How can CSP members address racism and inequalities among physio professionals?
I like you, was shocked, horrified, disgusted at the death of George Floyd and the effect has made me look harder at myself and at our profession as to what we are doing to reduce racism and the consequences of it for our BAME colleagues and patients.
As a white person it is not easy. There is fear of doing or saying the wrong thing, but that is just an excuse, because if we don’t step up and support our BAME colleagues then we are part of the problem, not the solution. We inherently have white privilege, which simply means that whatever our challenges in our lives are, the colour of our skin is not one of them. And for those whose skin is not white, they face this additional challenge every single day.
It is no longer enough to say I am not racist, to live your life being kind to everyone regardless of colour. Many of us have been doing this for years and yet nothing has essentially changed. We need to start being actively anti-racist., being proactive. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder with our BAME colleagues and support them in changing the systems that continue to make their lives harder than ours.
This is key to the Black Lives Matter campaign. It is not saying that black lives are more important than others, but that, here and now, they are worse than others: poorer health outcomes, greater poverty, harsher sentences in the criminal justice system, poorer educational outcomes. We are not all playing on a level field.
One of our key skills as physiotherapy workers is our ability to listen to our patients, to drill down and get to the essence of the problem they are presenting with. If a patient says they have pain, we accept that and work out ways to improve their situation.
So when our BAME colleagues tell us they are experiencing racism, or complain about a comment made to them, why are we quick to dismiss it as not very important? Do we actually spend time listening to them? Because it is not always about that one comment, but the build up, the daily struggles that person has faced up to that point. How many of us have asked ‘what can I do to help?’
I’ve been concerned to hear some of our members make the point that they do not differentiate patients based on the colour of their skin, but treat everyone equally. That raises alarm bells that these physios have overlooked the backgrounds and the history of BAME patients. They are looking at their patients through the lens of their white experience. Potentially dismissing some key elements.
Those of us who are white cannot truly comprehend what it is like to be BAME in this society. Unless we have walked in their shoes, to know the daily issues their skin colour creates, we can only educate ourselves by actively listening to their experience.
When the CSP undertook the governance review that led to the changes that were implemented in 2018, we were advised that when changes are made to key structures it is common for diversity to reduce. This Council has made it a key part of our commitment to our members to change that. No one from a BAME background stood in those elections, so we needed to look at why and how we could change this. We have spent two years encouraging interested BAME members to attend Council meetings – with support from a Council buddy – to try and get a greater diversity on the next Council. It has worked better for our committees, which did have applicants and appointments from our BAME membership.
This is just the beginning of this process, we have a long way to go. Our profession is not reflective of the communities we serve, we need more BAME members and more in places of influence.
As Chair of Council and one of the leaders of our profession I believe this is our time to stand up and be counted alongside our BAME colleagues and patients. To look at our own actions and ask: are we being part of the solution or are we perpetuating the status quo? It won’t be easy, but we need to stand with our BAME colleagues and patients to change the processes, systems and our own biases to create a society that truly values all lives equally.
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