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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Elders and racism

I got a scholarship for working with the elderly. It’s funny, because I went into social work because I wanted to work with children and issues of poverty, but I continue to find myself drawn to the aging people.
When I moved to the rural south, I learned how prevalent issues of race and racism still remain in our country. Coming from the west, where people's skin color is relatively non-diverse, and the absence of racial minorities creates a pretense of the an absence of racism, this discovery was rather surprising to me.
I visited a patient the other day, and she spent an hour telling me that she is “not racist, but I just think white people should stay with white people and black people should stay with black people. I’m not racist, but that ‘s just the way it is.” I encounter this type of old fashioned racism a lot among the elderly people I work with in the south. I’m never entirely sure what to do about it. A part of me wants to correct this type of thinking, but a part of me wonders what the point in attempting to do so with a dying person is. What do you think?

3 remarks:

Hold my hand: a social worker's blog said...

Interesting. I have also found out that some of my nursing home residents are racists. It's a touchy subject since that's the way they were raised, and how they lived most of their lives. But my ethical principles tells me that I may at least mention that the world has changed, and it has come to more understanding that skin color or looks don't make a person better or worse than other. I often approach this via spirituality as many of our elderly are receptive to it. I say that we are all equal under God's eyes. It doesn't matter if the person is at the end of life, they may in fact feel peacefulness at knowing this.


Neil80 said...

Ooohhh I think this is a familiar connundrum to anyone working in older persons social care. Speaking from the UK on the one hand you have the social work values which are about valuing diversity and promoting equality and inclusion, but on the other you are in large part dealing with people who lived through a time where attitudes were different.

It's inevitable that there will at some point be a conflict and I think people do handle things differently. Personally I tended to try to draw a distinction between an outdated attitude and plain racism. If you like you could call it the 'grandma test' - why? Because my grandmother was no racist and would not treat a person differently based upon their race, but could be prone to using the odd term that would not pass for today's standards - simply it was a case of being out of touch.

Much more problematic is where someones racist views impact on either other service users, or even carers and social workers who visit them. In the UK many carers are from an ethnic background and this sometimes results in problems with service users who may hold racist views. In these cases it needs to be challenged, but in a way that is working with the service user.

Some people may disagree, but in my opinion there is little point in forcing someone in their 70s or 80s to conform to societies norms today (no matter how right those norms may be) if it comes at the risk of total disengagement from services.

Tracy said...

I am an LCSW and found a good website dealing with the elderly. You might check it out at:

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