Words matter. Maybe social workers know this better than most. They are often the tools of our trade after all. How we describe the world – how we communicate our analysis of ‘the social’ – helps to construct our belief systems in subtle and important ways. Language use is influenced by changing political, economic and social systems, although much of this is only obvious looking backwards.
A guest post by Mike O’Brien
The focus for the last few weeks has been on health (containing/eliminating the virus) and the economy – getting business going again. These priorities are what are seen to matter, even to the extent that last weekend one commentator argued that “the very basis of our society is business” (Sunday Start Times, April 12). Health matters, the economy matters, but is that all that matters?
A guest post by John Darroch
As we experience growing social and economic harm resulting from the coronavirus outbreak it may seem tempting to put political questions aside. After all, this is a human crisis, and one which requires immediate action. But the scale of this crisis, and the harm we are experiencing, is a result of our economic system. The fear and stress that we are feeling about losing our jobs, about not having sick leave, about paying our rent, are not individual crises. They are not crises caused by our individual actions. Nor are they the inevitable result of a global pandemic. This is a crisis of capitalism.
A guest post by Jackie Newton.
Jackie identifies as a feminist and a socialist. In this post she reflects on her social work practice journey over most of forty years (1978-2018) – in and against the state – with DSW, CYPS, Health at all levels, NGOs – in cities, provincial towns and rural settings.
Looking back, she feels that the radical potential of social work has been unhorsed by structural barriers set within the politics and economics of liberal capitalism. This post questions what might have been and asks us to honestly consider where social workers can stand today.
This is a guest post by Eileen Joy, a doctoral student at the University of Auckland.
Two years ago I wrote this piece about why Social Work Needs Pride . A lot has happened since then. Last year, and rightfully so, a significant portion of the rainbow community challenged the idea that the NZ Police should be able to march in the Auckland Pride Parade in uniform ( Sarah Murphy,The Spinoff, 2018 ). I won’t go into the history of that time here, suffice to say that the police were allowed to march, just not in uniform. They didn’t like this, said that they had to march in uniform. A moot point given events not much later that showed them wearing ‘civvies’ to other important events.
It is however important to note exactly why the Pride Parade – the very one I and my children loved – was problematic. We need to remember that the Rainbow community was hunted and persecuted by the police for many, many years. We also need to note that this concern about police being at Pride parades is definitely not a New Zealand only phenomenon . And whilst we don’t have specific statistics on rainbow incarceration rates (because the NZ Police don’t collect this data – something that is problematic) we can be pretty certain that given the rates of incarceration of tangata whenua (some of whom will also be rainbow whānau), those of the rainbow community would not lag too far behind.
This is where it’s important to remember that, as Audre Lorde said, “there is no such thing as a single issue struggle because we do not lead single issue lives” (p. 138) – a point reiterated by Emilie Rākete in discussing the Auckland Pride Parade. Let’s also not forget that the NZ Police stopped diversity training for rainbow issues years ago, explaining that instead they are focusing on police values and all people in all communities. This sounds a little like saying ‘all lives matter’ – which of course they do, but that’s not the point when your house is burning down and the neighbours is not, but the firefighters insist on pouring water on the neighbour’s house because ‘all houses matter’ .
This is not something that anything like a ‘rainbow tick’ can erase. This persecution especially impacts those whose identities don’t so easily fit into little single category boxes. For our trans whānau, our takātapui, tāhine and tangata ira tāne people, their rainbow journey is complex . Our trans whānau are still waiting for our seemingly progressive government to take action on basic human rights. Something Kendra Cox and I highlighted last year. For those in our community who are tangata whenua it is not so easy (nigh on impossible) for them to lay aside almost two hundred years of colonisation on top of persecution specific to their sexual/gender identities to cater to the police. And nor should they have to. In moments like this, it’s important to reflect on who has power and who does not and ask yourself where social work should stand in that.
I was thinking about all of this as I stood with my family waiting for Our March to kick off the other day. I thought about the horrific statistics for trans and non-binary people in New Zealand from the Counting Ourselves report that came out late last year . I thought about the aforementioned lack of action on basic human rights for trans people in New Zealand. I was thinking, as I often do, about how many social workers are ignorant of all of these things, yet they work with our community whether they know it or not. I thought of the commitment social work educators need to make to throw some rainbow glitter throughout their courses. I thought of how I often fear for the life of my children, both of them fierce and glowing with rainbow pride.
But mostly, mostly I reflected on the joyous beautiful rainbows that were there in front of me. Life, bursting at the seams, wanting to be free, to be celebrated, to colour outside the lines, inside the lines, with no lines. This new march, borne out of the sacrifices of so many people in our community making their stand and not giving an inch, is something to be truly celebrated. Gone are the corporate floats, the businesses parading around seeking cookies saying, look at us we are so diverse, and by the way, we would love to have your ‘pink dollar’. In this march, rather than standing on the sidelines I got to march. I didn’t have to pin my flag to a particular cause or business to participate, I could just be me. My kids could be who they are, and WE, the community, were the centre of attention – not capitalism.
With special thanks to Kendra Cox for helping with some of the information I needed for this piece.
Lorde, A. (2007). Sister outsider: Essays and speeches by Audre Lorde. New York, United States: Crossing Press.
I have read the report of the Māori Inquiry into Oranga Tamariki (Ko Te Wā Whakawhiti) with great interest, not least because of the mana carried by the members of the governance group. It is a bold Report. Much of the message is not new but the urgency and energy of the wero is palpable: ‘The inquiry did not have the luxury of time, but neither do our whānau’ (Foreword, p.6).
This one is about the politics of dispossession, poverty and incarceration in neoliberal New Zealand. It is no secret that Māori, Pasifika and working-class families generally carry a disproportionate burden of social suffering in our society. Look around you if you don’t believe me. We need to dismantle the structures that perpetuate social inequality.
This guest blog post is by Kendra Cox (Te Ure o Uenukukōpako, Te Whakatōhea, Tūhoe, Ngāti Porou), National Advocacy Co-Coordinator for People Against Prisons Aotearoa and BSW (Hons) student at the University of Auckland.
A fortnight ago, the Department of Corrections proudly released their new Māori strategy, Hōkai Rangi. The strategy was created with the aspiration to reduce the proportion of Māori in prison from the current 52% to 16%, reflecting the make-up of the general population. Corrections aims to do this by focusing on six key domains outlined in the report: partnership between the Crown and Māori; humanising and healing; involvement of whānau; incorporating te ao Māori; supporting whakapapa and relational identity; and participation in society on release. With Hōkai Rangi, Corrections rightly identifies that the current prison system is failing in its supposedly rehabilitative and reintegrative aims. The strategy notes that reimprisonment rates are unacceptably high: 35% of tauiwi people return to prison within two years of release, and this is much higher for Māori at around 50%. However, the plans presented by this strategy, which centre largely around supporting whānau connection and tikanga Māori-based rehabilitation, are totally incapable of achieving the desired outcome.
As I get longer in the tooth, I am sometimes accused of repeating myself. Funnily enough this often happens with reference to things that people didn’t much like hearing the first time. For example, the message that social work is complex and contradictory is disquieting when you are looking for some clarity of identity and access to the moral high ground. Nevertheless, social work is often conflicted.
This week the following notice was distributed by email to members of the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers:
The Abortion Legislation Bill has passed its first reading and has been referred to the Abortion Legislation Committee with submissions closing 19 September. It is recognised that members have a wide range of views about this legislation which would have to be reflected in an ANZASW submission. For this reason, members are encouraged to make their own submission.