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Outlanders - Hidden Narratives From Social Workers Of Colour

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


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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.

OUTLANDERS: Hidden narratives from social workers of colour (from Black & other Global Majority Communities) captures the silenced and suppressed voices of social work students, practitioners, managers and academics. It combines a unique blend of personal and professional experiences with a sprinkle of cathartic and therapeutic creativity into a boiling cauldron of many moods. The result? Pure edutainment.

This bold and unapologetic anthology explores a range of perennial issues, including anti-racist activism; oppressive workplace environments; racial trauma and COVID-19. The authentic and cultured spirits that permeate these pages convey an ancestral force that will reverberate inside and outside of social work.

“An eclectic and eye-opening view on social work and the many issues experienced – and dealt with – by social workers from global majority backgrounds.” (Sam Walby, Now Then Magazine)

“It’s so vitally important that the voices of Black social workers are heard. While navigating the very real violence of racism, they manage to do an incredibly challenging job. This anthology has given me a newfound respect for those in this industry - and it should be read and studied widely.” (Izin Akhabau, The Voice)

"Each submission, though unique in its focus and narrative, offers a powerful common depiction of how racism, injustice and inequality manifests within social work. By combining evidence from research, data, personal stories, this anthology presents a compelling narrative and forces us to confront the inadequacy of our response to racism.

It is, for me, the expansive/wide-ranging lens of the anthology that amplifies its messages so effectively. From academia to practice, from the interpersonal to the structural, from poetry to policy analysis… racism is shown to be as endemic as it is destructive.

The heartache of losing a son, the anger of being unsupported by those with professional power, the sheer exhaustion and isolation of being subjected to repeated micro-aggressions – all of these emotions and more come through with painful clarity in these submissions. The use of personal story serves to ‘make real’ the abstract notion of structural oppression. Each submission acting as amplification to the last – reinforcing the common experiences of colleagues of colour, demanding that we hear these voices however painful it might be.

The submissions also offer hope – descriptions of valued mentors, allyship and ‘lessons learned’ are no less important than the tales of discrimination." (Dez Holmes - Director of Research in Practice)

"This collection of personal narratives of social workers’ lived experiences of the barriers of racism is an overdue prompt that social work has not done enough to be anti-racist, nor heard enough from the wisdom of its own. The narrative of this collection paints racism originating in actions, comments, inactions or micro-aggressions. Looking at the full picture, these layers cumulatively block out the talents of social workers from black, ethic and other minority backgrounds.

An author sets out how white colleagues must stop being shocked that racism ‘still’ expresses itself as it does. Instead, this collection invokes the profound shock of reflection that we have failed to change social work itself. In 21st century British social work, it is an uncomfortable truth that white social workers hold the power to change. Being anti-racist means occupying that discomfort to extend the radical transformative power of social work to all its practitioners. Some of these stories show social workers that occupy this space and the need to for more to follow their example.

Living with the discomfort of white privilege is nothing compared to tales of racism that led to bereavement or loss of identity. They tell of racism eroding confidence in lives entwined with the pain of living with pernicious hostilities. These are tales told with a directness that vaults over sympathy to demand action. They prompt personal reflections about times when I failed to recognise needs, made assumptions and when I failed to be the ally that was being sought. This book holds the challenge of these recollections alongside refreshing the commitment to change. It is our responsibility to take up the ideas that radiate from reading this timely anthology and for social work to listen as it commits to show what anti-racism looks like." (Peter Hay - Chair of the Social Worker of the Year Awards)

"In a difficult year that has seen movements like Black Lives Matter thrust prominently onto the global stage, shone a light on societal inequalities, and forced the world to confront hard truths of institutional racism and white privilege, 'OUTLANDERS: Hidden Narratives from Social Workers of Colour' makes for essential reading.

Its combination of poetry and eye-opening prose is rich in personal and lived experience, evocatively exploring the realities of microaggression and 'lazy racism.'

The collection has many shades - some of it beautiful, some of it challenging to read, and all of it likely to inspire important conversations." (Nicola Farrah - Head of Community of Social Work News magazine)

"In just one publication, this Anthology provides significantly in-depth knowledge and understanding linked to anti-racism and wider themes relevant to social work practice. No matter what stage you are at in your career and understanding, the key learning points will refresh and introduce learning opportunities in a mixed style that is easy to understand, and one that is extremely well written from the varied contributors and diverse formats. Racism can be an uncomfortable and difficult thing to talk about, but just because something does not directly impact on you does not mean you should turn away from it. In fact, that should be even more of a reason to speak up.

It is excellent to have available a publication that brings together key elements of the personalised impact of racism and importantly within this there is learning for us all to reflect on in one collection. Importantly, the subject is presented in a way that will be helpful to professional social workers across the whole continuum of professional life. Furthermore, other professions involved in working with people and developing professional practice will no doubt find its contents relevant and especially useful and insightful. I have no hesitation in recommending this publication for practice teachers, students, social workers, trade unionists and managers.

I will continue to use my position and privilege to amplify under-heard voices wherever I can and able to do so." (John McGowan - General Secretary of the Social Workers Union)

"OUTLANDERS is an essential piece of reading for anyone wishing to understand the vast experiences, achievements and trauma faced by social workers of colour. The emotional journey of the materials read can only be described as a roller coaster ending with moments of relatability, pain and sheer pride for people that look like me.

Painful stories that shed light on the realities affecting black men leave you thinking about the current state of institutional discrimination. Then the aftermath of hard-hitting facts, highlights the toll racism takes on not just black men, but the mothers that have to bury them. The Comment in particular then describes one of the most beautiful journeys encapsulated in plain, powered by the sheer will to succeed.

Reflection on these pieces of art demonstrates how quite simply how one can have all the potential and a simple comment can destroy ones identity. The reflection of the impact of micro-aggressions on the writers is just powerful, significant and triggering. In a professional field heavily relied on critical analysis, poetry is a beautiful marriage, which encapsulates how common it is to be stripped of ones character in subtle, yet unforgiving ways.
The agony of being a black woman in England is projected with a solid punch of the harsh reality whilst being part of social work academia. The writing formed reflections that justify the current decolonising of social work movement, with the insecurity and struggle that comes from feeling so rejected from who should be your equals.

One particular piece of writing that is not only inspiring, but should be sung loudly to young people to show that the alternative routes to learning can still lead to success and achievement.

OUTLANDERS: Hidden Narratives from Social Workers of Colour is a must read for not only the social work community, but all to see that in many respects racism, prejudice and discrimination is alive and well in England." (Duane Phillips of Student Social Worker Hub)

"I was deeply affected by Outlanders; the essays are unflinching, poignant and painfully relatable. Each essay is sprinkled with vulnerability, delving into the complexities of race, gender, class, the professional and the personal. The journey into Social Work education and practice is fulfilling yet for Black and Ethnic Minority individuals it is isolating due to the experiences of racism and micro-aggressions, that leave our colleagues shocked and in despair at its very existence in the 21st Century. Ahmina Akhtar and The Silenced beautifully pen these indescribable feelings and experiences into paper.

In spite of the pain and memories that surfaced, it felt comforting to know that I am not alone in this. Many of us have once questioned ourselves if indeed our academic work was ‘pretentious’; and if the racism and micro-aggressions we experience and feel in our deepest core are imaginary. Yet our psyche recognises and remembers the harmful effects of racism. It is violence upon the body, it takes its toll on you, and it is exhausting. It is a blow to the tissues of the mind and that of the body; disproportionately affecting black men.

The collection is essential, and a timely reminder of the need of anti-racist approaches in practice and education. We simply need to do more than just training on cultural competence in our pursuit of anti-racist and anti-oppressive social work. We simply need more than a one off-event about racism and diversity in October. Has George Floyd’s murder and the recent uprisings left you feeling powerless, frantically wondering what to do about racism and micro-aggressions in practice? Ways to support your employees? In education? In your position as Service Lead? This collection would be a great start; it is a call for action!" (Vanessa Sibanda - Social Worker - Podcast Co-Host - @brunchandbantupod)

"Black male suicide, a ticking ‘time bomb’ by Dr Jean Dillon. This piece was very moving and unfortunately resonated deeply. Not only did I get a sense of how every day and common place the act of suicide has become in our society but also the pain of the writer.

Microaggressions by Ahmina Akhtar is a wonderfully accurate poem. It made me feel tired and annoyed just reading it. The opening salvo! Your northern accent is so strong. Have you lived in this country long? I thoroughly enjoyed the poet’s wordplay. Oh this one got me right in the feels!

The Comment by Cosmas Maruta is a commentary on how black intellect has been discouraged and crushed not to mention punished as in times of slavery. The writer’s ability to overcome the painful comments from the critical overseer that appears in the guise of a university professor is a triumphant moment for all wordsmiths and lovers of words. Inspiring.

Ambition Navigation by Wayne Reid encapsulates the Black British experience accurately and allows the reader to get in touch with the pressures and hurdle jumping that will be very all too familiar for many professionals of colour. Heart-warmingly Wayne also highlights the role that racial allies have played in his journey and leaves the reader with a sense of hope for the future.

A fantastic feel-good piece.

ARE YOU SURE YOU’RE IN THE RIGHT PLACE? by Zoe Thomas “It's not just about a few bad apples. The whole tree is rotten…” This powerful piece is delivered with poise and simmering intent to shake the reader. From first sentence to last I found myself fluctuating between indignance and fury. Hopefully, the academic activist will no longer feel silenced." (Cliff Faulder - Chief Executive Officer of AboutFace Training)

"Black male suicide, a ticking ‘time bomb’ is a personal and moving short piece told from the perspective of a mother who loses her son to suicide. With stark statistics which outline the prevalence of suicide amongst black men and some of the contributory factors, the piece concludes with a helpful range of creative recommendations which are noteworthy.

Ambition Navigation, Wayne Reid’s story, is a testament to how with the help of a supportive family, key individuals, dogged determination, and authentic curiosity, we can zig-zag our way successfully towards a career. I was particularly struck at how Wayne was able to reflect upon each experience, regardless of how challenging, confrontational, or uncomfortable it might have been at the time and take something positive away from each one. This is a candid and personal insight into a colleague’s journey towards a career where he is making a mark in his own right with his own brand of charisma.

Are you sure you’re in the right place? is a powerful read. Reviewing this piece as a white social work academic I am in equal measures, both ashamed and outraged. Far from being ‘silenced’ this story needs to be read, re-read and shared widely so that future stories can change. We can no longer just nod and listen empathetically, it’s time for all white professionals and academic to act – now.

This is a beautifully lyrical piece which demonstrates how one comment can leave a deep and indelible mark and is a stark reminder of the power of language and words.

This short poem, briming with emotion reminds us of the devasting and long-lasting impact of accumulative microaggressions can have.

In Ambition Navigation we follow the story of Wayne, as he starts life as a second-generation Black British young man from a working-class background. With a raw Yorkshire accent and love of the beautiful game (football), he leaves school with a clutch of decent GCSEs. Despite this, Wayne describes landing a series of unplanned and largely unfulfilling administrative roles made more bearable by weekends brimming with music and friends.

Yet it was ‘just another admin job’ that introduces Wayne to social work – the career that he pursues despite obstacles and challenges. As Wayne navigates his ambitious journey into social work, he pays tribute to male mentors and Black male role models who have influenced and shaped both this personal and professional life.

Wayne’s story is a testament to how with the help of a supportive family, key individuals, dogged determination, and authentic curiosity, we can zig-zag our way successfully towards a career of our choice.

I was particularly struck at how Wayne was able to reflect upon each experience, regardless of how challenging, confrontational, or uncomfortable it might have been at the time and take something positive away from each one. His thirst for knowledge meant that Wayne gobbled up all the feedback he received that ranged from genuine warmth, ‘tough love’ and as he puts it ‘Caribbean swagger’.

Wayne’s story ends with a series of tips based on lessons that he has learned along the way that new aspiring professionals will find uplifting and aspirational.

This is a candid and personal insight into a colleague’s journey towards a career where he is making a mark in his own right with his own brand of charisma." (Angie Bartoli - Principal Lecturer at Nottingham Trent University and Vice Chair for BASW England)

"In ‘Black male suicide, a ticking ‘time bomb’: personal reflections and considerations for suicide awareness and prevention ‘Dr Jean Dillon speaks from her experience of losing her son, Brett, highlighting how racial inequality, discrimination and race- , culture- and gender-based stigma intersect to create social conditions in which black men are at particular risk from suicide. She concludes with five recommendations aimed at reducing that risk.

Ahmina Akhtar’s ‘Microaggressions’ is a depiction in verse of the racism woven through the everyday discourse, from seemingly innocuous comments about regional accents to more overtly discriminatory statements such as “the problem with your folk”. ‘Microagressions’ poetically highlights that, whether overt or covert, everyday racism has both immediate and cumulative impact, and serves to maintain the inherently racist status quo.

‘The Comment’ by Cosmas Maruta is a masterful, poetical exegesis on the power of language as both a destructive and a healing force. No review could do this piece justice, so self-aware, reflective and exquisitely rendered is it. I commend it for its message and the manner of its expression, which are artfully interwoven.

In Ambition Navigation, Wayne Reid’s description of his post-school journey from aimless but enjoyable pop-cultural immersion and admin jobs to his burgeoning ambitions in social care and social work resonated greatly with me. Wayne did not have the benefit of white privilege as I did and so his piece speaks to challenges white people do not face. He ends positively and emphatically with some lesson from which we could all learn.

‘Are You Sure You Are In The Right Place?’ by Zoe Thomas is an excoriating depiction of the experience of racism as emanating from professionals and institutions, and in particular focuses on academia, in which “being white is considered as normal”. Against this Silenced rails, in justifiably angry, undeniable terms, from her experience as “working-class black woman with multiple ethnic identities”. Classism is one thing, but classism times racism times sexism is quite another and ‘Are You Sure You Are In The Right Place?’ is an urgent, necessary read.

This well –curated, varied collection is vital, powerful, urgent, funny, sad, in-your-face, ironic and, I have to say, enjoyably readable, if often necessarily challenging to people of privilege such as this reviewer. As it should be." (Christian Kerr -Social worker - Chair of BASW North East branch)

"As people with Black heritage in the UK, we are often asked to express examples of our pain, our personal experience – almost re-living it for the experience of others. While this is something that I refuse to do, if/when I am asked in future, I am simply going to refer the questioner to this anthology.

Each piece is written from the experience of an individual. Individuals who have differing backgrounds, differing educations, differing upbringings. But each emphasizes the difficulties (and blessings) associated with being Black in the social work community, in the UK community more widely.

Reading through each abstract has taught me something while reaffirming my own experiences. The pain of familial suicide and some of the reasons why it may happen; that I’m not the only academic of Caribbean/British heritage to experience microaggressions and outright prejudice while working in Higher Education; the importance of resilience and strength of character; the impact that seemingly innocuous words can have on the entire outlook of others; and the “diversity within cultures” which demonstrates the ridiculousness of ‘BAME’.

These extracts clearly show that being the ‘B’ in ‘BAME’ can have so many difficulties, but also illustrates the importance of support from others. Support from friends and family outside of work, of Allies and adoptive families at work.

These extracts are not only about sharing the stories of the writers. The extracts expose the need for allies in every situation faced.

While I am yet to read the rest of the extracts in this anthology, this book should be essential reading in any race and allyship training and discussion in this country." (Dr Jermaine M Ravalier - Reader in Work & Wellbeing at Bath Spa University)

"This powerful collection holds a mirror up to social work and lays bare the gap between its anti-oppressive, anti-discriminatory and anti-racist values and the realities experienced by social workers of colour and people from Black and ethnic minority communities who social workers serve. Anyone involved with the profession will benefit from reading it." Mithran Samuel - Editor of Community Care

"The anthology is an insightful collection of perspectives amplifying the diverse lived experience of social workers:

• Dr Jean Dillon surfaces the ‘ticking time bomb’ of black male mental health and bridges her professional experience with a personal loss.
• Cosmas Maruta reflects on the gift of healing through writing and shares how he has grown from critical feedback, but how ‘The Comment’ also paralyzed him in his endeavors to find and use his voice.
• Ambition Navigation by Wayne Reid brings to life the milestones in his own career journey and imparts progression tips for fellow black professionals to learn from his insights.
• Ahmina Akhtar’s poetry unpacks the impact of microaggressions on the receiver and challenges those who are unaware of the impact of their words and behaviours.
• Zoe Thomas reveals the institutional racism in academia and illustrates the racial tensions between her position, her place and those with power.
Each piece of writing in this collection explores the themes of identity, safe spaces, power, privilege, allyship and safe spaces whilst peeling back the layers of societal, systemic and structural inequities. The individual voices come together to deliver a collective message.

This anthology is a must read for anyone who works in or with social care, but moreover it will shine a light on other professions within the public sector and the experience of those who are in service of our society to reflect on diversity both within and between different cultures." (Hannah Wilson - Co-Founder Diverse Educators)

"I have been supporting and promoting anti-racism for decades as part of broader commitment to tackling discrimination and oppression and promoting social justice. However, as a white man, what I cannot offer is a black perspective. I therefore very much welcome this anthology that can play such an important role in making sure that black voices are heard and black perspectives represented.

It is my view that, whether from an ethnic minority or majority, we all have a part to play in promoting a fairer, safer and more humane society. However, established racialised power relations mean that it is generally harder for black voices to be heard and black needs to be given the attention they deserve.

I hope that this anthology initiative will not only be widely read, but will also serve as a stimulus to other initiatives that can move us forward in rectifying the imbalance. Black lives matter and so do black voices." (Neil Thompson - Independent Social Work writer, educator & adviser)

"Anyone who is black in a majority white country will be familiar with the feeling of having to work that little bit harder to prove themselves. To show they are good enough.

Sometimes it’s so subtle you wonder where it comes from – are you just being paranoid, over-sensitive, ‘chippy’? Or perhaps you really aren’t good enough, maybe you actually don’t belong…

The accounts in this book bear testimony to this sense of disconnect as told by Black and Ethnic Minority social workers brave enough to talk about their lived experiences.

From the social work academic made to feel she didn’t belong in her university department, to a practitioner’s poetic description of the microaggressions that make him doubt himself - they are real and often raw.

Instances of casual racism have grown in society over the past two decades and sadly social work, despite its values and principles, appears not to have been immune to it.

The murder of George Floyd lifted a scab off an already festering wound and for many people of colour putting up and shutting up was no longer an option.

This book is part of that breaking of the wall of silence in social work and a journey that has seen anti-racist practice and thinking re-emerge within the profession.

It’s also reminder that there is such a thing as white privilege and those who benefit from it have a responsibility to listen to and understand those who don’t." (Shahid Naqvi - Editor of Professional Social Work magazine)