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Black History Month – a time for reflection

Our executive director Sarah Blackmore shares her reflections on what Black History Month is about, it’s meaning and what it asks from all of us.

Black History Month – a time for reflection

10/23/2020 11:07:07 AM

This month is Black History Month, a time to celebrate how black people and communities have shaped our history, and I wanted to share my reflections on what this month is about, it’s meaning and what it asks from all of us. These reflections are as much for me as for anyone else, as I continue to try to challenge myself about my own white privilege, the things I’ve missed over the years, the things I’ve taken for granted, and what I’ve learned.

This year has brought unfathomable challenges to us all, even without the global Covid-19 pandemic. The other global crisis of systemic and enduring racism in all areas of society was finally, and sharply, brought to the forefront of everyone’s attention. Even those who wanted could no longer look away and pretend it wasn’t there. George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are names that everyone now recognises for all the wrong reasons. And so many other names that should have been shouted to the world over the decades and centuries but would not have been heard.

A few months back, I took on the lead role for equality, diversity, and inclusion for a new national organisation – Social Work England, the specialist regulator for social workers. I took this on because I believe in my social work values – of treating everyone equally, of empathy and unconditional positive regard. And because I believe in the organisation I work for and its values – of being fearless, authentic, transparent, and acting with integrity. I wanted to try to make sure that we would get this right as a new organisation, and even though we had already stumbled, that we would not fall into the entrenched bad habits that can take some longer standing organisations a long time to recognise, let alone unpick.

I thought to myself: “It’s ok, I’m a social worker. I’ve lived and worked in Africa for years, I can do this…” alongside other things white people tell themselves to return safely to our comfort zones. I quickly realised that I had a lot to unlearn and to relearn about my assumptions. I am still learning.

This is a month that calls out to all of us to learn. To look at the past and what it (should have) taught us. To find opportunities to do things differently. And to recognise and call out the many invisible, and all too often in plain sight, barriers that it can be too easy to ignore.

This month I have listened to and discussed black history with several colleagues and read some really insightful articles shared by our Race Equality Network. We have encouraged one another to do likewise, sharing resources on our internal communications channels to encourage people to explore, discover and celebrate. I’ve spoken to social workers and social work students around the country about their experiences and worked with social work leaders on how we can collectively do better. There is still lots to do.

I’m known for being a great talker once I get going, but this month, this year, I’m learning to shut up. I’m learning that my assumptions, my experience and my knowledge don’t count here, except to listen, hear and see and to challenge others to do likewise. To accept that I will never truly understand but that I can commit to be an ally and act. If enough of us do likewise, the future of Black History Months will look and feel very different.

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