Doin' The Work: Frontline Stories of Social Change

Constructing a White Nation: Social Work in the Americanization Movement - Yoosun Park, MSW, PhD

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Episode 63
Guest: Yoosun Park, MSW, PhD
Host: Shimon Cohen, LCSW
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Doin’ The Work is offering our Racial Justice & Liberatory Practice Continuing Education Series through several of our partner universities. Go to to learn more and register. We hope you will join us!

Thank you to this episode’s sponsor! The University of Houston has a phenomenal social work program that offers face-to-face master's and doctorate degrees, as well as an online and hybrid MSW. They offer one of the country’s only Political Social Work programs and an Abolitionist Focused Learning Opportunity. Located in the heart of Houston, the program is guided by their bold vision to achieve social, racial, economic, and political justice, local to global. In the classroom and through research, they are committed to challenging systems and reimagining ways to achieve justice and liberation. Go to to learn more.

In this episode, I talk with Dr. Yoosun Park, who is an Associate Professor in the School of Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. We talk about her article, co-authored with Michael Reisch, entitled: To “Elevate, Humanize, Christianize, Americanize”: Social Work, White Supremacy, and the Americanization Movement, 1880–1930, in the October 2022 issue of Social Service Review. I cannot say enough about the level of research and analysis in this article. We are very fortunate because the article is going to become a book. Dr. Park explains the key points of the article: how social work was a major part of the Americanization movement, which was a national project rooted in whiteness, aimed at defining what it means to be an American and who gets to be an American, along with the full rights of American citizenship and the ability to enact those rights. Dr. Park breaks down how the Americanization movement, which included many White social reformers and social work leaders, viewed European immigrants as Americanizable, or White, whereas Indigenous Peoples and Africans, along with Asian and Mexican immigrants – and even this wording is problematic because the U.S. took parts of Mexico – were seen as un-Americanizable and the Other. We discuss how many of these same white supremacist beliefs, policies, and practices show up in social work today. I hope this conversation inspires you to action.

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