In many societies certain groups possess more resources and hold more power than other groups. In some of these societies, racial discrimination and racial tension also exist. While members of the societies may openly acknowledge that unequal distribution of power and racism are present in their society, many fail to examine the complex relationships between privilege and racism. Social workers must understand this complex relationship so they can educate and empower their clients. Empowerment is the cornerstone of social work practice.
In the book Black Empowerment, the author,Barbara Solomon, writes, “Empowerment refers to a process whereby persons who belong to a stigmatized social category throughout their lives can be assisted to develop and increase skills in the exercise of interpersonal influence and the performance of valued social roles” (p. 6).
Empowerment practice is based on a collaborative relationship between worker and client, initiated to promote the client’s power through self-actualization, self-determination, and the fulfillment of personal goals (Gutierrez, Parsons, & Cox, 1998). Further, this process includes increasing your clients’ awareness of the structural oppression that exists and its impact on them. It is the role of social workers to empower clients and to bring about awareness of the inequalities that exist in society. This is done two fold—through work with clients on the micro and mezzo levels and on a macro level through work in organizations and communities.
Social workers cannot effectively empower clients without first understanding the mechanisms of oppression and how they impact their day-to-day work. Then social workers can recognize the impact on their clients’ lives and apply the appropriate skills.
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