Social work learning practice
Social work learning practice

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Social work learning practice

3 How do you define yourself?

There are many important aspects to life that can shape an identity, including class, religion, gender, sexuality and ethnicity. In this audio clip, Stephen Rashid talks to a group of recently qualified social workers about some of these complex issues.

Activity 3

0 hours 25 minutes

Listen to the clip and make a list of the words that the four speakers have used to describe their sense of identity.

Once you have listened to the clip, think about how you might define yourself. Make a list of words which you would use to define yourself. Then try to list them in order of importance. Specify whether they draw on your work, your leisure activities (the things you do), your personal characteristics, or a combination of the three.

When you are happy with your list, repeat the exercise with someone you know well.

Finally, compare the two lists.

This activity will show you how complex everyone's identity can be. It should also warn of the dangers of making assumptions about other people's identities.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: How do you define yourself?
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Transcript: How do you define yourself?

I see myself as a black male, working class and, from that identity, I see myself as a social worker. So it’s a connection of all three, or four, points. From that background, it helps me to focus the way I work as a social worker.
Stephen Rashid
Right, but what you’ve identified there is ethnicity, gender and class … that’s three very important things, which were there before you became a social worker. And, if you moved out of social work, they would still be there.
They would still be there, yes, of course. That’s the central part of me that I take with me wherever I go. We come from a very religious background and you start to realise there is a higher order, so to speak. It’s like, you’re never alone. And I think that’s the power of having a faith … for having a religion. And it helps you.
Stephen Rashid
So going back to your earlier description of yourself as being black male professional …
That should be one that I should have mentioned …But, there’s also another side of me …that I’ve spent quite a lot of time coming to grips with that. As a young person, you have a religion … well me personally … have religion forced on you. And you rebelled against it for awhile. And, as I’ve gotten more comfortable with who I am and where I’m going, you start to realise like it is an essential part of you, and you start to feel comfortable about it.
I’ve had a lot of conflict with my identity … I think mainly because of my parents, and how they perceive … and how they want my identify to be. And that’s been quite difficult over the years, because I see myself as an independent British Asian woman, and they want me to be more of a traditional Muslim woman. So that’s been really difficult, and that I’ve had a lot of problems over that.
Stephen Rashid
How have those problems been manifested, and how have you dealt with them?
It’s been very hard, because a lot of issues that we’ve gone through recently … I mean getting married and stuff, and outside Muslim religion, marrying somebody that’s not Muslim … that’s been very difficult. And, at times, it’s been very stressful.
Stephen Rashid
But you’ve gone ahead and done it?
I have.
Stephen Rashid
So you must have managed the conflict somehow?
Yes, because it was important to me, because I just didn’t want them to feel like they had control over my identity. It had to come from me. It had to be what I wanted to do.
There are lots of different aspects, I suppose, to my identity, I think are important. As I was saying about politics … I think a lot about and how they play a part in the people’s dealings with people. Also, my sexual orientation is very much part of my identity. I’m a Lesbian. I think sometimes it’s easy or … there’s a temptation to define yourself when you’re different perhaps to other people. And that often comes up in situations where there is some adversity, or there’s a reaction to people. It’s not something I ever really think about, unless these circumstances manifest themselves. But that’s certainly part of who I am.
But I’m a feminist, I’m a vegetarian too, and that’s something that’s very important to me. And, as I was saying about being interested in humans exercising their rights, I feel the same about animals as well, and always have done.
I don’t think I’ve completely come to terms, personally, with the way my religious upbringing has affected my life to this point. I mean, I was brought up in a strict Baptist family. And, at the age of sixteen or seventeen, I was sure I was going to off and be a missionary. And I think, during my period at university, during my first degree and the experiences I had round that time, I became much more aware of the political element of the church and imperialism, and that some of the views of some church organisations ran counter to how I felt about certain things in this country as well, about evangelising different communities, and the attitude of the church towards gay people as well … and I still feel quite torn really.
I think I’m a very spiritual person, but I’m very unhappy with the established church. Also, I think that the social work course almost made me ashamed of being Christian, which is an odd thing to say. I think that’s an area where perhaps it’s so linked in with the establishment. And the history of Christianity in Britain is so littered with oppression and wrong things, that to say that you’re a Christian is almost unacceptable. People who are Christians, who are practising social workers, work very hard to not let it affect their practice, and to not let their religious beliefs impinge. I’m not sure I completely came to terms with that on the course at all. And I’m not quite sure how that affects my practice now.
I’m very aware of differences in terms of religion, and also of people’s spirituality that maybe can’t be classified in terms of a particular religious affiliation. But it is an area where I think I have quite strong personal feelings that perhaps I need to make sure don’t affect my work without me noticing.
I was brought up as a Christian but, quite early on, decided that I had no spiritual beliefs. I’m also aware of the fact … as I said, being homosexual, and that being something that’s perhaps by some faiths, or some religious bodies, considered to be sinful. I’m very aware of the fact that there may be some people who feel that I’m going to hell or whatever. And their reactions to me may be adverse as a result of that. And I need to respect where that’s coming from really. But that’s the case if you’re a woman. You may experience the same kind of oppressive atmospheres. That will be as a result of people’s religious backgrounds, and that is their own identity. But it’s something that, I think, you need to take on board and understand. Certainly, I’ve come across it in the workplace, and it’s been discussed. But I’ve not seen somebody’s practice actually deliberately affected by their religious beliefs.
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