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A conversation with BASW Anti-Racism Lead Wayne Reid

We speak to Wayne about his experiences and perspectives as a Black social worker – alongside his vision for developing genuine anti-racist practice across the profession and wider society

BASW UK recently announced three new roles, as part of its commitment to embedding equality, diversity, inclusivity (EDI) and anti-racism across the organisation and the wider social work sector.

BASW England's Professional Officer Wayne Reid has moved into a dedicated part-time EDI lead role with a focus on Anti-Racism in England while continuing half time as Professional Officer in the BASW England team.

Here, in the first of three interviews, we speak to Wayne about his experiences and perspectives as a Black social worker – alongside his vision for developing genuine anti-racist practice across the profession and wider society.

Anti-racism in social work - reigniting the movement

Wayne Reid is an experienced social worker, a Professional Officer at BASW for over three years and a prolific writer. He has worked in a variety of social work roles - in a Youth Offending Team, Leaving Care Team, child protection, adult mental health services, and eight years working in fostering services before joining BASW.

“I’ve encountered racism in my career - mainly covertly - but I’ve been fortunate enough for it not to hold me back in severely adverse ways that I know are experienced every day by other social workers of colour. 

“Up until George Floyd’s murder, I had enjoyed a fruitful career at BASW, but that atrocity forced me to step outside of my comfort zone to expose the multi-faceted examples of white supremacy in social work in a solution-focused way.

“Overnight, I became the proverbial ‘horse that bolted’ and proactively reignited the anti-racism in social work movement pioneered by the likes of Gurnam Singh, Kish Bhatti-Sinclair, Claudia Bernard, Prospera Tedam, Angie Bartoli and others."

During the first few months of the pandemic, Wayne observed how both structural and everyday racism affected social workers on the frontline.

“Black and Ethnic Minority practitioners reported to us (BASW) that Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was being prioritised on occasions for their white colleagues. Others explained they were made/ordered to visit service-users with suspected COVID-19 (with no PPE and no guidance/support), whilst some white managers were reported to remain in 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'."

Creating meaningful, lasting change

A year on from the start of the pandemic, Wayne finds himself in a new role at BASW - but he was already developing ways to tackle structural racism within the sector and across wider society.

"I’ve been outspoken about what I observe to be the barriers to anti-racism in social work. Much of my work (before accepting this formal role), involved understanding the dynamic factors that influence racism (inside and outside of social work) to conceptualise how anti-racism can be embedded and implemented in various social work settings for social workers of colour now and in the future.

"For example, many social workers of colour face ‘glass ceiling racism’ in terms of career progression. So, I worked in partnership with an executive recruitment agency called Perrett Laver last year to organise an event called ‘Smashing the Glass Ceiling’ (in conjunction with the BPS) to promote employment skills for Black and Ethnic Minority professionals. The event was attended by 250 people."

Wayne's pioneering work has been recognised by BASW, with the organisation committing resources and energy to seriously addressing deeply embedded structural racism - whether that's internal, in the sector, or across society. 

Wayne, Shantel Thomas and Narinder Sidhu will take the lead on developing a robust BASW approach to anti-racism and EDI, in order to create meaningful, lasting change.

“My big plans for the future on anti-racism, include: enhancing my anti-racism presentation; emboldening the BPS; campaigning for anti-racism; anti-oppression and anti-discrimination to be included in the regulatory standards; challenging the disproportionate representation of social workers of colour at fitness to practice hearings and developing initiatives on ‘authentic allyship’.

“It’s essential for other organisations to recreate similar roles to effectively (and meaningfully) combat racism.”

'Pure, Proactive and Unapologetic'

Wayne approaches these issues with a philosophy of 'Pure, Proactive and Unapologetic' - which anchors his overall strategy to promoting anti-racism.

"The mantra of ‘pure, proactive and unapologetic’ is just an indication of my combative and militant mindset when it comes to Anti-racism in Social Work. My approach is to move through different strategic phases to promote anti-racism: shock and awe; edutainment; authentic allyship and collaboration.

"My ‘pure, proactive and unapologetic’ approach is personal to me and I don’t speak on behalf of all Black and Ethnic Minority people or social workers. We are not a homogenous group.

"I refuse to be the tokenistic ‘Black voice’ of BASW. I’ve had a diverse social work career and anti-racism is in all our interests. I’m one of many Black voices in the profession. I realise my role at BASW enables me to be heard more broadly than others.

"When I’m talking about anti-racism, I’m not aspiring to be a ‘nice guy’ when it comes to combating white supremacy. ‘Niceness’ is often weaponised against people of colour. My motivation is not for career ambition or financial gain.

"It’s for the cause, not applause – and the underlying cause is Black Lives Matter."

'White allies should continuously empower, educate and equip themselves in an authentic way'

A question that often comes up in the discourse around anti-racism is what can white allies do to support – Wayne shares his thoughts on this issue.

"My view is that White allies should continuously empower, educate and equip themselves in an authentic way. 

"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.

"Social work employers and educators should demonstrate they are willing to keep listening and learning from people of colour to instigate meaningful change.

"Dr Muna Abdi frames it neatly when she says: 'The work of anti-racism is to fight racism wherever you see it… even in yourself. The struggle cannot be found in the pages of a book. You can’t read yourself into activism. Sooner or later, you’ll have to make a choice… Do what is safe or do what is right.'

"Black and Ethnic Minority professionals must remember it is not their role to dismantle racism. They can play a part if they wish to, but racism is ‘a white problem'."

Finally, Wayne talks of how the burden of addressing deeply entrenched racism should not fall solely on social workers of colour.

"Social workers of colour should be seen as ‘experts by experience’, with specific professional needs, but 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."

Wayne Reid, BASW Anti-Racism Lead, is inviting social workers to share examples of anti-racism activism. Find out more

Learn more about anti-racist practice in social work

** Anti-Racism portfolio **

Wayne’s ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’ portfolio is a collection of free resources, statements and other content. View the full portfolio

** OUTLANDERS **

Wayne recently co-edited a book, OUTLANDERS. In this landmark publication, social workers from Black and other Global Majority Communities showcase a rich and diverse collection of their essays, poems, stories and reflections, providing unique and spellbinding insights. Find out more