2b. Decolonizing Social Work

How do you experience privilege and power as a social worker?
How important is culture in the field/profession of social work?
How important are indigenous voices and practices in social work?

These were very interesting readings to absorb. I couldn’t help but think about the struggles I faced during my undergraduate studies. In our classes we always talked about topics like biases, oppression and the disenfranchised.
In the profession we choose, we also absorbs the boundaries and guidelines of the code of ethics. These ethics are the principles that make us Social Workers. Yet, at times we tend to lose sight of that because of our privileges, social status or ignorance.
The code of ethics itself is what got me into social work, it is what has validated my professional choice and it is the reason I continue and pursue the profession. One example of this is when I first got int this profession a Master Gardener (I was an Agriculture Student) told me that I am really good at gardening and farming…but have I thought of being a social worker? I sat and pondered about this for weeks until I told my counselor I was interested in this, not realizing my counselor was an LCSW. She told me to read the code of ethics, if I could agree to all of these principles; then pursue social work. So I did.
Another example is taking [social work : human sexuality]. They wanted to take me out of my comfort zone and insisted on having me attend a transgender drag show. It did not help that I was going through the DSM5 studying “gender dysphoria”. My privilege in being experienced in working in austere environments focusing on community development and social disparities , had nothing on the interpersonal relations with transgender individuals. I had no experience with it, that it made me look like I had a bias, in reality; I just had no experience.
This then leads to competency. As a social worker you can literally go into an environment with the biggest heart and try to affect change, and ruin everything your intentions aspired to do and ruin it because you didn’t know anything about your client population.
This also wraps around cultural competency. Being able to understand the limitations and restrictions as an outsider of a culture that you are trying to assist with. I personally have experienced this in multiple situations where cultural competency saved peoples lives. As an example; in the military I had a job to meet with local nationals ad war lords, in these meetings they have a lot of demands and I have to be able to broker these deals with the coalition forces and local nationals. Establishing rapport is a leading way to gain the trust of the people and nothing is more important than interpersonal relationships and respect for their culture. I gained their rapport by understanding and speaking the native language and practicing their cultural greeting practices. This is what gave me the edge as an operator in the service.
In my time working on social disparities in the Philippines I found myself trying to come up with ideas, programs and schemes to aid in lifting up the spirits of the homeless population in Baseco, Philippines. In doing so I felt like I was coming up with military strategy rather than a social work perspective. So I went into the city and spoke with the people. Listening to the indigenous people, rather then the YouTube videos and people that “heard” about the homeless in Baseco. Seeing Baseco first hand and meeting people from there; I was able to better understand the systemic issues that are affecting Baseco from the social, economic and political aspect.
I think oral history and first hand accounts from the indigenous people are more valuable and it is the truth from the eyes that see it; day in and day out.


Join the Conversation


  1. Hafa Adai Shino,

    I am amazed that the social work code of ethics is what got you to social work. But honestly, when I think about this, the code of ethic actually opened my eyes too in some things that I do not really think about as much until I got to social work.

    And when you mentioned about being out of your comfort zone and then your exposure to the LGBT community… that I can relate as well. I remember that while I was in undergrad and was asked what biases I have and I shared because of how I was raised and being surrounded with masculine and/or feminine figure, I had biases toward the LGBT community… then later to find out that two out of my five boys are gay. But, I appreciate them so much and support them in what makes them happy 🙂 I got rid of those biases.

    Lastly, I truly appreciate you sharing your experience with the homeless population in the Philippines. It is obvious that they have touched your heart and being Filipina myself, I appreciate your story. I do not know much about the Philippines but I wished to sometimes have the experience you had.

    It is such a privileged to be a social worker especially reading blogs like your where we as social workers are touched by others experiences. Looking forward to your blogs.


  2. Ray,
    Your comment about not being bias, you just hadn’t had any experience working with that population was a game changer for me. I wonder how we could evolve as a community if we understood that most of our biases are due to a lack of experience and also learned behavior.
    As always, I love hearing you talk about your adventures as a Marine, you always bring a different perspective & approach to things, and I appreciate it.


  3. Dear Shino,
    I appreciate your sharing about the code of ethics inspiring you to go into social work. That is so powerful. I decided to do it because of the opportunity to become a therapist, and when I read the code (after starting the MSW program) I realized I loved social work more than I thought I would because that code kinda encapsulates my personal code of ethics all these years. To me it’s “how to be a kind, loving, self-aware person” 101.
    The other thing I really appreciate was your statement about how bias is just lack of experience. It is such a self-aware, self-supportive statement, rather than getting caught up in shame about biases we notice, we can just say, hey, I didn’t know. Now I know. End of bias!!! That’s it! What a great, positive, hopeful, strengths-based approach.
    Lastly, I sincerely appreciate your approach to working with the Baseco community, by talking with them and being with them rather than watching youtube for your knowledge. AWESOME!
    Mahalo again, and I’m so glad you chose this field.


  4. Hello Ray!

    There is so much to appreciate about your post.

    For one, I admire the value you see in the code of ethics and how it was a catalyst to the social work professional journey. I don’t know much about your social and professional experiences and I do look forward to learning more.

    I gathered thought that you had spent time working with disenfranchised/impoverish people of the Philippines and your experiences in the military. You shared how your privilege in your work had not exposed you the interpersonal relations with transgender individuals.

    I admire you admitting that it was a comfort zone of yours not to go to a transgender drag show (at least that is what I gathered). You also explained that at the time you had been studying gender dysphoria which “didn’t help” in attending a drag show.

    I felt this was honest.

    You had shared that working with the Baseco people of the Philippines had not overlapped with interpersonal relations with transgender individuals. You further explain how it looked as if you had a bias but in reality, just had no experience with transgender individuals.

    I think I would be worth entertaining the thought that maybe there was a bias and explore where it might come from. I agree in that having no experience with any particular population or environment would merit a lot of uncertainty. I wonder though if inexperience alone would be the only factor to any sort of discomfort.

    Sar ginen Guåhan


  5. Mahalo for the wonderful work you have done in Baseco! Privilege is a funny thing. If we don’t examine it, then it goes unchecked. Lack of experience with a group can lead to bias but it may be unintended. However, the real question is once we know and have experience, what do we do about it? Very nice insights Raymond!


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