Social Workers work with some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in Society, those who have been possibly subjected to oppression in their daily lives. ‘Most would agree that Social Work is a diverse and shifting activity’ (Jones 2002’41) in response to the situations presented within society. The society that we live in can be seen as one with many divisions, due to individual difference, people are categorised in due to these differences such as gender, race, class, age and disability. These Social Divisions can result in certain groups being oppressed.
Barker (2003’306-307) defines oppression as
‘The social act of placing severe restrictions on an individual, group or institution. Typically a government or political organisation that is in power places these restrictions formally or covertly on oppressed groups so that they may be exploited and less able to compete with other social groups, the oppressed are devalued exploited and deprived of privileges by the individual or group that has more power.’
Oppression can be fully understood through attention to ‘race,’ gender, class, disability, sexuality and age. Society can attribute to these differences by defining people and their roles based on their different experiences in relation to the power, status and opportunities in society.
Northern Ireland is seen as a multi-cultural society with inhabitants from many different backgrounds and cultures. The roles and expectations that society assumes for different group of people is immersed on a cultural level, thus creating common values about what is ‘normal’ which creates perceptions of social norms. Through these perceptions of ‘social norms’ oppression comes to the forefront.
Recurring discrimination leads to oppression. Thompson (1998’10) says this is: “inhuman or degrading treatment of individuals or groups; hardship and injustice brought about by the dominance of one group over another, the negative and demanding exercise of power. Oppression often involves disregarding the rights of an individual or group and is a denial of citizenship.”
It is important that it is recognise that oppression is not intended solely to refer to situations where a powerful person or group exerts tyranny over others it also refers to the structural injustices that can arise from often unintentional oppressive assumptions and interactions which occur as a result of institutional and social customs, economic practices and rules. (Clifford and Burke 2009)
For the purpose of this assignment I am going to focus on racism and the oppression faced by Travellers as an ethnic minority group. Travellers are an indigenous minority in Ireland and enjoy a distinctive culture, value system and common language. (O’Connell, 2006:4)
Travellers’ nomadic lifestyle follows a routine based on economic practices and religion. According to the Government, Travellers “have shared histories, a nomadic way of life and distinct cultural identity” (Department of Justice 2005; Cited by O’Connell 2006’4)
One notable feature about the discourse of Travellers is the tendency to associate traveller oppression with the terms ‘discrimination’ and ‘prejudice’ and not racism, a tendency which is reflective of a broader resistance among some members of the Irish public and some policymakers and politicians to naming the treatment of travellers as racist. (Exchange House Travellers Service, 2005, www.exchangehouse.ie) (accessed 14/10/10)
The failure to acknowledge traveller oppression as racism may be stemming from failure to acknowledge travellers as a distinct ethnic group. ‘While travellers are visually racialised in society by their normandism, they were also marked through their physical, not structural whiteness. This failure to associate the marginalisation of travellers in Irish Society with racism supports a false understanding of racism as pertaining exclusively or primarily to people of colour’ (Downes & Gilligan 2007’249) despite definitions such as Burke and Harrison’s (2000′ 283) who believe:
‘racism is a multidimensional and complex system of power and powerlessness, a process in which powerful groups are able to dominate, which can be seen in the differential outcomes for less powerful groups in accessing services in the health and welfare, education, housing and the legal and criminal justice systems.’
This notion of ‘power’ can demonstrate the segregations in society, and can heighten the oppression faced by those of ethnic minority groups.
‘The development of racial ideology does not reflect the state of knowledge about racial differences but an aspect of social conflict.'(Ely and Denny 1987’4) Racism is a negative term with negative connotations and can be seen as a socially constructed ideology rather than a biological entity. (Thompson 2006) The impact of racism on ethnic minority groups can be detrimental, it can place many restraint on the lives of the individuals such as being restricted in what services they can avail of, the lack of knowledge about the provisions and opportunities available to them. ‘Racism damages those it oppresses socially, economically and politically.’ (Dominelli 2008’65)
Thompson (1993, p19) states that:
“P refers to the personal or psychological; it is the individual level thoughts, feelings, attitudes and actions. It also refers to practice, individual workers interacting with individual clients, and prejudice, the inflexibility of mind, which stands in the way of fair and non – judgmental practice.
C refers to the cultural level of shared ways of seeing, thinking and doing. It relates to the commonalities, values and patterns of thought and behaviour, an assumed consensus about what is right and what is normal; It produces conformity to social norms, and comic humour acts as a vehicle for transmitting and reinforcing this culture.
S refers to the structural level, the network of social divisions; it relates to the ways in which oppression and discrimination are institutionalised and thus ‘sewn in’ to the fabric of society. It denotes the wider level of social forces, the socio-political dimension of interlocking patterns of power and influence.
At the Personal Level Travellers can be seen to be oppressed in many ways, the impressions that Travellers are dirty, criminal
As a minority group, Travellers suffer discrimination and oppression; they are marginalised and excluded by people of the ‘settled community.’ Poverty is seen to be part of daily living within the travelling community and many of the ‘settled’ community feel that it is due to their Normandic way of life and that it could be solved by settling down and getting a job. (De Burca & Jeffers 1999; Cited in Downes & Gilligan, 2007:249)
Rather than offering a structural explanation for traveller poverty, or an understanding of these experiences from the travellers’ point of view, the views and interpretations of the dominant cultural group are usually imposed on travellers. (Downes & Gilligan 2007) However the oppression faced by travellers cannot be seen just from a personal point of view, it needs to be viewed in a broader context. Racism manifests itself in many different ways in society. Thompsons (2006) PCS model provides an understanding to how racism des so; it can be seen to operate at three different levels, the personal, cultural and structural. Clifford and Burke (2009’18) believe that ‘Oppression operates at both structural and personal levels at the same time.’
Since the formation of the Welfare State many changes have come about which have resulted in positive actions in attempting to challenge racism and the oppression faced by people in Society. Social Policy plays an important part in promoting integration in society. ‘One of the functions of the Welfare provision in general, is to promote the integration of individuals in society.’ (Oliver 1996’78) These policies may be interpreted as responses to perceived social needs. The policies evolve within an environment where problems come to the forefronts that are seen to require political solutions and pressures occur for new political responses. (Hill 2009)
Social Work practice is transforming through the creation of social relations, fostering equality and justice in moving toward an anti- racist approach, a political stance against racism is adopted on the personal, institutional and cultural levels within policies, practice, education and Social Work organisations. (Dominelli, 2008)
O’Connell (2006’5) states that ‘Travellers have been victims of violence and intimidation and have been subject to exclusion from services, giving rise to many cases under the Equal Status Act.’ This Act covers discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, age, marital status, family status, religion, sexual orientation, disability and membership of the Traveller Community. ‘Deconstructing power relations and privileging within professional relationships can begin the processes of changing professional and organisational structures.’ Dominelli (2008:77)
The Traveller Education strategy (2006) seeks an end to separate Traveller provision in education to be replaced by inclusive provision in main stream services.
The need to respect Travellers’ rights is a logical element of the new human rights and equality architecture established since 1998: the creation of an Equality Authority to promote equality, an Equality Tribunal to hear discrimination cases, the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism (NCCRI) to give expert advice on these issues, and the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) to promote human rights. Ireland has adopted new anti-discrimination legislation (1998 Employment Equality Act and 2000 Equal Status Act), and most recently the State has announced a National Action Plan against Racism (Department of Justice 2005).
Anti-racist initiatives are reflected in Social Work education and practice, many Social work organisations engaged with what is known as Race Awareness Training. These initiative target Social Work education as well as service