Oct 20

Lived experience: Iron Boots over my shoes.

Posted: 5 October 2020

This blog is written by Viola Nzira who talks about the minority status in the UK among people from BAME backgrounds working in social care. She believes embracing this status can support individuals to negotiate their way successfully within society at large and work environments.

 BAME staff in social care and their minority status suggest vulnerability due to:

  • racism related noise;
  • being seen as the other;
  • oppression;
  • identity.

Skin colour dominates thinking and the behaviour that follows, on both sides of the divide. The idea of race and the associated racism remain important areas of debate in the modern world if progress is to be made to reduce destructive power and control.

Racism related noise is abound on a daily basis, so it is unavoidable. However, for BAME staff and all those who are enlightened and working alongside them, there is a need to find better ways to minimise the racism noise. By minimising the noise, the pain will be less for all concerned. Without pain, there is tangible productivity.

Being seen as the other, suggests lack of belonging. Where are you from? This is a frequently asked question by those who are not part of BAME communities. Minorities see this line of questioning as indicative that you are not one of us, you belong elsewhere. Among those who are put in a position where they have to consider whether to answer the question about their origin can cause frustration, anxiety and stress. Some of those who raise such a question seem oblivious to the negative impact on minorities who are trying to fit in culturally. For BAME employees in social care, it is imperative to embrace the minority status positively; to ditch the projected idea that “you do not belong” line of thought. You belong because you live and work in the UK. Social care needs BAME employees, so minorities belong and are making measurable economic and social contribution to our society, so oppressing them is just plain wrong.

Oppression, resulting from how UK society is organised remains problematic for minorities in particular as well as members of the majority community yearning for change along the embracing diversity continuum. Since oppression is a social phenomenon built into the social systems around us, it requires both sides; minority and majority to address it. Oppression occurs because people belong to or are seen to belong to particular groups, categories (Ruth 2006).

Some BAME social care staff members that repeatedly encounter racism and are often made to feel that they do not belong, can internalise the negativity projected at them. If someone is told often enough directly or indirectly that they are inferior, then eventually they begin to think of themselves as inferior. Group support to help individuals to find ways of working towards liberation, has merit.

Self liberation can start by acknowledging one’s identity as a member of a particular social group within the UK. Having done so, it is important to invest a certain amount of effort socially and psychologically in being a member of that identifiable group.

It is important to do so because the world is full of experts who claim to know how to improve our lives, even though they may not have first hand experience of being treated differently and negatively on the basis of colour and race, (Oakley 2000).

Self liberation can be informed by accepting the lived experience as an important part of essential knowledge base. This knowledge can be used by the individual in order to predict and gain control in a world of uncertainty. Gaining relevant knowledge is important because it helps individuals to develop strategies for challenging unacceptable behaviours and practices on issues that impact negatively on BAME employees in social care.

Moving forward, I am suggesting that BAME individuals accept my challenge. The challenge is that you imagine yourself wearing iron boots over your normal shoes. The iron shoes will repel all negativity associated with racism dispatched in your direction. Iron boots over my shoes idea has been beneficial to me personally because it gave me courage to challenge racist behaviour and gave me the confidence to speak up in meetings knowing that as a black woman, I was aware that I had to work twice as hard when compared to my non BAME colleagues in order to be recognised and rewarded for my output and that my views must be taken seriously within the content of my job.

In summary, using iron boots over your normal shoes idea can help you to rid of racism related noise, ditch the idea that you do not belong and that you are not part of UK society. Iron boots will keep oppressors at bay as you embrace your minority status with pride for the benefit of your immediate community and UK community at large.

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Throughout October and November, we are going to be focusing on the importance of good leadership and management and the impact it has on influencing positive workplace culture and ultimately on the quality of care delivered. During the campaign we’ll be sharing ideas and resources to support employers to think about different aspects of good leadership and how this impacts the people you are supporting.

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