This week marks the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder. Another life taken by a racially motivated act of violence. Over the past year, we as a charity have been reflecting and making changes to ensure we are anti-racist in all we do, as individuals, organisationally, and as a member of the social work community. You’ll hear from social workers, fellows and staff, as they share their reflections.
Mary Jackson, chief executive
Just over one year on from the murder of George Floyd we at Frontline, as an organisation and as individuals, have been taking time to stop and think. We took time out on Tuesday to commemorate the many Black and other minority ethnic people who have lost their lives to police violence, and who continue to face the challenges of institutional racism. We have also been reflecting on how we have developed over the past year, and on the changes that still need to be made for us to be a genuinely anti-racist organisation.
For me, I’ve been thinking both as chief executive of Frontline and as an individual. A particular reflection has been around the severe impact of intergenerational racism and discrimination, of labels both wrongly given and wrongly passed down over hundreds of years. These labels have morphed into assumptions and unconscious biases, shifting form in response to changes in society, and have enabled racism to hide in plain sight for too many years.
The Black Lives Matter movement has changed all this. So much has been thrown under the spotlight in a way that is impossible to ignore, and once you have seen things as they really are, you can’t un-see them. I have always felt fiercely opposed to racism; taking part in peaceful protests in New Zealand in my teens and again recently in my local community. I felt deeply conscious of my own privilege and the fact that those from ethnic minorities are not afforded the same, facing barriers and challenges I do not day in day out. A crucial realisation for me is that being against racism is not the same as being anti-racist and that feeling isn’t enough, we need to take action and challenge both our own thoughts and behaviours as well as those of others.
So, over the last year I have been, as I know many others have, making a more focused effort to raise my levels of awareness, educate myself, and digest things I’ve accepted rather than questioned. I’ve been digging out and confronting ways of doing things that have become entrenched, both through individual reflection and conversation with others. The Frontline exChange played a significant role in this process for me. A new (and annual) event for all of our fellows and social workers around the country, the theme of the exChange was anti-racist and anti-oppressive practice. Over the course of three days, we heard from a range of speakers, both fellows and sector experts, and facilitated frank and honest conversations. At times, the sessions were necessarily uncomfortable for the attendees, and highlighted the power and responsibility we all have to speak out and bring about change. As chief executive, it is now my role and responsibility to lead the charity to do this and I do so with conviction and determination.
Frontline continues to be deeply committed to becoming anti-racist. The work we’ve done over the past year has meant we are far more tuned into the areas we need to focus on, and has enabled us to distil the key areas of need and hone our approach. Since we published the first iteration of our racial diversity and inclusion action plan, we have achieved almost all that we set out to do in 12 months, in nine. We are pleased with this progress, which includes setting up a board for participants and fellows to share resources around racism, mentoring for ethnic minority staff and those on our programmes, developing steering groups including people from minority ethnic backgrounds so changes are informed, changes to all our curricula and increased training and workshops for all staff on anti-discrimination and allyship.
But this work doesn’t stop. Every time we meet our targets we must adjust our expectations to ensure we continue to push ourselves to make more progress. We are also increasing our efforts in the areas we haven’t made as much progress as we would like. This includes improving representation of minority ethnic people at senior levels within the charity, sharing our learning and reflections with all we work with, further increasing the inclusion of anti-racist teaching in our curricula and embedding what being anti-racist means for Frontline specifically in our culture.
We know this will take time, and will not be easy. It will involve having difficult conversations, at times, getting it wrong and continually challenging and checking ourselves. But this is exactly why these conversations have to happen – they are the only thing that will enable us to move forward. And we must move forward to stay true to and achieve our mission to bring about social change for ALL the children and families our social workers support, and to champion and empower our fellows and the wider sector to do the same.