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Blog: Addressing inequality and oppression such as institutional racism is vital in society and a core task of social work and education

Blog by Abyd Quinn Aziz, Social Work Programme Director, Cardiff University

This year, 2020, seems to have been a momentous year so far.  The impact of the murder of George Floyd is being felt across the world, with Black Lives Matter, yet again having to come to the fore to highlight the depth of individual and institutional racism in society.  Our sympathies and solidarity goes out to all those affected by this and the disproportionate impact of Covid 19 in black and ethnic minority communities.  It comes with the coming acknowledgment that this is not the fault of those communities’ lifestyles or genetic deficits, but that racism and the stresses that this brings play a part.  This is compounded by poverty and employment where BME workers felt less protected and pushed into the front line during this crisis.

Here, in social work education in Wales, we were able to agree how to deal with practice learning placements as an HEI sector to address the pandemic and then the lockdown, in discussion with Social Care Wales.  PLOs were suspended, for the safety of students, but also so that they did not just become an extra pair of hands instead of being educated to become social workers.  Of course, many were able to take on valuable caring roles while completing their portfolios and collating evidence from a range of sources while they had been on placement and are receiving important support from their practice educators in putting together their portfolio demonstrating competence and identifying learning needs to take forward into the first year of practice.

I know that we all went through a range of feelings and at the end of May I realised that I was feeling shocked, upset, tired and angry at George Floyd’s murder and how events are unfolding in the USA and other countries across the world.  It made me think (amongst other things) of our profession and how addressing inequality and oppression such as institutional racism is vital in society and that it is a core task of social work and education; to challenge and confront this wherever it happens. 

There had been a distinct lack of response from those we might expect to stand up in our profession, as BASW’s Wayne Reid pointed out in Community Care, but the Black Lives Matter movement brought this to everybody’s attention.  Suddenly there were conversations about race and racism in all spheres of life, positively, some jumping on the bandwagon and some criticism (to put it politely) of the movement.  Here in Wales, BLM demonstrations cropped up across the country, with a large start in Cardiff, organised by a much younger group of people taking the reins from the older activists. It was also noticeable that there were far more people of colour amongst the organisers, speakers and leaders.

The Cardiff demo, amongst others, highlighted that it was not about black against white, but about all of us standing together against racism and in working together to examine how deeply ingrained racism is in society and in all that we do.  The Social Work Action Network highlight ‘these systems of oppression are worldwide; from Brazil to Chile, to Palestine...worldwide, racial capitalism, settler colonialism, and imperialism are being unmasked by a new global movement’ and we stand in solidarity with the victims of institutional racism, reminding us that ‘Power conceded nothing without a demand.  It never has and it never will’. Fredrick Douglass an African American Abolitionist. 

In social work, one of our central values is that we work in an anti-discriminatory way, an active approach of doing something to bring about change and to quote Vasilios Ioakimidis (on Twitter) 'A good way for social work to ensure that its commitment to Black Lives Matter and anti-racism is not performative is to encourage a thorough exploration of the profession's own history; especially those troubling chapter of colonialism, segregation and assimilation'.

I recognise that many will be experiencing a mix of feelings and of wanting to find out what to do about it and there are a mass of useful resources for you to look up to help you learn, to help looking at world events in a more critical manner and how to be an ally in this fight.  This goes beyond thinking being non-racist is enough and moving from carrying out implicit bias tests to reading, listening and talking about what will be a painful topic.  Don’t leave it to colleagues who are people of colour to raise and put your ego to the side if you are challenged at not getting it right first time, or the second time, but learn.  We all need to take action individually and with other people and through our organisations and associations as well as in our neighbourhoods.

BASW have set up the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group, and Wayne Reid at BASW England will be leading a Black and Ethnic professionals’ symposium for members in England (contact him on wayne.reid@basw.co.uk) and you can very easily carry out a search of useful reading and online material to help you.

BASW Cymru are keen to set up a black professionals network across Wales, please do contant the BASW Cymru  team if you are interested in being involved. 

Above all, though, if there is something we can do to honour the deaths and struggles that have been highlighted to us in these past months, we can take heed of the words of Al Sharpton, in his eulogy for George Floyd, ‘We gonna fight on…we are not fighting some disconnected incidents.  We are fighting an institutional, systemic problem…’ and surely our world of social work must be full of allies.