How to promote an anti-racist culture in social work

Wayne Reid sets out his advice for social work leaders in tackling racism within their organisations and the profession as a whole

African black fist and caucasian white fist raised calling for freedom and equality on a yellow background. Multicultural fists raised. Stop racism.
Credit: Pol Sole/Adobe Stock

Wayne ReidBy Wayne Reid, BASW England professional officer and social worker

Following the constructive feedback received on my article on UK social work’s response to the killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, I’ve been ruminating about clear actions that social work educators, employers and key stakeholders can take to promote anti-racism.

My aim in this article is to outline some practical (and skeletal) ideas for social work organisations to consider.  I will use the terms people of colour (POC) and Black and ethnic minority interchangeably for ease.  Again, I write this article from my own viewpoint, not on behalf of all Black and ethnic minority people or social workers – as we are not a homogenous group.

Also, I’m by no means an expert in organisational development/leadership, but I do consider myself as an ‘expert with lived experience’ of personal and professional racism in life and in social work. These are purely my opinions.For other perspectives, I would recommend Dr Gurnham Singh(@gurnamskhela), Hari Sewell (@consultancy_hs), Guilaine Kinouani (@kguilaine) and Dr Muna Abdi (@muna_abdi_phd).

Black and ethnic minority social workers should not be expected to ‘fix’ racism

Black and ethnic minority social workers cannot and should not be expected to ‘fix’ the racism in their workplace. However, those of us who are confident and capable enough (with the right support) can have a crucial role in educating, empowering and equipping ourselves and (potential) allies and influencers to enhance and shape anti-racism initiatives in our workplace settings.

EVERYONE has a duty to combat racism (and other forms of discrimination) in the spaces they occupy. This includes reporting racist incidents when they occur; forming like-minded alliances with peers to tackle key issues; raising awareness and making suggestions for positive reform.

Typical organisational responses to tackling anti-racism

From my cultured social work experience, the responses below generally indicate an organisation’s prioritisation and level of commitment (or not) to anti-racism. However, before any meaningful change can be achieved, social work educators and employers must acknowledge the inherent and intrinsic nature of ‘whiteness’, ‘White fragility’, ‘White privilege’ and white supremacy as subconscious default positions in most (if not all) institutions, structures and organisational cultures. Individual and organisational awareness is an imperative first step for social workers, social work employers and social work educators to address workplace racism effectively. In the words of the American political activist, Angela Davis:

In a  racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist.  We must be anti-racist.”

Broadly, there are three typical organisational responses when attempting to tackle racial inequality:

  1. Keep silent, keep things the same and “hope all this Black Lives Matter (BLM) ‘stuff’ just blows over. This kind of inaction and paralysis of fear correlates with and reinforces perceptions of ‘White fragility’, ‘White privilege’ and white supremacy for some POC. This type of organisational response usually commends staff for being resilient and deflects attention away from the essential redesign of systems that routinely make people suffer.
  2. Publish lukewarm organisational statements that recycle and regurgitate previous rhetoric on workforce unity with predictable (and borderline offensive) platitudes – often proposing only superficial changes. For example, publishing a sympathetic, but non-committal kneejerk brief statement; possibly delegating responsibilities to an already overworked equalities officer or proposing minor changes to already vague policies/procedures on ‘valuing diversity’ with little or no accountability. Approaches at this level are usually well-intended, but tokenistic and overlook the nuanced obstacles and pitfalls POC face every day. Unfortunately, this response is common.
  3. Publish an authentic anti-racism action plan, outlining significant reforms that commit to specific, measurable, achievable and realistic targets (suggestions below). Examples include publishing a strong mission/position statement condemning George Floyd’s murder and racism in all its forms and committing to the British Association of Social Workers’s code of ethics, anti-oppressive, anti-discriminatory and anti-racist practice. This approach interlinks with the Anti-racist Commitment Framework I have developed.

The acid test is to share this article with your social work leaders and see what response you get.

Covert, entrenched and everyday racism in the workplace

If the recent news of police officers taking ‘selfies’ beside the bodies of two murdered black sisters; the recent far-right violent protests in London or the racist comments by Suffolk councillors do not outrage you or alert you to the fact that racism is thriving in this country right now – then you really need to consider whether you have sleepwalked into being an opponent of anti-racism. At the very least, we must be self-aware and honest (with ourselves and others) when our boredom threshold is reached.  This can be subliminal and counterproductive to anti-racism at every level. Everyday micro-aggressions (including ‘banter’ in the workplace) can fuel violent racist incidents.

The covert, entrenched and everyday racism in the workplace sometimes indicates the lack of good-quality cultural diversity and multicultural education and training available (to all staff).  Surprisingly, it is rarely acknowledged in social work that race is simply a socially constructed idea with no scientific validity – invented and refined principally to oppress POC.

This has modern and everyday ramifications in the working environment. During the coronavirus pandemic, I have been told by Black and ethnic minority practitioners about personal protective equipment (PPE) being prioritised or withheld on occasions for white colleagues, and being made to visit service users with suspected Covid-19 with no PPE, guidance or support, whilst white managers stayed at the office with ‘their’ supply of PPE and engaged in racist banter.

These perverse experiences can be impossible for victims of ‘naked and slippery’ everyday racism to articulate to others or reconcile internally themselves. Furthermore, these incidents are normalised and subsumed in many workplace cultures, with limited opportunities to ‘professionally offload’. In some cases, it’s really not hard to see who the direct descendants of slaveowners are. With some people, it stands out like a beacon, regardless of what they say and do.

What ‘Black Lives Matter’ means

As outlined in my previous article, there is a long history of atrocities and brutalities endured by Black and ethnic minority people globally. ‘Black Lives Matter’ is an acknowledgment that our lives need to matter more than they have, that society should apportion them equal weighting. That is why the retort of ‘White’ or ‘All’ Lives Matter in response to BLM is not really comparable or relevant.

Would it be right to ask: “What about colon cancer?” during a discussion about breast cancer? Or advise a bereaved mother that ‘all lives matter’ at her child’s funeral?  “Save the whales” does not mean other sea life is unimportant. This is not complex stuff and just requires us to revitalise our basic human qualities – compassion, empathy and humanity. Factually, unlike the lives of Black and ethnic minority people, white lives have always mattered. So, to keep proclaiming ‘White lives matter’ adds excessive value to them, tilting us further towards white supremacy. In hard times, surely it is right to protect and support certain groups – particularly vulnerable ones. This does not devalue, disadvantage or discredit any other groups; it just raises general awareness and improves the support available to specific groups that require immediate attention. BLM has its critics, but it is unclear why a movement that promotes equality is demonised by some people who vehemently claim they are not ‘a’ racist.

Anti-racism in social work must be fully considered and dismantled through collaboration with Black and ethnic minority social workers in roles as experts with (personal and professional) lived experience. This is the only way that Black and ethnic minority social workers’ basic needs can be properly met and their wide-ranging expertise fully utilised. Of course, this approach can only improve the experiences of Black and ethnic minority service users too.

It really is just a question of how much of a priority anti-racism is in social work.

So, how can social work employers implement ‘anti-racist practice’ in the workplace?

What might an anti-racist working environment look like? What can social work employers do to promote anti-racism in the workplace? What would the experience be like for Black and ethnic minority social workers? Here is my vision of how this might work in reality.

Recruitment

Anti-racist recruitment targets are set to employ Black and ethnic minority senior leaders and educators to better reflect local communities and the workforce (where necessary/possible).

The ‘Rooney Rule’ is adopted, similar to senior recruitment in American National Football League.This involves at least one POC candidate being interviewed for each senior leader vacancy.

Operations

Anti-racism is explicitly promoted in mission/position statements (this is a good example) along with other forms of anti-discrimination, included in relevant polices/procedures and forms part of employees’ employment contracts to underline its importance.

The data on workforce diversity and ‘protected characteristics’ (ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality etc) informs the support available for minority groups, training for all staff and organisational policies and procedures. The workforce is encouraged to self-declare their identity and individual/group wellbeing at work provisions are developed in partnership with them. Creative wellbeing at work provisions are developed for those who have experienced workplace trauma associated with racism (and other types of discrimination). This includes peer-led support groups for members to reflect fully on their personal and professional experiences. Personal wellbeing is a mandatory agenda item for supervision meetings.

By using this ‘identity dashboard’ approach, organisational efforts are more focused and genuine; progress is properly managed through a cycle of reviewing data output and periodic verbal/written feedback from the workforce.

Safe and informal systems are introduced for Black and ethnic minority social workers in the workplace. For example, discriminatory practices and constructive solutions are reported anonymously in an ‘honesty box’ to empower POC without fear of reprisals. Arising issues are then explored in supervision, team meetings or with senior leaders (if necessary).

Annual ethnicity pay audits ensure that any anomalies and discrepancies for Black and ethnic minority staff are properly reviewed and resolved.

The Covid-19 risk assessment is consistently used for all staff (particularly those from Black and ethnic minority groups).

Education

Anti-racist education is recognised as being at the heart of developing a more cultured and inclusive workforce and healthy workplace. Education providers ‘decolonialise’ social work training programmes with the input of Black and ethnic minority academics, social workers and service users integrated at all stages of programme development and delivery.

Anti-discriminatory, anti-oppressive and anti-racist practice form a fundamental and mandatory requirement of social workers’ professional development and registration. This includes a range of educational tools and training opportunities (for different learning styles) to ensure good-quality cultural diversity education is prioritised and valued. Staff continuously learn and better understand microaggressions, stereotypes and how they can demonstrate ‘anti-racist practice’.

The expertise of specialist external trainers and consultants is instrumental in shaping effective anti-racist approaches – with no reliance on tokenistic online courses.

Here are some additional resources for anti-racist education:

Allyship

Anti-racist allyship is understood by senior leaders, educators and practitioners to be vital in combating all manifestations of racism. Educating, empowering and equipping allies to actively support colleagues from marginalised and minority groups is common practice.

Allyship actively promotes ways in which managers and staff can become allies or become better allies to support their Black and ethnic minority colleagues. Social work employers and educators demonstrate they are willing to keep listening and learning from POC to instigate any meaningful change.

Reverse mentoring

Anti-racist ‘reverse-mentoring’ enables Black and ethnic minority social workers to mentor senior leaders and educators on anti-racism (especially those with identified ‘anti-racist needs’). It is important reverse-mentoring allows mentors some autonomy in their approach. Furthermore, mentoring agreements (considering confidentiality, power dynamics and conflict resolution) are agreed and signed by both parties at the outset.

Leadership programmes

To combat ‘glass-ceiling racism’, various professional development opportunities are available designed to provide advice/support colleagues from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds to enhance their career progression.

‘Positive representation’ recognises the disadvantages and obstacles for POC and provides opportunities (mentoring, nominations, secondments, shadowing etc) to support them in reaching their full potential.

Due to the representational imbalance, ring-fenced investment and operational resources to support leadership programmes should be put in place. This addresses the lack of Black and ethnic minority social workers in senior roles and provides support for those who are.

Unsurprisingly, I cannot be detailed or too prescriptive above due to limited space.  Also, the demographics/dynamics in each work setting will vary.  However, my suggestions can be cross-referenced with the Anti-racist Commitment Framework.  The framework provides more detail on: accelerating diversity; educating, empowering and equipping people; leading by example and building transparency.  The framework is also compatible with BASW’s code of ethics, working conditions wellbeing toolkit and mentoring scheme.

Ok, so what needs to happen nationally?

The existing national frameworks and initiatives to support Black and ethnic minority social workers are fragmented and optional. This can create confusion and dilution in their coherence and implementation in practice. Social work has a long history of committing to anti-discriminatory practice, but less in the way of practical mandatory implementation or robust challenge on these issues.

Now is the time for the profession to properly address this.  I (and no doubt many others) would welcome the prioritisation of sector leaders (including the chief social workers, Social Work England, directors of adult social services and children’s services and other key stakeholders) to meaningfully and purposefully move this agenda forward to establish a mandatory ‘anti-discriminatory national framework’ that is universal across social work – in collaboration with BASW.

An important first step, would be to explicitly reintroduce anti-discriminatory, anti-oppressive practices and anti-racist values and ethics into the professional and qualifying education and training standards.  This new regime should involve partnership working between key stakeholders to enforce these values and ethics across the professional landscape.  Key aims/objectives would be to: ensure consistency, introduce mandatory requirements, emphasise ‘anti-racist’ values and be universally applicable to all social workers like the professional capabilities framework and the professional standards.

We all know that organisations can sometimes be avoidant of anti-racism, but as social workers we must recognise that silence (or inaction) on racism is complicity with the oppressors.  Unfortunately, as a profession we have been complacent and have much more to do to cultivate equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace and society.

BASW England is able to provide advice and support, facilitate consultation and deliver training (where possible) to assist social work organisations in implementing the above approach and embedding the Anti-racist Commitment Framework.  For social workers, there are various opportunities through BASW to develop your expertise in this area with our equality, diversity and inclusion group, events, branch meetings and training programmes.

Also, BASW England will be leading a Black and ethnic professionals symposium (BPS) for BASW members from 23 July 2020 and a forthcoming anthology, so do contact me at wayne.reid@basw.co.uk or @wayne_reid79 – if you are interested in any of these initiatives.  Many of you will also be aware of our campaign to change the imagery on the KCMG medal and our open letter to the Queen. BASW will not remain silent on this issue and we implore you to do the same.

Committing to anti-racism 

I sincerely hope this article resonates with those with power and influence within social work to rigorously combat racism by integrating a mandatory Anti-racist Commitment Framework. I am confident that this will embed anti-racist values and ethics into practice (not just theory). Also, I also hope anti-oppressive and anti-discriminatory practice can be reaffirmed generally, as sadly, these have slid off the agenda significantly in recent years.

As a footnote, section 95 the Criminal Justice Act 1991 requires the government to publish information to help the criminal justice system meet its duty to avoid discrimination on the grounds of race, gender or any other improper ground.  This is a powerful tool, possibly under-used, by Black and ethnic minority professionals and white officers (allies) who identify racism.  This has the potential of legislative support for operational staff who raise the issue of racist practices (where perceived).

Let’s not forget, “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”. The only real enemy of progress is ignorance.  Social justice must prevail.

‘One world, one race… the human race!’

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25 Responses to How to promote an anti-racist culture in social work

  1. Dani Alexander July 18, 2020 at 11:37 am #

    Hugely helpful for me, a privileged Anglo white settler in Australia, 3rd year Bach. SW student. Thank you so much. Will share with fellow students via social media, and during next class. Most importantly, will save, print and do everything possible to advocate for ENACTMENT within future workplaces.

  2. Janet McTurney July 18, 2020 at 5:12 pm #

    Joy Gardner, Edson Da Costa, Kingsley Burrell, Christopher Alder, Darren Cumberbatch, Sean Rigg, Rashan Charles, Simeon Francis. All killed during an “encounter” with the police. Blair Peach, Kevin Gately killed by the police at anti-racism demonstrations. Racism is class based, no amount of social work hand ringing can tackle the discrimination that needs racism and bigotry to sustain the economic priorities of capitalism. I am a Black Scouser, my interests are also common to my White, Chinese, and the spectrum of Asian sisters and brothers in my region and beyond. The racism I face may be different to the harassment faced by White Scousers, but we all suffer the same unemployment when we are out of work, we all suffer from the same bigotry as Scousers when we speak. I am an ex-social worker and when I apparently “travelled” to London to work, my Scouseness was more of a problem in my work environment than my Blackness. None of this diminishes the insidiousness and the pervasiveness of racism, but class matters too. Lewis Hamilto, Idris Alba or any other supposed role models don’t represent me when they happily participate in industries that exploit workers and ply their trade in countries that torture, kill and dehumanise people. Black Lives Matter in Hungary and Doha and Qatar too don’t they? The cotton weavers of Lancashire didn’t have to show solidarity with their Indian counterparts when their incomes were severely impacted by the boycott of British cotton, but they did. Living in tax exile in Monaco while taking the knee and raising a fist isn’t really a sacrifice is it? No amount of so claimed prioritising of anti-racist practice by social work ‘leaders’ or ‘educators’ will tackle real racism because depoliticising actions by bureaucratising responses is yet another tactic to neutralise meaningful change. Angela Davis understood this and was jailed for it. Can’t see any of my esteemed betters sacrificing future ennoblement in the same way.

  3. Anon July 18, 2020 at 5:17 pm #

    “In some cases, it’s really not hard to see who the direct descendants of slaveowners are. With some people, it stands out like a beacon, regardless of what they say and do.” I am struggling to see how this comment is useful to the debate. A very devisive thing to say. Exactly what evidence do you have to suggest a person has behaved in a manner that indicates they are akin to a slave owner.

    • Wayne Reid July 19, 2020 at 2:25 pm #

      Dear Anon

      You may have possibly skim-read the article, but here is the context to my statement, which I stand by:

      “During the coronavirus pandemic, I have been told by Black and ethnic minority practitioners about personal protective equipment (PPE) being prioritised or withheld on occasions for white colleagues, and being made to visit service users with suspected Covid-19 with no PPE, guidance or support, whilst white managers stayed at the office with ‘their’ supply of PPE and engaged in racist banter.

      These perverse experiences can be impossible for victims of ‘naked and slippery’ everyday racism to articulate to others or reconcile internally themselves. Furthermore, these incidents are normalised and subsumed in many workplace cultures, with limited opportunities to ‘professionally offload’. In some cases, it’s really not hard to see who the direct descendants of slaveowners are. With some people, it stands out like a beacon, regardless of what they say and do.“

      • Laura July 22, 2020 at 2:01 pm #

        I really found this article useful, challenging and was horrified about the PPE being withheld, as a SW manager, my staff (regardless of colour, grade, role) having PPE was so important and I would have been terrified at the idea of anyone not being equipped!

        I do agree with the above poster though about your remark about spotting those who you believe to be ancestors of slave owners. You are unlikely to be able to actually investigate this so it is merely a judgement. Guess work. Would you apply this judgement to service users? Racism is complex, perhaps some values are passed down through the generations but some are completely rejected!! Working with survivors of incest, abuse etc, are they never freed from their awful family history? That theory scares me. It’s suggests something that I want to fight against and suggests that homophobia for example will persist within families forever.

        • Black Diamond July 24, 2020 at 6:19 am #

          Laura
          Im glad to here that as a social work manager you recognise the importance of PPE during this unprecedented time for all regardless of race.

          You either wish to educate yourself or not when it comes to the history of racism and racism today. Those workers Wayne talks above demonstrate their racist behaviour everyday in the workplace of social work organisations and are demonstrated microaggressions and overt racist behaviours and this is the culture of many social work organisations. You either accept it or not.

          These racist behaviours by white social workers will and have spilled over into the assessments of BAME communities. I have seen this first hand and white managers have been part of the problem for not dealing with that behaviour. Although this isn’t the debate I have also heard direct homophobic language by these same social workers, even when reported. Not been dealt with by the management team.

          So do you think it’s acceptable for a social worker to go on a fishing expedition to remove Black children from their parents. Racism isn’t complex your either racist or anti racist full stop their is no in between.

          Is it acceptable for social workers to disrespect black parents who bring cultural foods for their children during contact. For social workers to disrespect the food because it’s not to their liking.

          Being silent is being part of the problem.

        • Black Diamond July 24, 2020 at 9:31 am #

          In fact Laura and Anon – read and watch lemn sissay story that is factual evidence of slaver owners mentality and institutional racism. Removing the name of Black person following is birth and more is that enough evidence for you. Only 50 odd years ago.

          • Laura July 24, 2020 at 10:25 pm #

            I absolutely agree, the withholding of the PPE absolutely will be a part of what I expect is a whole host of other racist behaviours and attitudes, if it had come out like that, it will of course have come out in many other ways and as you say, micro aggressions for sure.

            I have never, and never will accept the oppressive and racist behaviours that you have outlined. My point was limited to the guess work entailed in assuming someone is from a ‘slave owning background’. Being racist isn’t complex as you say, you are or you aren’t. Bur what I still think is complex, is the causes and contributions that lead someone to hold racist values. Some don’t even know they hold them. TV, media, education, family, where you live, your class, education, experiences all contribute to prejudice. And that needs understanding if we want to attempt to break it down. I will watch your recommendation

    • Black Diamond July 23, 2020 at 7:42 pm #

      Dear Anon

      Why is this comment useful to this debate, because that where the racism began and is still demonstrated worldwide and is still ingrained in British society within the workplace, criminal justice system, police brutality, education, housing and in employment and within the social work profession whereby some of its core roots are suppose to be based on anti racist, anti oppressive and anti discriminatory practice.

      Just because some of the behaviours are carried out covertly does mean it’s not the same. Some of those racist behaviours are carried out overtly like Wayne highlighted the two police officers who had the audacity to take a selfie of themselves with two Black women who had been murder how do you feel their loved ones are feeling, so disrespectful. One of those women was a Social Worker.

      Again this has been kept low key because it’s the police force and we already know the police force has been deemed institutionally racist on a number of occasions. This kind of behaviour replicates pass behaviour demonstrated by slave owners who had no shame humiliating the dead or the living. So that’s why it is relevant to the debate.

      It’s not devisive to speak the truth rather than beating around the bush. Or been silence just condones those wrongdoings. These are the difficult conversations that need to be had unapologetically.

      Especially when you hear about the number of Black Asian and other Ethnic Minorities losing their lives because of the lack of or the incorrect PPE in the nhs. Now where hearing about social work managers with holding PPE for white staff that’s direct racism. But I’m not surprise, I believe, team managers need to be also carrying out home visits rather than just giving out orders and sitting behind their desks.

      • Black Diamond July 27, 2020 at 8:16 pm #

        Laura
        I don’t believe I should be making recommendations, I believe that those people and those organisations who demonstrate Racial Prejudice and structural Racism and those who justify racism in their organisations need to take responsibility for their actions as well as educating themselves with books etc.

        Like I said watch or read about people like Lemn Sissay – that was direct systemic racial discrimination. They had no legal rights but lied to this man for 50 years. Changed his name at birth, told him his mother didn’t want him, they stripped him of his Ethiopian culture and identity as a Black child and Adult -this is civilised British Society. If they are treating children and families this way can you manage how they treat Black Social Workers in their organisations.

        They need to follow up those actions and recommendations not watered down recommendations either. Like some of the ones Wayne has highlighted in his article. Like Ethnic Quotas.

        I don’t agree, with your statement about it been complex regarding the causes and contributions that leads someone to hold racist values. I definitely don’t agree with your views that some people don’t even no they hold them. You are basically saying people and many intelligent people /employees don’t no they hold these racist views. I believe it’s a smoke screen. Do you think the police officers who took a selfie with two murdered, black women didn’t know what they were doing. These women just got caught red handed. It’s disgraceful and unforgivable.

        Yes maybe there should be an open debate about why White Social Workers and beyond social work hold these views.

        All I can say that systemic racism and institutional racism needs to be dismantled in social work organisations full stop. As racism is a mismatch to the values of social work.

  4. Cecilia Matsikidze -Anonymous July 19, 2020 at 3:14 pm #

    We now have a social care frontline workforce that is very diverse and depending which part of the country you in, predominantly BAME. Within the BAME workforce there are also very diverse needs and experiences. So to have a one size fits all approach is the very beginning of failure to address the negative experiences that the workforce face.
    We need to go local as to your team, what are the issues and then feed into the bigger organisation approach, this will ensure that any actions agreed are meaningful to people for whom the actions are meant to impact positive change.

  5. Chinye July 19, 2020 at 11:15 pm #

    If I was in an office where managers deliberately withheld PPE for white staff use only I would refuse to work. If I was in an office where managers engaged in racist banter and my employing authority did not take action I would report them to the police for hate crime. Whatever the institutionalised racism we face, we are not powerless victims. We have each other and we need to use our solidarity to tackle our abusers. If you believe that there are managers acting like slave owners with all that that infers, it is incumbent on you to identify the organisations which tolerate and may encourage such power dynamics so that we can support our comrades and fight back with them. We don’t need to be alone, we can tackle back. I speak as a black female social work trainee who fought my bullying supervisor with my own strength and the support of my colleagues white and black. Reclaim your power, our abusers are not as powerful as they think.

  6. James Appledore July 20, 2020 at 9:46 am #

    As a self declared representative body for social workers, BASW must act on the evidence it has that white managers have purposefully withheld PPE from workers of colour, committed hate crime by willfully being racist and acting like slave owners. If BASW chooses to side with oppressors by doing nothing about this, it should desist in promoting itself as being anti-racist and leaders in promoting social work and advancing the interest of social workers. Action now not more words about collaboration with racists on ‘policies’.

  7. JasonM July 20, 2020 at 3:45 pm #

    A direct and directly useful article.
    A senior manager of mine once had a well-intended go at setting out a Black and Ethnic Minority inclusion policy for us (predominantly white) staff. ‘BEM’ was the term used at the time – even used as a plural – BEMs. This seemed to me to read like a ‘guide to all those people not like you’, all very White British culturally normative, reinforced by referring to the “others” in such abbreviated terms – being in the majority too I punningly referred to this approach as “BEM and us” (which he took in good spirits).

    I feel slightly odd about this still, especially when I hear the term BAME spoken by, for example, cabinet ministers and party leaders in parliament. I worry that this convenience of speech might lead to a simplified or misunderstood concept – one of demography, rather than power (I remember hearing politicians years ago talk of “the ethnic minorities”!). Might the same goes for the letters POC – I thought the words ‘people of colour’ have been widely adopted precisely because of the breadth they suggest. I am certainly not saying it is unacceptable for the writer or for anyone else to use abbreviations per se, but does anyone else share my unease? Should there be a debate on their use to guard against misuse or misappropriation? Surely it would not just be me cringing if Mr Johnson was to say ‘This government commits to empowering POC’?!

  8. Shah July 21, 2020 at 8:48 am #

    Excellent reflective article that is well balanced and gives all those interested a starting point if they genuinely wish to address the issue of race and inequality.

  9. Alan Buckles July 23, 2020 at 5:46 pm #

    Dear BASW, in my opinion Chinye and James have raised legitimate queries of you which you have not even had the courtesy to respond to let alone act on. This makes your claim to represent and safeguard social workers a sham. Consider me one potential recruit lost.

  10. Black Diamond July 24, 2020 at 8:22 am #

    Alan
    How do you know that the social workers in that local authority hasn’t called out the manager and the leadership team have just silence the workers for calling out wrongdoings. How do you no BASW hasn’t reported the L A. This is the culture of some social work organisations it’s real and a fact.

  11. Alan Buckles July 24, 2020 at 7:24 pm #

    Black Diamond you are right I don’t know any of this. If you do than perhaps you can tell us what has happened. If BASW have taken up the case they can at least say they are dealing with it. Its because I share your view that employers do bully and victimise some staff that I asked for leadership from BASW. I haven’t challenged what the staff have been reported to have said, I believe their experiences happened. It’s because I believe them that I asked the question. I am not sure what you are accusing me of. I stand in solidarity and comradeship with my colleagues.

  12. Alex July 25, 2020 at 6:58 pm #

    The claim ppe was withheld is a serious one. As such it needs to be backed up with evidence and subsequent action.

  13. Black Diamond July 26, 2020 at 9:19 pm #

    Alan,
    I have no knowledge, like you of this situation. I agree with you that BASW should follow up this issue as a matter of urgency.
    As lives have been lost due to a health pandemic and in my opinion systematic racism pandemic, which isn’t new. I’m not accusing you of anything, but give Wayne a chance, remember he also works in a organisation with very few Black workers. BASW, also needs to look at Ethnic Quotas to ensure that a number of Black Workers are recruited at all levels of their organisation. Not just tokenistically as one or two Black Worker cannot demonstrate change as we have seen before. BASW has made a statement to support black lives matter and has also stated that they will be committed to implement changes in the workplace and beyond. I am glad we both share views and are singing from the same hymn sheet when it comes to the victimisation and bullying of Black Social Work employees and our white Social work allies.

  14. Andy August 6, 2020 at 3:50 am #

    I have a long but nonetheless simple question: after at least thirty years during which social work education has included at its core, substantive and comprehensive exhortations from every conceivable angle on the issues of racism, why hasn’t teaching on anti discriminatory and anti oppressive practice been effective in social work?
    The question is referenced against the constant stream of articles over many years here in Community Care which repeatedly raise issues of racism, discriminatory and oppressive behaviours as experienced by minority ethnic social work staff within a wide range of social work agencies and organisations.

  15. Ian August 6, 2020 at 8:36 pm #

    Dear Andy, might it be that the way social work is organised around pointless tasks militates against meaningful and thoughtful practise that would allow for anti-discriminatory practise? Might it be that proclaiming anti-oppressive intentions while facilitating and perpetuating the oppression of working class users of services is a meaningless aspiration? Social work education and social work leadership is rotten, neither can contribute to the changes needed to undermine the social relations that perpetuate racism. Any good that we do as social workers is due to our collective efforts as peers. Our employing organisations, our teaching institutions, our ‘leaders’, our ennobled betters are embedded in the ideology of the prevailing establishment, some depend on it for their future State honours. That may be why we will continue to hear and read the same rhetoric while nothing changes.

    • Andy August 7, 2020 at 7:46 pm #

      Dear Ian. Your answer raises other issues regarding the backgrounds of those who rise to positions of senior management in social work. If they are all qualified social workers, why aren’t they incorporating relevant training and methodologies in their work including anti oppressive/discriminatory practice? If they are from outside of social work, why are they managing social work agencies?
      I don’t believe social workers work collectively; the job is largely intrinsically individualised which by definition weakens our capacity to make systemic change.

      • Ian August 9, 2020 at 2:55 pm #

        Social work is not a unified profession but in my experiences at least, social workers work collaboratively and in solidarity as peers. Given that the Chief Social Worker and the CEO of Social Work England are political appointments accountable to the Government, it really doesn’t matter if they are qualified social workers. They can’t embed social work values and social justice priorities into our profession when their accountability is to politicians and organisationally their prime concern is regulation of our “performance” and prioritising discharge of statutory duties by local authorities. This is why systemic change is never unachieved in my opinion rather than because we are down a rabbit whole working on our own.

  16. Lenya August 10, 2020 at 4:05 pm #

    I found the article thought provoking. I have always, from the privileged position of being white, tried to put myself into black shoes and view the world and workplace from that perspective in order to set policies and procedures in the work places I have been responsible for. Wayne’s article gives some very useful areas upon which to formulate some real policies and procedures in the workplace, rather then simply reciting generalised anti -discriminatory practice. I am currently reading the book ‘White Fragility -why its so hard for white people to talk about racism’ by Robin Diangelo, from which I am hoping to develop more realistic training within my own organisation. We have only one black worker and very few black clients so it is hard to maintain a pro-active stance -nevertheless I hope that nothing like Wayne’s allegation of PPE being withheld from black staff members would EVER occur within my workplace, nor would racist jokes. I would be interested for any further pointers as to how best to move this on in a mainly white organisation, because I want this worker and client awareness to cascade outwards, into society generally.

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