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  • Writer's pictureDr Shungu Hilda M’gadzah

"Silence Is Betrayal": Second Letter to White Educational Psychologists: Black Lives Matter.

I have been prompted to publish this letter I wrote on 17th June 2020 after hearing Prince Harry comment where he says- there comes a point when silence is betrayal.

The First letter White Educational Psychologists can be found on the website below

I have often said in my blogs and writings that silence communicates so much. Prince Harry sums it up here, "there comes a point when silence is betrayal".

A failure to speak up is a betrayal: It can leave those at the receiving end feeling isolated and alone.

This post is:

For all of those who have suffered at the hands of this betrayal whether it be in meetings when your colleagues remain silent and no one speaks up when you need support.

Or families where professionals remain silent and offer no support even when discrimination and racism is evident.

Hope springs eternal and here is to us all doing better in 2023!

Second Letter to White Educational Psychologists: Black Lives Matter.

What a difference a week makes...or not as the case maybe.

Complacency and complicity sit in the shadow of silence.

Honestly, hands up those of you who are relieved that the black lives matter discussion thread seems to have ended and we can now move onto more important things or at least get back to normal?

Whilst the rest of the world and other professional groups continue to call for change it certainly looks like educational psychologists have moved past this discussion thread already, as if we are unperturbed by the lack of action or change- pretending this has nothing to do with our profession. Unmoved and unperturbed by the statements of so many Black and Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) psychologists who have contributed to this thread.

I suspect there will be many colleagues out there who have been holding their breaths waiting for things to return to “normal” maybe saying that we just have to ride this particular storm and we will soon be back to our comfortable discussions on Epnet (Educational Psychology Network forum).

You have to forgive me if I'm being overly cynical, but it certainly seems that way from my perspective. I have been around far too long to not consider that this is indeed the reality of many within the Educational Psychology (EP) profession- a profession made up largely of white middle class females- who society would refer to as privileged.

On the other hand, some of us have been holding our breaths praying and hoping that maybe this time real change will come. But alas no.

In my first post I quoted the Association of Educational Psychologists (AEP) “There is no place for racism within society” and asked, the EPNET community, What about within the profession of educational psychologists?

Many thanks to those of you who have contributed to this thread and shared your experiences. I know it has not been easy and as one colleague said to me about sharing his experiences “At times it can feel like picking at an open wound”.

Many thanks also to those of you (in particular to those white colleagues) who have been brave enough to respond to the voices of those who have experienced discrimination and racism and continue to suffer as a result of the inequity and injustice within our society and within our profession; thank you for the suggestions of how the profession might take things forward.

However, I am still left asking what happens next? Another working party? Or as the Prime Minister has modelled in his response to the voices and outcry of those marching on the streets let’s set up another Review/ Commission to collect yet more information even though we already have the evidence/information and more importantly (did I mention?) we have yet to implement recommendations from previous Reviews.

Similarly, the EP profession already has the information about the impact of racism in our profession including selection and recruitment practices effecting entry into the profession.

There is racial injustice in education and in society as a whole. This includes in the educational psychology profession.

Some can argue it is harder to root out racism in psychology professions as psychologists know how to conceal the inequities in our practice, and we are so good at articulating and formulating reasons why we are different to other parts of society. However, behaviours and actions (including selection and recruitment process which serve to discriminate against BAME groups (in particular Black psychologists) and the lack of progression of BAME groups within the profession and the large numbers of BAME educational psychologists and senior managers who are forced to exit the profession would indicate otherwise and tell a different story.

Senior managers and Unions such as the AEP and also organisations such as the British Psychological Society (BPS) choose not to collect data (as this allows them to continue to pretend that there isn’t a problem), however there is overwhelming qualitative data from lived in experiences of Black and Ethnic Minority colleagues on the effects and impacts of racism and inequity within our profession (and society).

Two years ago, I attended a London Principal Educational Psychologists (PEP) group meeting- there were about 20 PEPs and I was the only black PEP. The other black PEP was on Annual leave. The discussion at this meeting (which included the AEP) included recruitment and selection processes for PEPs with a motion being put forward to approach LAs and insist on PEP representation on interview panels for PEPs.

Not surprisingly, I argued against this suggestion as it was clear to me that such selection processes serve to preserve the in-group and sift out any unwanted parties. My experience of how the profession works (shared by other BAME colleagues) is that the profession forces out those BAME colleagues it finds “challenging” and once out, the profession works to keep you out. So called equal opportunities recruitment processes and the informal processes such as discussions between PEPs ensure and preserve a blacklist of those who should not be recruited. The motion at the meeting was tabled because the PEPs were unhappy about recent appointments to the Group! I did wonder if that was me?? Would I have made it to the positions of PEP or Head of Service had there been a white PEP on the interview panel. I don’t think so.

Having chaired the Association of Black Psychologists and co-edited the Journal on challenging racism within education and educational psychology as well as taking out tribunals to challenge the system, I know my name is on the list. This is clear from my experiences of applying for posts. Whilst my application forms and CVs are well received and described as glowing, recruitment agents have informed me that the problem seems to be the informal references. I am all too aware of the informal systems which exist where phone calls are made and in one brief conversation one’s career or progress is undermined.

However, on the plus side, there is a certain freedom in not being employed by a LA or being part of the PEP group- I can write posts like this without fear of losing my job.

We can pretend as a profession we don’t know what the problems are and spend time on Working parties/ Reviews and hope that by the time the WP/ Reviews are finished things will have moved on and the cries for change will have stopped- some may say, we will have weathered the storm! Things can go back to normal until next time. But we will be ready with more excuses and even more skilled at strategies such as ignoring the discussions and hiding in the shadows of silence.

In the words of Baroness Valerie Amos SOAS, Deep inequalities exist within our society and these are exacerbated by racism in our society. What is needed is some action and not a Commission or Working Party.

That said, there are some EPs and PEPs, course directors and unions who will do anything to – preserve the status quo and will ignore any calls for change or action until it is demanded or legislated. That is why racism is about power. Many BAME managers (PEPs, senior Eps and course tutors) quickly become aware of the power that white Eps who they manage have and of the power of white trainee Eps. The ease and disproportionate use of complaints against black managers is well known however no data is collected by the Local Authorities (LAs) or Unions.

In our profession, BAME senior psychologists and course tutors’ careers have been damaged as senior managers fail to investigate complaints or worse still some white senior managers collude with the complainants. It reminds me of the recent incidence in America where a white woman called the police on a black man (Christian Cooper) who asked her to leash her dog in the park. She knew what power she had in threatening to call the police and tell them a black man was threatening her.

Some white EPs and Trainee EPs (TEPs) also know what power they have relative to BAME managers. For some they look at their BAME managers and convince themselves that because they come from a white privileged group they should be in their managers/ tutors’ position i.e. as a colleague who is a tutor once said to me some of the white TEPS believe they can do my job. What they don’t realise is that I have over 20 years’ experience and yet this does not stop their perceptions of superiority. Therein lies the power in balance. Often the word of these TEPs and EPs is given greater weighting than the word of the BAME senior managers. The system confirms to them their power and position and serves to undermine the authority and position of BAME managers, Many are driven out of the system or are forced to quit their posts and take on main-grade EP roles.

In reading this thread, I have been struck by the overwhelming silence from the majority of the EPNET community and in particular Principal Educational Psychologists and course directors.

I am reminded of the saying, complacency and complicity sit in the shadow of silence.

So, the silence communicates so much more than we would be led to believe. In a similar way to which bystanders during a bullying incident communicate by simply just standing there.

However, I have had to ask myself what exactly does the silence of so many EP on this particular thread communicate? In true psychological style I have found myself formulating hypotheses and here are some of them in no particular order:

  • Some psychologists are fearful of contributing anything to the discussion in case they say the wrong thing

  • Psychology is largely a white middle-class female dominated profession with people who care little about race and justice.

  • Some psychologists will continue to want to convince themselves and others that these problems occur in America and there is no racism here in the UK, despite having read the testimonials and experiences posted in this thread.

  • Many psychologists are sitting in the shadows and choosing to remain silent as they realise that we have been here before and these issues come and go so just ride it out-this too shall pass, and we can go back to more worthy causes and comfortable conversations.

  • Course directors and principal educational psychologist can convince themselves that as nothing has been directed to them they do not need to say anything and later they can simply plead ignorance and say they were not aware that these discussions have taken place- despite the strength of feeling and experiences of so many black and ethnic minority psychologists.

  • The AEP and BPS can also see this thread as something that they do not need to respond to or take action as they can argue we have not been approached directly.

  • The AEP will state we have already published our anti-racism statement, so no further action is required.

I am sure there are other hypotheses out there and maybe some legitimate reasons why individual EPs and PEPs have not contributed to this thread.

I have to admit a sense of frustration at what seems to be a lack of concern and at the inaction by the majority of Eps/ PEPs within the profession who see this thread as not relating to them. This is in sharp contrast to the outrage and cries of protests (about racism and inequity) by thousands on the streets worldwide.

What does this silence say about the profession of educational psychologists?

I was therefore relieved to see the article below shared by Martin Dearlove, an advanced and qualified social worker practitioner/team leader in a post entitled Moving beyond diversity towards racial equity. The article by Ben Hecht and is an approx. 12 minute read and better articulates some of my reflections, questions and thoughts about next steps.

I do not intend to take responsibility for actions on these thread. If the truth be told I am somewhat exhausted at having such responsibility. Contributors to this thread have made some useful suggestions, Services and PEPS and Course directors and Unions need to assume this responsibility- time will tell if any action is taken by the Profession.

I do encourage you all to read the article and not to dismiss it as these are problems only occurring in America and do not concern us. Or to continue to persuade yourselves that racism does not occur within our profession.

Or to try and hide behind arguments such as we have race equality statements and so we are okay. Which reminds me of some anti- racism consultancy I was asked to do almost 20 years ago by Norfolk County Council. They had just published a review on the experiences of black and ethnic minorities in Norfolk. It was entitled, No, not in Norfolk. Meaning No, we do not have racism here. The LA soon realised from the experiences of ethnic minorities in Norfolk that this was not the case. They decided to take some action. This may have not been enough but there was certainly an acknowledgement of the problem and a willingness to engage in discussions.

I certainly hope after reading the article cited above more within the EPNET community will be open to engaging in much needed conversations on racism and equity issues effecting BAME groups within our profession. Some of these issues have been outlined and articulated by many colleagues who have contributed to this thread.

These colleagues and the future generation of EPs deserve to know that they have been heard; that the profession has reflected and taken action to ensure change.

They deserve to know that EPs did not hide in the shadows of silence, holding their breath until the uncomfortable conversations and discussion threads were over.

Dr. Shungu H. M'gadzah

Inclusion Psychologists Ltd

First published on17th June 2020

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