The rebirth of anti-racist perspectives in social work
Earlier this week I attended an important and inspiring event entitled Black and Anti-Racist Perspectives in Social Work, organised by Dr Josephine Kwhali, Dr Gurnam Singh and their colleagues at Coventry University.
In a small group discussion in the morning, two questions were posed: Why have we stopped as a profession talking about anti-racist social work? And, how can we reconstitute an anti-racist social work project?
Both tough questions and we found them well worth grappling with. The issue of language was one of the themes of the day, visited in turn by Pennie Pennie, founder member of the Association of Black Social Workers and Allied Professions, Dr Shepherd Masocha of the University of South Australia and Ratna Dutt, Chief Executive of the Race Equality Foundation. Pennie pointed to a change of rhetoric, with the language of diversity and equalities having supplanted that of race and racism, and her view is that people are afraid to talk about the latter.
Have I stopped talking about race and anti-racist social work, and if so, why? One comment I made in the group I was in, was that I was attracted to attend the day in large part, because of the language in the title. I’m not sure I would have travelled to spend a day at an event called Diversity in Social Work. It made me consider the importance and need for language that identifies and specifies. Ratna Dutt made clear the evidence of the specific harmful effects of the specific oppression of racism, so if social work is to be an evidence-based practice, then an anti-racist social work project is required.
In terms of how to move ahead with this project, a common theme that emerged from the day was the need for collective action. To return to Pennie: “You can’t do it on your own – these things need to be done, so you need to ask, where are my allies?”
I was pleased to be there as chair of BASW, and challenged too. Our vision contains the aim: ‘We will ensure that our membership reflects and represents the whole population of social workers, including younger, and black and minority ethnic social workers’, and this is important, though I think we have to go beyond that. We also avow that we will promote social justice and human rights and I think here, where it comes to the delivery of our vision, we need to become specific, including by supporting a project of challenging racism.
In the closing discussion someone from the floor voiced the hope that this day could be, “a launch pad for the rebirth of anti-racist perspectives in social work”. I believe this hope was shared around the room, in which there was a lot of energy.
I want BASW to be a part of this, leading and supporting where appropriate. I look forward to this project being represented at the social work summit taking place on 21st January, and to BASW helping to build “a new politics of solidarity” that was also, stirringly, called for from the floor.