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BASW’s voices for Black History Month…and beyond

Cherelle Francis, Vice Chair of BASW’s Black and Ethnic Minority Professionals Symposium

"Black History isn’t just about all the bad times we’ve been through. It is about integrity, leadership, and determination. It’s about showing your true character."  (Brandon Fort)

The above quote was taken from an essay entitled "What does Black History Month mean to me?" and as I read it a lot of what was written resonated with me.

Black History is ‘Our History’ to celebrate the many achievements of Black people and to learn about the struggles that our ancestors had endured, to enable Black people to have better opportunities and a better way of living. 

Despite this, I find that the idea of only celebrating this once a year for a month is not enough and instead feels tokenistic.

A close friend of mine recently mentioned that she had read that the emphasis of Black History Month has been on learning about Black culture, rather than understanding the history of what brought Black people into the UK. 

The history to outline that Black and Ethnic Minorities helped to fight the British war and to build the post war economy to only be treated as second class citizens. 

I agree with this point and I believe Black people’s contribution to the country’s achievements should be more widely acknowledged alongside the celebrations and sharing of our culture.

We are the second class citizens that continue to face inequalities within the workplace and a ' glass ceiling ' when it comes to the lack of representation of Black and Ethnic Minorities in the upper echelons of organisational leadership structure. 

This is something that Theodore W. Allen in 1919 termed as ‘‘white-skin privilege,’' highlighting the idea that Black and Ethnic Minorities faces are hardly seen past managerial roles in Social Work.

In the next five years, I would like to see more Black and Ethnic Minority workers placed in higher roles as part of positive discrimination, so we can start seeing our own faces in higher places. 

I would also like to see the curriculum taught in Social Work to be more culturally diverse and to have more open and uncomfortable discussions about race and racism to challenge the barriers that people of colour continue to face in the workplace. 

To have a half day training session on anti-racist practice is a start but is not enough (as it feels like a tick box exercise), but instead a module dedicated to this area is necessary in order to promote cultural awareness in all. 

Let us make Black History Month an everyday event as we are worth so much more than a month.  This is what reforms in Social Work would look like and what Black History means to me.

Cherelle Francis