Social Inclusion has become a bit of a buzz-phrase in society today. “I’m not a racist, but…” has developed into almost a joke for those who cannot accept that everyone operates through prejudices on one level or another.
Yet, it is still a common phrase used to excuse a person’s thoughts on another culture. As a Social Worker, you may have encountered prejudices from your Service Users, and it may even have been directed at you. Racism is still deeply embedded into our society, but your job is in an important position to push for change.
A definition of Social Inclusion
Most agree that social inclusion can be defined as a number of affirmative action’s undertaken in order to reverse the social exclusion of individuals or groups in our society; hence it is important to understand what social exclusion is. In this article we view the impact of the “lack of social inclusion” and its consequences.
The lack of social inclusion or racism could be viewed as being seemingly inherent across the world. Some people desire a homogenous society in which to live. Simply going on holiday to a country where people who look like you are rare can result in stares, questions, photographs and even rejection from a society that simply doesn’t understand you. In the UK, the media plays a big part in our opinions on people who come from elsewhere to live here. We are constantly bombarded with the idea that the UK is crowded, that we simply cannot accept any more people. We are force fed huge exaggerations that anyone who wasn’t born in the UK comes here to steal your healthcare, your benefits and convert everyone to their religions and ways of life. Anyone with the ability to look outside knows that this simply isn’t the case.
One recent and very public example of the lack of social inclusion occurred in America after the winner of the annual Miss America competition was revealed to be a lady of Indian descent from New York. This case highlighted the many uses of social media, and how it can be used to raise awareness as much as it can spread hate.
Many broadcasters focused on the mass of racist, derogatory, and rather ridiculous complaints about the New Miss America 2014, Nina Davuluri, on Social Media. Some accused her of winning too close to 9/11 and that this opened up wounds for the “real American people”. The winner was born and raised in America with no mention of her religious beliefs, yet because of the colour of her skin and her heritage, she should be implicated in a tragedy. There is a level of ignorance and segregation clearly visible in these times that would otherwise have been kept between the commenter and their closest.
Closer to home, many of us have to suffer the propaganda of the English Defence League, or EDL. Formed in 2009 in Luton, this is a far-right street protest community who oppose Islamism, Sharia Law and extremism. They are against social inclusion. They have been described by many as Islam phobic and often take to the streets inciting violence. They are linked to the BNP and have around 30,000 active members at the moment. They were recently denied the right to stage a protest at Tower Hamlets- a large Muslim community- for fear of more violence. Although everyone has the right to freedom of speech and not everyone is comfortable with the UK becoming a multicultural country, the EDL have gained notoriety and a strong opposition from those trying to promote peaceful integration for everyone.
Of course, the saying goes “one bad apple spoils the whole barrel” but this simplistic view has a vast impact on social inclusion. Many people learned about Islam after the USA and UK were under attack from terrorists. First impressions have a tendency to stick and the fear created was unlike any other we have experienced in our lifetimes. When Western Countries were subject to extremists and terrorist acts, we became defensive. Islam was not a well-known subject for many, so the extremists became the faces of Islam, the celebrities of the Muslim community. It took a lot of time before any non-extremists were allowed to come forward to defend the Muslim faith. Slowly, the public is being shown the true version of the faith while starting to trust and respect those who enter into their communities. But, a lot of damage has been done and differences will always cause conflict.
Racism and cultural differences have a long history and are the main reason for fears, conflicts and segregation, resulting in the effects of a negative view of social inclusion. It is easy for us to accept everyone, all over the world, regardless of age, skin colour, religion or culture. But, many people do not. To understand this, you have to analyse and accept the almost anchored forms of racism and persecution that have existed, and been considered normal, throughout the history of the entire world. The first British people who arrived in Japan were killed by Samurai because they did not know to bow to them when they passed in the street and were instantly executed.
So, as a Social Worker, what can you do to challenge and combat these thoughts and feelings, which can have a profound impact on a person’s identity and life? How do you support social inclusion?
Firstly, you are expected to continuously acknowledge, recognise and confront all forms of racism, within all of the institutions related to and relevant to your position. Social Work, alongside all Public services, including the Police, are subject to the Race Relations Act of 2000. Public Authorities must promote equality at all times. During your training, you would have been made aware of this and the Human Rights Act of 1998. Social Inclusion are inherent in these laws.
Institutional or Structural Racism is ultimately your focus which is defined as any social, economic, educational or political policies that discriminate or give preferences to one group or another. In working with multiple agencies, you will have seen the hierarchy of society and its vital to understand that race is not a Biological concept. It is a social construction, and the lack of positive steps towards social inclusion leads to further negative impacts for groups of people.
You may experience racist attitudes or beliefs in the workplace through a Service User or from an agency you are collaborating with. It is necessary to challenge these ideologies- even if they are your own. You may have entered the profession with good intentions, yet have realised you are discriminating against someone or a group of people as a result of differences. This could be as simple as not allowing equal time for discussion during a meeting, not providing the same levels of supervision or support to a colleague, or a Service User. Through your own personal growth and Professional Development, you can challenge your own ideas and those ideas of others when equality is not being promoted.
As a Social Worker, you have the ability to build relationships within communities and within your workplace. You have the power to make a change in society for the better. It is your responsibility to recognise the existence of inequality in your personal life, professional life and on a societal level. You can promote understanding and educate people on the many different cultures that live together and mostly in peace.
Racism is just one form of the lack of social inclusion. There are many others ways in which individuals and groups are excluded in society, and it is important to focus on a person as a holistic being and to ensure that any assessment and interventions by you as a social worker takes into account all of a person’s needs.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Rose Theatre