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Social work in the face of intersectional racism - book review

Posted: March 20 2023

Social Work student & staff projects, Social Work
Social Work student & staff projects, Social Work

Interested in Social Work and want to learn more about the subject? The book reviews written by our Social Work students and staff help you identify the best literature to advance your learning.

This week:

  • Title: Social work in the face of intersectional racism
  • Publisher: Biddles Books Limited
  • ISBN: 978-1-914408-15-1
  • Author/s: Hilda Chehore
  • Originally published in 2021
  • Reviewer/s: Juliana Osuebi, MSc Social Work student
  • Originally published in the Journal of Social Work
book cover of social work in the face of intersectional racism

work students and practitioners who experience racism and discrimination in their workplaces. It links to the trauma of day-to-day racism experienced by people who are disadvantaged by multiple sources of oppression such as race, class, gender, sexual orientation or religion (Crenshaw, 1989).

The book is edited by Hilda Chehore, an independent social worker, and the founder and director of the Zimbabwean UK Social workers Association (ZUKSWA) which opened its doors to all UK BAME social workers. The book was birthed out of her journey and challenges in social work. It is intended to create awareness and an understanding of the journeys of BAME social workers in the workplace and inspires everyone to use it to support those in the minority.

It is a collection of 14 chapters, each by a social work professional of colour, covering a wide range of issues. All the chapter relates to the destructive impact of racism. The narratives in the book shed light on these BAME social workers’ experiences, why they wanted to become social workers, their journey so far, the barriers they faced, and how to overcome these.

Each of the contributors demonstrated resilience in the face of adversity and thrived to achieve their goals. They continue to work in the job they love and made a difference in the lives of the people they support and maintain their stand to promote social justice.

Hilda Chehore links the experiences of racism faced by these social workers to mental health, and how the emotional impact of dehumanisation and victimisation can be passed down through the generation. Chehore also investigates how the survival response to these threats can exacerbate and cause stress or anxiety disorder. These experiences of racism can develop over time, and the cumulative effects of heightened stress can lead to poor mental and physical health.

One particularly moving story is by Miller Kerr in chapter 6. She shares that the most significant thing she has learned in social work is not to stay ‘silent’ about oppression, discrimination, or racism in its guises. Speaking up is only a way to effect change. As a student social worker, this has encouraged me to speak out in the face of discrimination and oppression. In addition, she states that ‘whether people feel comfortable saying it or not, there are barriers faced by Black workers. Institutional racism within the social work profession still needs to be overcome, so that Black social workers, and Black women, in particular, are not made to feel inferior or treated differently from their White colleagues’ (p. 26).

Another impactful narrative is offered by Thereza Jazire in chapter 5. She discusses the multiple oppression and discrimination she endured, and how, at that time, she was contemplating leaving the profession. She blamed herself and certain aspects of her cultural background for what happened. Thanks to the intervention and support she received from friends and family she stayed on the job.

Thereza Jazire comes from a background where you cannot challenge elders or those in authority and this is embedded in her approach to life. This has impacted her significantly when she could not let the practice educator know that she finds her approach very disempowering, and demotivating. She advises that practitioners in high positions must acknowledge cultural competence and value diversity to facilitate a good working relationship with those at the receiving end. In addition, they need to create a conducive environment for BAME social workers to grow and soar to achieve a better outcome both for themselves and the people they support. It is interesting to read how our belief systems contradict the way we approach issues. After reading the book, I am better able to recognise and manage the impact of my personal values on my professional practice.

In chapter 9 Adoniah Nyambi, further emphasizes the impact of an absent support structure and how essential it is that support should be implemented across the board by the local authority. It is rare to hear Black male social workers talk about the discrimination and oppression they face at their workplace. Adoniah highlights different occasions when family members were not willing to engage with him due to the colour of his skin, and the placement team allocated another student or qualified social worker to work with the family. When he raises concerns with the placement team, they told him that it was within their right to do so under the Human Right Act 1998 section 12/13. There was no attempt to educate the families and this condoned what appeared a blatant segregation of students from BAME communities. Despite the challenges and difficulties that the contributors experienced, they hold a resolute message of resilience and transformation.

As a BAME social work student looking forward to starting my journey in social work, this was an inspirational read. It highlights the challenges and struggles Black and ethnic minorities face. Subsequently, it has shaped my perception of the challenges that can be encountered as a student social worker and insight into my professional career path. What I particularly like, is the way the book balances the negatives of racial oppression with positive advice, guidance, and suggestions to help not only cope with the negatives but also to actively challenge them.

Whilst most of the contributors are originating from Zimbabwe and may not share the same cultural styles as other Black and Asian ethnic minorities, the diverse professional roles fulfilled by the contributors give a broad perspective on systemic racism in its rawness. Presentations and the narratives in this book give grounded knowledge for practitioners to become aware of the challenges faced by BAME social workers in their workplaces. I, therefore, would recommend this book to all social work practitioners who are willing to make a difference in the lives of Black and Ethnic minorities.