Through the lenses of critical race theory, Dr. Martin Luther King’s quote emphasizes the phenomenon of empathic fallacy that decreases the chances of the dominant group making a contribution to the establishment of equality. More specifically, expecting empathy from the oppressor is not likely to lead to any real consequences because people in general tend to develop empathic feelings only to individuals with similar social characteristics (Delgado, 2012). This phenomenon can even be observed within the feminist movement that, at least seemingly, struggles against different types of inequalities. However, in contemporary society those individual that carry two and more socially unprivileged characteristics (for example, female, black, and homosexual) suffer from the unique type of oppression. As a result, white women who address the problem of gender inequality often ignore other structural inequalities, like racism or homophobia. Lorde (1987) argues that ‘all the accusations coming from the very women for who we look for deep and real understanding, have served to keep many Black lesbians in hiding, caught between the racism of white women and the homophobia of their sisters (black women)’. Therefore, developing society’s empathy through the change of narrative will not lead to the desired consequences. The oppressed individuals share the unique experience of discrimination that might be helpful in terms of mobilizing their efforts.
Another issue that the critical race theory emphasizes and that Dr Martin Luther Ling in his quote relates to is microagressive behavior that will not be changed by the dominant class because it is very subtle, and often unconscious (Delgado, 2012). People today often falsely believe that because they see no form of open racism, people of color must have a problem that they need to fix themselves. The fact that there is no open racism, however, does not mean that racism has vanished. Rather, it indicates that the way that it is articulated and shown in public nowadays is less openly hateful. The argumentation has changed from the point of denying equality to the point of claiming that equality has been reached, and that systematic racism simply does not exist anymore as can be seen on conservative news channels like Fox News. A great example is the notion that the slogan “Black Lives Matter” should be changed into “All lives matter”.  The latter slogan is used to deny the fact that black people are more often the victims of hate crime than any other racial group in America (The FBI, 2013). Microagressive behavior towards racial minorities can be observed in all spheres of social life in everyday interaction (McWhorter, 2014). These new forms of racism and the feeling of white Americans who feel, that they have already done enough against racism are not replacements for the old barriers, but weaker versions, of the same old tactics that were used in the past.  Centuries of racism will not vanish and turn into peace and friendship overnight, and, as it is implicitly noted in the Dr Martin Luther King’s quote, the shackles of historical phobias and attitudes will not fall off by themselves if the oppressed individuals do not try to break it.

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The conflict theory also gives a better understanding of the quote. More specifically, the theory’s concept of scarce resources is one of the possible explanations why the oppressor is unwilling to voluntary give freedom and rights to the oppressed (Bowser, 2015, p. 87). Those social groups that are in the position of domination benefit in multiple ways from the privileges that they gain as a result of their exploitation of the subordinated social categories and their better access to public resources. There is thus very little chance that one day the dominant group will give its power and freedom to those who are oppressed. In order to reinforce this system of oppression and make it seem legitimate, the dominant group creates the false system of values, or, according to Karl Marx, false consciousness that justifies the oppression. Thus, it is up to the oppressed to struggle for their freedom, their rights and the system of fair distribution of resources. Social change organizations often empower their members by presenting an alternative system of values and alternative rules that refute the justification of existing social order. Namely, Applegate (2010) argues that such organizations increase individual’s competency to identify and shift the ‘dominant’ worldviews. Apart from this, social change organizations often equip individuals with the feeling that they can be a part of the needed force for change. ‘Freedom’, as Dr Martin Luther King calls it, can thus be achieved only through the oppressed individual’s active participation. It is, however, important to understand that the inequality that Dr Martin Luther King meant in his letter is different from the one that exists today given that today’s inequality is much more subtle and latent, and thus should be tackled differently. The dimensions have changed in the way that today, there are no massive Ku Klux Klan marches through Washington DC like the one in 1928, neither is there any significant public group demanding a return to the segregation era politics. However, underrepresentation of racial minorities in prestigious spheres of social life, such as business or politics, show that certain social attitudes, differences in life chances, stereotypes, social expectations still reinforce the system of oppression. Racism has become more difficult to reveal, and thus more difficult to fight against.

Social workers challenge injustice, and this is particularly evident from the contribution that social workers make to the distributive justice, development of collective agency, and improvement of the status of women. As to the improvement of the status of women, there are many ways in which women as a social group can be empowered, and social workers advocate for the respective policies. More specifically, as discussed by Rubin and Rubin (2008), private property, the feeling of being in control of the environment, social activism etc, contribute to the individual’s empowerment. Social workers attempts to develop these characteristics in their clients. I would also define one more effective way of individual, as well as collective empowerment. Given that inequality is often embedded in social structure, certain affirmative action (e.g., political party quotas) can empower an individual, and also the social group that he or she is a part of. Bonomi, Brosio, and Di Tommaso (2013) argue that introduction of gender quotas, for example, in general increases the probability that voters will choose women candidates. There are numerous examples when social workers, together with other activists, advocated for the introduction of the respective policies.

As noted above, social workers also contribute to the development of collective agency among women. Given that social workers often engage in everyday communication with women who suffer from intersecting inequalities, they are often familiar with women’s unique needs, desires and experiences, and thus have the needed knowledge to represent these needs on the legal, administrative etc levels and organize the respective social movements. Very often women lack economic and political resources to organize their actions in a whole movement, and social workers by their cooperation with different communities, international exposure and their academic knowledge have the needed potential to join the efforts of these women.

Finally, social workers contribute to a fairer distribution of resources, or to the so called distributive justice. They advocate for the policies that aim to improve the access of women to numerous types of resources, such as educational, economic, social etc resources. It is, however, important to understand the limitations of the power that social workers have. Namely, social work is predominantly women’s profession, and women usually lack the required economic and social resources to introduce changes on the national or global level. The promotion of the idea of gender equality within other professional fields and further involvement of men to social work profession are thus likely to contribute to the establishment of a fairer, and more tolerant world.

    References
  • Applegate, B. (2010). Organizatiton Development a Catalyst For Social Change. Tamara Journal For Critical Organization Inquiry, 8(3/4), 32-61.
  • Bonomi, G., Brosio, G., & Di Tommaso, M. L. (2013). The Impact of Gender Quotas on Votes for Women Candidates: Evidence from Italy. Feminist Economics, 19(4), 48-75. 
  • Bowser, R. (2015). RACE AND RATIONING. Health Matrix: Journal Of Law-Medicine, 2587.
  • Delgado, R., & Stefancic, J. (2012). Critical Race Theory : An Introduction. New York: NYU Press.
  • Lorde, A. (1984). Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference. In Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (pp. 114-123). Freedom, CA: Crossing Press.
  • McWhorter, J. (2014). Is ‘Microaggression’ the New Racism?. Time,183(14), 21.
  • Rubin, H. & Rubin, I. (2008).  Community organizing and development (4th ed.).  Boston, MA: Pearson. 
  • The FBI. “Latest Hate Crime Statistics Report Released.” 2013. Web. .