As a profession frequently caught in a "middleman" role between society at large and specific client groups, social work is often charged with adjusting client behavior to societal demands, rather than working from the other end of the continuum. In terms of their relations with ethnic and minority groups, social workers are sometimes pictured as representatives of a dominant, white Protestant culture, acting, intentionally or unintentionally, as standard bearers for that culture among dissident minority groups. In light of this picture, the addition of courses like "Black Dor Chicano] Culture and American Social Work" to the social work curriculum appears not as a radical change in social work education, but more like instruction in foreign dialects for the aspiring missionary. After all, one can argue, American social work was born at the time of a huge influx of immigration to the U.S. and shortly came to play a leading role in the Americanization of the problematic "new immigrant."
While the above picture has its attractions, particularly as a counterbalance to the notion of social workers as strictly objective and humanitarian creatures, there are, of course, flaws in its construction. The image of social worker as Americaniser of immigrants is frequently used as an example in the discussion of social work's identification with a white, middle class status quo. yet this image, while made much of by historians like Oscar Handlinl and Richard Hofstadter, is only, at best, partially correct. A close examination of American social workers' relations with immigrant groups at the turn-of-the-century does not reveal a dominant missionary response, but rather a number of different, sometimes overlapping schools of thought regarding the place of immigrants in American life. These reactions ranged from a call for immigration restriction, through a concern for the maintenance of "social harmony" in American communities, to an emphasis on the advantages of cultural pluralism. Further analysis of these various responses to immigration could be profitable in the general discussion of social work's current roles vis a vie various minority groups and the broader society. A look into past actions may well offer a number of models for current social work philosophy and practice.
"Social Workers, Immigrants, and Historians: A Re-examination,"
The Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare: Vol. 2
, Article 3.
Available at: http://scholarworks.wmich.edu/jssw/vol2/iss3/3