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Is social work silent on Palestine?


Is that the right title for this blog post? Who or what am I talking about when I say ‘social work’? What do I mean when I say silence?


My definition of silence in this moment is being stood in the cold outside a huge door, and not knowing what’s behind. It could be comfort and kindness. It could be a lack of empathy. But if the door stays closed I remain unsure, apprehensive and tense.


As I write this I hold myself to scrutiny…


Is your white voice actually necessary Vicki?

Do you really need to share this? 

How performative is this? 

Are you truly able to hold a balanced view?

Do you know enough?

Are you going to cause harm through what you write?

Will this help anyone? 


I’ll start with this. If anyone made the assumption that my views are equal to that of my government, I would be offended. When I talk to my 5 year old about politics, I call governments and politicians  ‘rule makers’. I explain that not everyone agrees with the rules that are made. I don’t write with the assumption that all civilians in Palestine and Israel are in agreement with their rule makers. 


On 14th October I posted on Instagram. ‘We can condemn the abhorrent actions of terrorism and actively call on the government to stop supporting war crimes. We do not have to choose between the two and allow binary thinking and fear to stop us from speaking up as our government stays silent on the breach of international law.’





In the last three months I have had daily contact from social workers, mainly newly qualified and students, who feel that ‘social work’ is silent.


I am well aware that ‘social work’ is not one identifiable entity. We are not one homogeneous group. Sometimes the social workers I hear from are referencing their employers, their local authority, their university, their representatives and unions. Sometimes they are referencing media which is supposedly intended to share relevant news for social workers. 


Drawing comparisons between Ukraine and Palestine feels complicated in many ways because wars cannot be equated, and I feel the risk of minimizing one person's experience of war against another is high.


But I am so mindful that the reporting and the presence of Ukrainian civilians in our collective consciousness has never been up for debate, or called into question.


As a profession which regularly uses the phrases anti-oppressive, anti-discriminatory and anti-racist, I believe we should be talking about how intersectionality impacts our collective empathy. 

I shamefully recognise my white ignorance are the causes of the delay in speaking up and out. Before that post, I had never spoken about Palestine on my platform and it was fear and racism disguised as 'I don't know enough'.  


This same issue arises for the new social workers that I train.


‘I don’t know enough and so I lack confidence to take action’.


When I lead ASYE’s I reflect back, ‘so what do you know?’



 


Here is what I know today… 


85% of the population of Gaza have been forcibly displaced. 


In Gaza, over 23,000 people have been killed and more than 58,000 injured since 7 October. (United Nations 14th January 2023)


136 Israeli hostages remain at risk in Gaza.


The daily death rate in Gaza is higher than any other major 21st century conflict (OxfamGB)


There has been a rise in islamophobia and anti-semitism on an international scale.


Violence only ever incites more violence. 


Our government is complicit.



 


I am learning about the complexities of negotiating a legitimate ceasefire between two parties, one accused of genocide, and one a recognised terrorist organisation. 


The argument is that as ever, innocent civilians are collateral damage, lives lost and changed forever in the crossfire. 


I am learning about context. I am learning from sources outside of social media posts. I am reflecting and asking questions. I am talking to my peers. 


I am using my platform to advocate for innocent civilians in Gaza. I am publicly stating that I support the end of attacks against innocent civilians. This has always been in line with the views of the United Nations and World Health Organisation. This should not be controversial for a social worker to say. 





Yet, social workers are contacting me to say they feel alone and I feel it too. Social workers and students are afraid of being penalised for advocating for the Palestinian people.


I love my job and even though I am self-employed, and I don’t have the pressure of an organisation on my shoulders, I feel nervous even as I write this.  I hold the white fragility of worrying about what I say and how I say it. 



Will my views be held in a reflective space?

Will I be given the opportunity to be curious?

Will I be supported by my profession enough for me to feel safe in practice? 




When social workers feel unsafe they cannot hold space. 


When social workers are unsupported it impacts reason, decision making and the ability to reflect. 


If social workers in positions of authority cannot model having open and honest and sometimes difficult conversations, how can they expect employees to do the same?


If universities or training bodies cannot model care and sensitivity to their students, how will those students feel comfortable enough to think critically? 


And where there are commitments for social work to support the decolonisation of our profession, curriculum's and training, surely talking about what is now an international allegation of genocide is necessary. 



Why am I writing this? 


I can feel myself veering off course. There are many things to talk about. The purpose of this article is not to debate genocide or whether the killing of innocent civilians or taking innocent civilians hostage is defensible. It is not. And I stress the complicity of our current government in endorsing arms sales.


I’m writing as I think, for other social workers who also feel like they are stood behind a door that won’t open. I’m inviting you in to share, to talk, to take comfort, to be curious alongside me. I’m inviting you into a space where there are mirrors, because white supremacy and racism means I have to look hard at myself, my words and my actions. 


I’m inviting you into a space where collective consciousness reaches Palestine and beyond. I am all too aware that Sudan and Congo were not places I actively thought about or even considered learning about before the end of 2023. I know the danger of my white consciousness, by this I mean the concept that issues are only deemed as important when certain white voices decide they are. 


In the same way, the collective ignorance of international politics by some in the social work community reflects the value we place on civilian lives in different parts of the world. 



What next? 


I vividly remember one of my first lectures as a student social worker. 


The lecturer projected a world map on the screen (the colonised map we believe to be standard with Britain at the centre, of course). She was clear on one thing. Social work practice in one area will never exist in a vacuum. When we consider social work we have to think about practice internationally, zooming out until we can really see the full picture.



One of the biggest struggles I see for newly qualified social workers is the dissonance between their values and what they are required to do as part of their job. But I see that struggle ease when they are given the time and space to reflect and be curious. Again, the importance of modeling this on a wider scale should not be underestimated. 



I am a social worker who wants to consume balanced news from media that is intended to offer a perspective connected to a job I care about. Given that much of the UK media coverage has been highly problematic, I had hoped for balance, resources and at least acknowledgement of current affairs that impact social workers. 


Apart from the few accounts I follow on instagram I have not found any open doors. 




Sometimes I don’t know how to be proud of a profession that still projects so much fear and uncertainty. Surely we should be able to hold nuanced conversations, embrace complexity but ultimately advocate for innocent communities of people wherever they are. 


Then I remember the social workers I know, the social workers I talk with online, the social workers who write words that I connect with. I know those conversations are happening, even if they are not projected outwards. I know there are social workers in the UK pushing back and stepping into activism in all its many facets. 


I was reminded by my friend Jason that it is OK to end this blog with positives. We can hold space for strength and difficulty at the same time. His words to me… social workers across the country are passionate. They are talking about international events. Social workers are advocating and protesting. The strain of our jobs can make engaging in world events more challenging. 


But social workers are resilient and hardworking. They make changes in people's lives every day. It is no surprise that social workers care so deeply about what is happening in the world and despite so many circumstances they will continue to do so. 


There will always be strength in the collective will to at the very least, start having more open conversations. 


My door is open. 





Some resources you may find helpful:


White Women: Everything you already know about your racism and how to do better. Regina Jackson and Saira Rao 



It’s not that Radical: Climate action to transform our world , by Mikaela Loach






If you have any recommended reading you would like to share please comment or email vicki@socialworksorted.com






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