist. Implicit bias can also be positive; a white person may have a bias in favor of African Americans, for example, or be unbiased regarding all religious faiths.

Most of white Americans consider themselves to be not prejudiced based on race or ethnicity. Social workers have, as a fundamental value, the obligation to help all people, “with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vunerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.” (NASW, 2008)

Over 40% of social workers are involved in some form of advocacy or community organizing for at least part of the their professional lives (Center for Health Workforce Studies & NASW Center for Workforce Studies. 2006, pg. 10). Our cultural competency requires understanding oppression based on race, color, gender, ethnicity, age, ableism, gender expression, and more.

Does this mean that our profession has less implicit bias because we consciously work to address oppression in all its forms?

image implictbiasSTEREOTYPES

At the website for The Implict Attitude Test (IAT), you can take an anonymous test that measures attitudes toward or beliefs about certain racial, ethnic or religious groups. You may be favorably surprised at your results; there is also the possibility you will receive disappointing results.

We urge everyone to take at least one test in the 14 IAT topic areas before participating in the chat. The test will take 10 to 15 minutes.

Then join the chat!

Questions for the 06-25-15 #MacroSW Chat:

1. What is implicit bias?
2. Have you tested yourself on any level of your own implicit biases? Why is looking at this / knowing this helpful?
3. What experiences have you had – in the workplace? In your personal life?
4. Have you received any training (in you BSW or MSW coursework, in your workplace, elsewhere) on implicit bias and best practices to address it?
5. What were the responses you had when confronted with such bias?
6. How can we take knowledge of implicit bias into our workplaces?
7. Would you recommend taking the IAT test to others? Why?

Please share resources with us – leave a comment at (below, at the end, you will find resources shared by particpants during the chat on June 25)


Bester, D. (2015, May 23).  Recognizing the role of implicit bias in institutional racism. New Tri-State Defender. Retrieved from:

Center for Health Workforce Studies & NASW Center for Workforce Studies. (2006). Licensed Social Workers in the U.S., pg. 10. Retrieved from

Implicit Attitude Test (IAT):
Project Implicit. (2011). Preliminary Information. Retrieved from:

Lewis, C. (2015, June 22). The insanity of racism. [Post]. Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy. Retrieved from:

NASW Code of Ethics:
National Association of Social Workers. (2008). Code of Ethics, Preamble. Retrieved from

Roberts, H. (2011, December 11). Implicit Bias and Social Justice. Open Society. Retrieved from

Upworthy (2015, March 25). This test will tell you whether you’re prejudiced without knowing: here’s how it works. Retrieved from

Implict bias and the courts:

Toobin, J. (2015, May 11). The Milwaukee experiment: What can one prosecutor do about the mass incarceration of African Americans? The New Yorker. Retrieved from:

Implicit bias and police

Grove, Tracey G. (October 2011). Implicit Bias and Law Enforcement. The Police Chief 78. Retrieved from:

Quora. (n.d.) Does implicit bias play a key role in how police officers interact with black people? Yes, no and why? [Post] Retrieved from

 Resources from twitter chat participants:

(These are not cited in APA style!)

Social Work students support families of victims in Charleston Massacre:
Charleston Strong USC NSW 2016 Fundraiser.
Students in the MSW 2016 cohort at USC have set up a tshirt fundraiser to raise money for the victims and their families of the tragedy in Charleston. All profits will go to Mother Emanuel Hope Fund, the official fund for the families of the victims and your order is secure through the tfund website. Please help us to support this cause as we will be selling tshirts as well as organizing an event to assist those affected by this tragedy. Any questions can be sent to Amber at

Follow @ShowUp4RJ Show Up for Racial Justice:
Showing Up for Racial Justice is a national network of groups and individuals organizing white people for racial justice.

Race: the Power of An Illusion -film-

Freud and the Mental Iceberg

2015 State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review. Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity

Regulating the Social Pollution of Systemic Discrimination Caused by Implicit Bias by L. Elizabeth Sarine. California Law Review, October 2012.

The science of your racist brain (2014, May 9). Indre Viskontas and Chris Mooney. Mother Jones. (subconscious racial prejudice)

Webinar on Cultural Humility offered by the Network of Social Work Managers, with Dr. Robert Ortega, Associate Professor, University of Michigan School of Social Work. June 18, 2015. Link to recordings, slides:

Reflections on Cultural Humility:

Transforming race today: Structural racialization, systems thinking and implicit bias by John A. Powell,

Webinar on Treating Communities of Color: What does cultural competency mean for behavioral health practitioners? June 10, 2015. With Roberto Lewis-Fernandez and Charles E. Lewis and Ranna Parekh. (no download link or recording available)

Cultural Competency tests: Just 3 of many to be found –

Tools and Processes for Self Assessment. National Center for Cultural Competence, Georgetown University.

Self-Test, American Association of Family Physicians (2000).

NASW proposed standards for cultural competency (May 2015 draft)
Other – The Provider’s Guide to Quality and Culture:

Police:   White House recognizes Boston police for community policing (May 2015)

#MacroSW is a collaboration of social workers, organizations, social work schools, and individuals working to promote macro social work practice. Macro social work practice focuses on changing larger systems, such as communities and organizations. It encompasses a broad spectrum of actions and ideas, ranging from community organizing and education to legislative advocacy and policy analysis. The chats are held bimonthly on Twitter on the second and fourth Thursday of each month at 9 p.m. EST (6 p.m. PST). For more information, chat schedule, and chat archives check out:

Our collaborators include:

  • Association for Community Organizing and Social Administration (ACOSA), @acosaorg
  • Karen Zgoda, MSW, LCSW, Instructor of Social Work at Bridgewater State University, @karenzgoda
  • Network for Social Work Management (NSWM), @TheNSWM
  • Rachel West, The Political Social Worker, @poliSW
  • University at Buffalo School of Social Work, @ubssw
  • University of Southern California School of Social Work, @mswatusc
  • Sunya Folayan, MSW, ACSW, founder/executive director, The Empowerment Project, Inc., @SunyaFolayan
  • Laurel Hitchcock, PhD, Assistant Professor of Social Work, University of
    Alabama at Birmingham,@Laurelhitchcock
  • Kristin Battista-Frazee, MSW, Author and Marketing Consultant, @porndaughter


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