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World Social Work Month Blog: Anti-racist social work in Wales

Jade Forbes, a social worker & AMHP reflects on how anti-racist Social Work can be developed and practiced across Wales

Human rights, social justice and professional integrity underpin the social work profession. Social Work is not just a career, it is a passion and provides us with a controversial and privileged position in which we challenge discrimination, oppression and create hope and opportunity. 

Yet paradoxically we have to remain aware that the structures that create disadvantage are the same that appoint in our role as social workers with the power to do something about it.

This thematic conflict is even more apparent for Black, Asian and ethnic minority social workers - as our working day can be littered with what I like to describe as non-sense because it softens to racial-blow but in reality it a subtle death by a thousand cuts… the dreaded micro-aggression.

"Oh my god your hair, can I touch it? Wow, it feels like a poodle." "My gosh, your nephew is tall, wouldn't want to meet him in a dark alley at night." "Your food looks weird, what is it?" "I love your dress, you look very ethic today." "Do you know Dr. Gregory? His parents are from Jamaica too." "Are you half cast?" "She is not black, black, she is lighter and really smart." "He is a large black gentleman with schizophrenia, his risk assessment says he is vulnerable, no history of aggression but he will need the police to attend." "Did you see that cute baby in reception? She was tiny and reminded me of one of those little capuchin monkeys." "That GP is so rude, it must be his culture and I can never pronounce his name, it’s a silly name anyway."

In my experience, the micro-aggression often precipitates greater forms of racism and by the time we encounter a "proper" form of racism, which is now identifiable by our white colleagues, we then become the subject to a bizarre display of awkwardness.

Comments from our uncomfortable colleagues will often lead to the cliché of them not seeing colour and how they never understand racism, and let’s not forget their black friend from school and who ironically never talked to them about racism.

And like magic, you have found yourself back in the position of educating yet another professional person about racism. I would like to say it is probably the same story told over again, but it is not a story it is our reality.

In Wales, our "Welshness" is a further competing theme and the expectation to dilute one's own non-white identity to fit a Welsh context narrative that is predominantly white and male-orientated is often soul-destroying.

Black, Asian and ethnic minority social workers are fighting their own battles against structural discrimination before we have even had time to have a coffee and open our first email of the day.

The tragic murder of George Floyd has highlighted how easy one life can be taken away and how micro-aggressive views can manifest into murder. ‘The racism spectrum’ is vast and complicated, and something that black, Asian and ethnic minority professionals have to navigate on a daily basis. However, we don’t want to have to navigate it, we want to abolish the spectrum.

It is with the hope that black, Asian and ethnic minority Social Workers in Wales read this blog and accept it as an invitation to join us in firstly creating a safe space for sharing, reflecting and unburdening candid experiences, thoughts and feelings about the racism we experience as professionals. 

Our aim is to create a network of black, Asian and ethnic minority Social Workers in Wales and create an all-Wales anti-racism forum which in time will extend to a further invite for anti-racism-allies to join with us.

We have the power to support, listen, encourage healing and most importantly to bring about change. 

Our collective knowledge, experience and skills in parallel with our controversial yet privileged positions as social workers, educators and espousers has the potential to create both structural and educational changes towards anti-racism in social work practice and its education in Wales.