The killing of George Floyd in the United States in 2020 and its galvanising impact on the Black Lives Matter movement sharpened global attention on the issue of racism. In late 2020, we asked Rashida Baig, Head of Service and Brian Amos, Service Manager from children’s social care in Croydon Council, and Nimal Jude, Senior Practice Development Manager from SCIE to develop resources exploring the impact of racism with us in the Practice Supervisor Development Programme (PSDP).
An afternoon was set aside for filming and three ten minute films were created from the resulting conversations. The films are a powerful account of the experience of racism from the perspective of Black, Asian and minority ethnic social care professionals. The resources feature in a new dedicated area of the PSDP open-access website, which contains over 30 resources for middle leaders in children’s social care.
Here’s what Rashida and Nimal had to say about why we need to talk about the impact of racism as social work professionals:
‘When we were asked to consider being on film to talk about our experience of racism each of us said yes without blinking. Had we been asked at earlier stages in our career the answer many have been different. Would we be labelled as troublesome? Would people be cautious of employing us? Would our employers ‘let’ us do this?
We all felt that we were at points in our lives and career where we had worked through some heavy challenges, learned in the process, and carried the scars. We had all been involved in some form of race relation work and had witnessed changes in the workplace over the years but, the last decade had been muted when it came to matters of race and racism. Did we all think we had conquered that mountain, or had we become immune to what was still happening around us?
Staff discussion forums held in many local authorities and organisations during the summer in 2020 highlighted that things were far from being okay. Senior leaders heard about the pain of racism, discrimination, and oppression the Black workforce carried with them. How did they not know what was just under the surface? A thin veneer of protective armour; the sorrow behind a painted smile.
During the summer of 2020, a global outpouring of grief was sparked by the murder of George Floyd. For many people, this murder was sadly no surprise, the difference was we witnessed this through the graphic images that were beamed around the world. The sad reality is that Black people have been killed in this way for years and we carry the pain of our ancestors within us.
Racism in organisations is almost like a fog that permeates the senses, prevents a clear line of sight, and enables micro-aggressions and discrimination to be carried out hidden from view. These acts are not always tangible because if they were, they could simply be stopped. They are hidden in individual patterns of socialisation and child-rearing; in cultural and social norms that are deeply rooted and invisible to the conscious mind.
Race is a complicated idea and often reduced to Black and White to make sense of what is happening in relation to White privilege. We cannot talk or communicate for everyone but there will be commonalities and similarities. We all speak from different vantage points; there is no one homogenous experience. The contextual frame is that it is inherited and imbued with our lived experience and it is about power and disempowerment. When a Black person begins to articulate what it means to experience racism, it can be emotionally charged. The question for us is how we enable others to open a dialogue and not take up binary positions, and in doing so shut down curiosity.
Creating the organisational context for anti-racist practice to thrive is a daily business without the accompanying concern where White colleagues feel hounded and Black colleagues worry about the race card if they raise issues.
Bringing about individual and collective change and accountability on a personal, professional, and institutional level is all our business. Having conversations about race must be a deliberate act. They often take place where there is an issue about race – when the conversations should be taking place all the time. As public sector officials we rarely talk about our relationships with each other and the communities we serve through the lens of racism, when the reality is, if we do not understand the experience of the children and families, we ignore their lived experience and the work that stems from our interaction can further discriminate, oppress and be internalised.
We felt that if these short videos could support team discussion, give confidence to those wanting to speak out, give ideas to organisation then our experience could be put toward some good.
In the words of Nelson Mandela, no one is born hating another person because of the colour of their skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.’