Reasons I am proud to be Black
As I reflect with members of the Kaleidoscope diversity network, colleagues, neighbours, family, and friends on Black history and what it means to be Black in the UK, we find that too many of us, when growing up in the UK, have imbibed enough of the racial tensions within our neighbourhoods, institutions, press and social media to feel profoundly unwelcome, despite the protection from our mothers and fathers.
The Black children and families we provide a service to have learnt from their parents, and grandparents, that many immigrants although invited to work within the UK have sadly been made to feel unwelcome. Despite this, their children have learnt from them to stand up and express the feeling of being proud to be Black.
We’re all aware that Black children and their families will have mothers, fathers, grandparents, sisters, and brothers who experience inequality daily. As social workers, how do we respond? Here are just a few examples.
If you’re working with Black children and their families in Tottenham, you can mention Bernie Grant,
a Labour MP and one of the most charismatic Black political leaders of modern times. His death on 8 April 2000 marked almost four decades campaigning for racial justice and minority rights. Though in life he was an outspoken maverick, in death Bernie was praised by Cabinet ministers and Scotland Yard, political associates and Black community leaders, and Prime Minister Tony Blair who described Bernie as “an inspiration to Black British communities everywhere”. Bernie Grant helped us feel proud to be Black.
You may have a discussion with a Black father who wonders if you, we, know anything about his work as a train driver whose contact arrangements impacts upon his arrangements with his three children. In which case, you can discuss Bill Morris, a former British trade union leader who was General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union from 1992 to 2003, and the first Black leader of a major British trade union. Bill now sits as a Lord in the House of Lords – he has certainly made us feel proud to be Black.
If visiting a grandmother who used to be a nurse and wants to look after her grandchildren, you could demonstrate an understanding and respect for her career history by sharing your knowledge of Mary Seacole whose statue can be viewed in the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital, London. Mary was a British-Jamaican businesswoman and nurse who set-up the “British Hotel” behind the lines during the Crimean War. Coming from a tradition of Jamaican and West African “doctresses”, Seacole used herbal remedies to nurse soldiers back to health. I believe she makes many a nurse feel proud to be Black.
During Black History Month are you able to share your knowledge of British Black history with the children and families you work with? Are you able to pleasantly surprise the Black grandfather, or Black grandmother with your knowledge, and admiration, of those who have, despite the odds, made a significant contribution?
Are you able to strike up a conversation with a teenager, a 12-year-old child, a colleague about Black History, its people and achievements? If so, you are on the right track to building trust with the family and colleagues you work with, and to achieving a measure of equality whilst ensuring safety, for you have demonstrated you are interested in what it is to feel proud to be Black.
This is the first of two blogs from Kaleidoscope network Chair, Carol Hazelwood-Morris for Black History Month 2021. The Kaleidoscope network is our network for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic staff.