'As BAME leaders and social workers we must all speak out against racism' - social work manager shares email he sent to colleagues
After attending a Black Lives Matter protest Mandeep Gill, a social work head of service, sent the following message to staff...
Professional Social Work magazine - 18 June, 2020
Dear all leaders and all colleagues,
I hope you are all keeping well.
As a BAME Leader of Indian origin, I feel compelled to speak on this matter. I know that I have benefited from black voices and movements so it is important I use my voice and speak out.
The views expressed in this message are solely my own and that of my family. We have taken the decision to commit our minds, intellect, hearts and voices to this cause, until we feel justice and equality has truly been achieved. I am incensed that we are still having to grapple with these issues, in what we consider to be a modern society.
Racism will have touched our lives in different ways. I have no doubt you have all worked hard and encountered many barriers to get to your positions. We are all fortunate to be in privileged positions of influence, that’s why we cannot afford to remain silent on this matter any longer. To remain silent would be to support acts of violence against black Lives.
This is not about me or you, or anyone from any other ethnic background, this is about black lives and we should help strengthen this clear message. All lives matter, but we would not have to make this point if black lives matter.
I would like to share some thought-provoking messages with you from the peaceful and very emotional protest I attended last weekend:
Why are you quiet? Your silence is deafening
If you are not angry, you are not paying attention
Is my dad next?
When do I go from cute to dangerous?
If you stand for nothing you fall for anything
That’s not a chip on my shoulder, that’s your foot on my neck
Who are the real murderers and gangs?
It saddens me that I have seen colleagues throughout my career not have a voice at work, which bears no resemblance with who they are in their personal lives. These are colleagues who would make that gesture of pointing to the back of their hand and rubbing it to articulate their feelings and experiences at work. You probably know it because you will have seen them do it too.
It also saddens me that not enough people are demonstrating emotion as they watch the video of George Floyd’s death yet they are quick to stream it for their own entertainment. You would not see this response with any other global tragedy - Dunblane, 9/11, Princess Diana’s death etc.
These global tragedies generated unprecedented public outcry on a scale that has never been seen before so I have to ask myself, why is only part of the world ‘crying’ for George Floyd and every other victim?
Some of my colleagues this week may have noticed I have been a little quiet or subdued. Inside I have found myself fighting back the tears to express how I have really been feeling. Surely this is a normal reaction and there’s something wrong with those who do not have such a reaction. So, I was wondering, how are these issues making you feel?
We all know too well how having our black colleagues with us has been a privilege and an honour. I have no doubt they are one of the key factors responsible for the creativity and innovation that we experience in our place of work.
Their fresh perspective has promoted and strengthened critical analysis to promote and safeguard the lives of children and their families. The richness and professionalism they have brought to our working lives has been priceless and their lives matter!
Aside from colleagues, friends and extended family, my personal experience of this is my brother, who I am proud to say is from Montego Bay in Jamaica and he is black. I am also proud to say he is qualifying as a pharmacist this year.
I have a genuine fear for him and his safety (as I always have), given over the years I have navigated him away from the dangers that institutional racism presents. I have even found myself asking him to not attend the protests for fear for his safety as a black man. It’s an indescribable feeling; I know what worry feels like because I worry for my own children, but with my brother I worry even more, as I know greater risks surround him in his life. I recall cradling him at the age of seven as he wept in my arms, telling me he did not wish to be black any longer and asked me if I could fix it by making him white?
This week a politician was careless with her comments, which disgusted me. My response to her is, thanks a lot, you used your voice to challenge everything I tell my brother is true and untrue about this world. I supported you as an Asian woman in a senior position, I even used your picture at a Black History Month event last year.
But your words have conveyed a message to the world that will result in my brother and many others not believing us when we tell them they are intellectual, they are good looking and cute, they deserve to be equal, they are special and that their lives matter!
When I look around at my family I do not see “thugs and criminals”, you bully! I was horrified and ashamed to hear you this week use your experience of racism and your voice to silence a black voice and to undermine the Black Lives Matter movement. That was just wrong!
This week our Prime Minister stated the UK is not racist and my response to that is the UK is not innocent:
- Stephen Lawrence
- Mark Duggan
- Belly Mujinga
- Julian Cole
- Nuno Cardoso
And sadly the list goes on…
This is not an issue that is far removed from us and if we do not stand in support of this movement we are complicit with institutional racism and its survival. If we choose not to exercise our voices and positions, our hands will be forever stained.
I appreciate it is uncomfortable when we have to look inside ourselves to identify whether we have been contaminated by the socially constructed ideology of racism. We work with organisations who are responsible for institutional racism who are still not doing enough. We need to support them during this uncomfortable and difficult journey, to give them the confidence they can achieve this change and it is not only much needed, but it would benefit their workforce and society in so many ways.
There are some tough decisions ahead for all of us. I believe we all have to dig deep and look within ourselves. I will have to do this too, to look at my family and friends to consider whether inherent racist values and views exist and to make the difficult decision of whether I can educate these attitudes out of them or do they cease to exist in our family’s lives. I cannot afford for my children‘s future to be tainted with such discriminatory views that support the oppression of black lives.
We have to ask ourselves what is true leadership? Omission is a choice and if we choose omission then we should reconsider our positions as we do not deserve the opportunities we have been afforded through our roles. We should ask ourselves: why are we in these positions? do we deserve to retain them? Are we really agents of change and should we stop calling ourselves leaders? Apathy in leadership is not an attractive trait and is not an option.
For those of you who know me, I will always stand for each and every one of you, and against any injustice you have experienced in your lives. I do not want to appear or to be portrayed as radical or fundamental, I just want to show I care.
Support for this movement is not a mere attendance at an event, a thought or a donation, it is to turn our minds to this uncomfortable subject and keep it a live issue until it is truly eradicated and the real pandemic is over.
We have a responsibility to our black colleagues, family, friends and their children, to exercise our influence and show our support to the cause and rid ourselves of this ugly and shameful oppression.
Last year we hosted an event in acknowledgement of Black History Month, which was received positively. However, we need to think about doing more and not just waiting for October Black History Month to come around again. This is my plea to you - to show you care in whatever way you can, stand up and be counted!
Black Lives Matter
In Unity We Have Strength
This article is published by Professional Social work magazine which provides a platform for a range of perspectives across the social work sector. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the British Association of Social Workers.