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From the margins to the center - Bringing the cultural heritage and histories of black communities into social welfare and social work

Mekada Graham

Black communities have been an integral part of British society spanning several centuries, yet they have occupied a peripheral or hidden position in social welfare discourse. These circumstances reflect the virtual absence of black histories of social welfare in mainstream textbooks not only in social work but also across academic disciplines generally. As a result of this process, important contributions to the well being of black communities and the wider society have rarely been documented or discussed yet the life stories, histories and intellectual agendas emerging from black experiences and their cultural heritage have opened up new lines of enquiry. These new fields of study offer a more inclusive picture of social welfare providing an invaluable source of material across the spectrum of human experiences.

The traditional areas of research in social welfare discourse have focused upon the social hierarchies of class and gender as the main targets of analysis. What is clearly missing is an account of the ideological constructions of race and their entrance into the broad spectrum of social welfare. These points of interest have directed attention to the "civilizing" and colonial encounters which have been largely absent in framing analysis of the black presence. This is because black histories have been confined to a post-war race relations analyses.

This research project seeks to make a substantive contribution to mapping out social welfare and social work in relation to black communities as a field to study. The history of social welfare and social work includes black women and men who founded various organizations to serve the needs of their communities. Historically, social welfare activities have been tethered to social, religious and political organizations and have been a major source of support for individuals and families in the struggle for survival and resistance amidst times of hardship and deep-seated racism in Britain. These unique historical experiences provide the background and context in the development of social welfare and social work in contemporary society.

The development of Black European Studies is critical to making visible the omissions and neglect of the black presence in British society and speaks to calls from critical voices and educationalists, students and other professionals for opportunities to engage in the intellectual heritage and social agendas of black communities. In an age where there is an increasing diversity of national populations it is an opportune moment to bring black histories and theoretical frameworks within the guise of Black European Studies into social welfare and social work.
Questions for the workshop

  • What research agendas can ensure the integration of black histories, cultural heritage and experiences into textbooks and institutions of higher learning generally?

  • What strategies and agendas can we borrow from the US experience in the development of European Black Studies?

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