Making a difference? From anti-racist to anti-oppressive practice in social work education
The last two decades of the twentieth century have witnessed the rise and fall of anti-racism in social work education and training, following closely on its demise in local politics (Gordon, 1991; Gilroy, 1990). It is ironic that having once been hailed as a more radical policy and strategy over ‘racism awareness training’ (RAT) (Sivanandan, 1985; Gurnah, 1985; Stubbs, 1985), and from promising solutions to problems of service relevance and service delivery to those discriminated on grounds of ‘race’ (Dominelli, 1999), anti-racism is now regarded as a problem in itself. Hostile media coverage of ‘same-race’ placements policy and practice in social work over 1993 and 1994 presented anti-racism as part of an ‘Orwellian nightmare’ and as a prime example of ‘political correctness out of control’ (see Jones, 1993, for a critical summary of the media coverage; Pinker, 1993, for an opposing view). For some practitioners and academics, it was seen as part of a campaign of destabilisation by the press and the so-called New Right (Jones, 1993; Singh, 1994). Kirton (1995) suggests that this representation of ‘same-race’ placements policy and practice proved a watershed in anti-racism in social work, marking the limits of tolerance for anti-racist policy in its public services role. Even though much of the most recent and vocal criticisms of anti-racism
have come from the media and the (not so) New Right, criticisms have nonetheless come from black practitioners (Ahmed, 1990) and academics (Gilroy, 1990; Trew, 1992; Singh, 1996; Bonnett, 1993). Ahmed and Singh criticise anti-racism for lacking a black perspective, while Gilroy observes that antiracism reduces the complexity of black life to just fighting racism. Thoseworking from a black perspective (Ahmed, 1990; Singh, 1996) go on to criticise (mainstream) anti-racism for working from an implicitly ‘white perspective’, evidenced by its objectification and pathologisation of black populations and cultures as ‘Other’ (Stubbs, 1985; Rattansi, 1994; Singh, 1996), as opposed to providing a deconstruction of ‘Englishness’ and ‘whiteness’ (Rattansi, 1994; Bonnett, 1993, 2000).