I was recruited from South Africa as a way to remedy the shortage of social workers in the late 90s. While most of my fellow recruits were sent to London or Birmingham areas – where there are also high populations of immigrants – I was sent to the West of Scotland.
I have been working in this area for the last 12 years in children’s services.
Although I have never been in the minority in terms of my gender in this profession, I certainly have been in terms of my race and it wasn’t too long after my arrival that I began to experience a sense of isolation within social work teams.
Friendliness masked awkwardness
On the surface new colleagues were friendly and welcoming at first. But I felt the friendliness was a mask- I would sometimes wonder why people felt the need to grin at me every time they walked past me in the corridors and whether they did this with their white colleagues.
They seemed to steer away from any meaningful conversation with me, even casual chatter unless I initiated it. I felt it spoke to their awkwardness with having someone different around.
Despite over 20 years’ experience as a social worker, and an MSc in Equality and Discrimination I began to notice that my suggestions were never taken on board in discussions around management structure and practice issues.
I worked in a voluntary fostering service and one of the foster carers said very flippantly ‘I can’t remember your name so I just decided to call you Simba’. The agency’s way of dealing with this was to simply laugh it off. There was no discussion with the carer acknowledging this was a racist act. This particular example disturbed me as I wondered about the foster carer’s ability to care for children’s diverse needs and acknowledge them as individuals if she was unable to do this with a professional.
Lack of confidence amongst Scottish social workers when dealing with issues of race
Whilst this is my own subjective experience, I’ve also observed a lack of confidence amongst other social workers in Scotland in dealing with issues of race and racism, despite authorities having policies in place. This is perhaps not surprising when the vast majority of social workers are white Scottish, and the demographic of service users is the same.
Therefore in writing this article I want to provide some constructive feedback about an issue that I feel is otherwise shielded by the demographics. If no one ever speaks up then racism and discrimination will remain seeped in the very fibre of society and the communities we live in.
Unless we examine the effects of even the smallest of our actions on those at the receiving end of them we will never be able to truly achieve a society of social justice. It is not on the macro level but the micro level where these changes are achieved.
Nabeweya White is an independent children’s social Worker in North Ayrshire.