Key skills in social work process include:
• Values and ethics
• Anti-oppressive practice
• Codes of Practice
• Professionals and professionalism
In this section we will review anti-oppressive practice.
Discrimination is the process of treating individuals unfairly based on prejudice and stereotype.
Oppression takes account not only of the sum of direct and indirect acts of discrimination, but also of the structural dimensions of power and the way in which these are reproduced through daily social interaction.
Anti-oppressive practice goes beyond anti-discrimination to challenge the structure of society and the use of power to maintain some groups in inferior positions.
Central to oppression is the concept of identity. Identity is fluid rather than static, so that most people are likely to be both oppressors and oppressed at the same time.
It is not helpful to think in terms of a hierarchy of oppressions:
For example that to be black necessarily involves worse oppression than to be old. People have multiple identities: one person may be black, female, old, disabled, lesbian and have many other attributes. Any one of these may predominate in a particular interaction. All the various forms of oppression can be viewed as interlinked.
In order to practice in an anti-oppressive manner the social worker needs both knowledge of the legislation in their own jurisdiction and understanding of their personal values and how they impact upon practice. This is a complex undertaking and there are a number of pitfalls to be avoided. Those listed here use racism as an example of the issue to be addressed but they can be translated to other areas of oppression:
• ‘Colour-blindness’ (or blindness to other aspects of identity): the belief that it is sufficient to treat everyone the same.
• Multi-culturalism: thinking that it is enough to learn about other people’s culture and to celebrate diversity without examining our own attitudes.
• Failing to ask service users how they like to be thought of, in other words asking them to define their own identity.
• Failing to act for fear of being thought racist (or sexist, ageist or disablist).