Systemic racism and structural oppression continue to be major problems in North America. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada and the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) revealed historical and current injustices against Indigenous peoples living in Canada. Beginning in the summer of 2020, we witnessed a worldwide mobilization against anti-Black racism following the horrifying deaths of Black people in police custody. These are but a few examples in a long list of human rights and social justice issues.
Significant societal, political and institutional changes are needed to address anti-Black, anti-Indigenous and systemic racism. As advocates for the marginalized, social workers and social service workers should be aware of, and play an integral role in, addressing these historical inequities.
Donna Hinds, MSW, RSW is a professor at the Social Service Worker Program at Centennial College, and an expert on anti-oppressive practice (AOP) and critical race theory. As an educator, Donna teaches her students how to use AOP when working with clients from marginalized backgrounds and communities. As a Black woman, she is proud to be a positive role model for her students, many of whom come from marginalized backgrounds.
Recently, the College was pleased to interview Donna via GoToMeeting, focusing on AOP and how it can be used by social workers and social service workers to address systemic oppression. You can read the College’s interview with Donna below.
Q: What is anti-oppressive practice and why is it important?
Donna Hinds (DH): Anti-oppressive practice (AOP) is a transformational practice tool that offers social workers and social service workers a reflective analysis of how they should function when working with multiple forms of oppression and differences in relation to individuals, families, communities or organizational conduct.
AOP is important because it is multidirectional and multifunctional. What I mean by this is that it allows a practitioner or an educator the freedom of interpreting AOP from their ideological stance, while simultaneously holding the interpreter accountable for their actions within the context of social justice and social equality.
Q: How does a social worker or a social service worker deal with the discomfort that may arise when working with clients that challenge their beliefs and biases?
DH: A social worker or a social service worker must understand who they are, the “Self,” when dealing with any form of discomfort that may arise when working with clients that challenge their beliefs and biases. Understanding the “Self” helps a social worker or a social service worker with their self-appraisal to bring awareness to their professional decorum and how others might perceive them. Therefore, social workers and social service workers must be brave enough to challenge their discomfort and the emotions that come with that discomfort.
Whether one agrees or not, social workers and social service workers are often the lifelines to the marginalized. They are seated in positions that challenge policies and are the disseminators of resources and services. In this regard, a social worker’s or social service worker’s ability to reframe their mindset and values within the service context must realize that trustworthy, meaningful service is never achieved without some forms of discomfort and challenge to the core of their professional selves. If a client challenges a social worker’s or social service worker’s beliefs and biases, those challenges must never be taken lightly and instead should be used as a reflective moment to re-examine if what the client has perceived speaks to the social worker’s or social service worker’s professional presentation.
Q: Social workers and social service workers are in a position of power when working with clients, many of whom may come from marginalized communities. How can social workers/ social service workers create a more equitable environment for clients?
DH: First, social workers and social service workers can create a more equitable environment for clients by ensuring their practice relationship is embedded and aligned with the College’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice and reflects and reinforces the principles and standards to which they must adhere, both in conduct and deed.
Second, social workers and social service workers need to have an understanding of cultural diversity, recognizing the differences in race, religion, gender, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and other social individualities and lived realities. This is needed in order for social workers and social service workers to adjust their approach in how they deliver support and resources that are inclusive, relevant to the needs, and transformational to the comprehensiveness of the client’s life.
However, creating an equitable environment cannot be solely the responsibility of social workers and social service workers alone; it is also the responsibility of those who govern from the top to provide the necessary financial resources to create physical agency spaces that are inviting and welcoming to marginalized clients.
Q: What role will AOP play in addressing systemic oppression, such as anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism?
DH: Challenging any form of systemic oppression is never easy because those who are the gatekeepers and the maintainers of systemic oppression will resist such a challenge. The roots of racism against Indigenous peoples and peoples of African descent lie in the ideology of white supremacy. AOP plays a fundamental role in helping social workers and social service workers deconstruct systemic oppression and structural inequalities that reinforce anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism as well as other forms of systemic oppression.
In the context of social work and social service work practice and social work and social service work education, AOP must be taught and be understood to ensure social workers, social service workers, and social work and social service work students have an understanding of the larger social, economic and political dynamics of anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism that marginalizes and reproduces inequitable outcomes for these two groups. More so, AOP helps social workers and social service workers reflect on their own roles in maintaining oppressive systems that reinforce anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism as well as other forms of structural oppression in all levels and functions of society.
Q: Why did you become a social worker and what led to your interest in AOP?
DH: I have always had a love for helping people, and social work seemed the more reasonable path to doing what I loved. Another reason for choosing social work is that it helped me understand the complexity of the world in which I live, the context of human relationships, and the complexities of such relationships, and how to navigate systems that reproduce inequalities.
My interest in AOP budded during my undergraduate years at York University’s School of Social Work. In one of my critical social work classes, we discussed Michel Foucault’s theory that addresses the relationship between power and knowledge, and Bob Mullaly’s book, Challenging Oppression: A Critical Social Work; those readings left an impression on me.
Q: What’s the most rewarding part about being an educator?
DH: One of the most rewarding parts of my job as an educator is that I have the opportunity to inspire and motivate students to blossom into their professional selves. As an educator, I am blessed to have a platform to help students cultivate and shape their knowledge and understanding of how they perceive and navigate the world.
The College would like to thank Donna Hinds for granting us this interview. Members are encouraged to watch Donna’s presentation on anti-oppressive practice from the 2019 Annual Meeting and Education Day.