Social work learning practice
Social work learning practice

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Social work learning practice

4 Reflecting on one's own identity

This audio clip explores the way in which language, ethnicity and religion can affect an individual's sense of identity.

The first three speakers all work in North Wales, where language is a significant issue. The final two speakers, who are both social workers with an adoptive agency, reflect on the complexities of their own ethnic and religious identities.

Before you listen to the clip, think about the factors that you consider to have been most significant in the development of your own identity.

Activity 4

0 hours 35 minutes

As you listen to the clip, make some notes on the different speakers' sense of belonging. When you have listened to the clip, compare these with notes you have made about yourself.

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Transcript: Reflecting on one's own identity

My father's family are all Welsh speaking, and Paul and myself, and my brother were the only ones brought up English speaking. And I think that was because my mother's family were Welsh. But, because her mother was from South Wales and English speaking, my mother spoke English. So I spoke English in the home when I was small, but was always familiar with hearing Welsh. I understood Welsh. I could hold fairly straight forward conversations, but nothing too complicated. And I didn't start learning Welsh formally until I was at university. I'd planned to go to an English university, but had a year out between school and university, and decided I actually wanted to go back into Wales. And I felt I would like to be able to speak Welsh, if I was going to stay in Wales, and work in Wales. So I applied then for a Welsh university.
I married a Welsh speaker, whose family were English, but had moved into a Welsh area. And, although I've become fluent in Welsh, I'm still more fluent in English, and I think I still express myself better in English. And I've lived in different areas. I've lived in Anglicised areas, and much more Welsh areas. And I think people can pick out my accent … that I don't fit in, because I've moved about a bit when I was younger as well. And people do tend to like to know where exactly you're from. They try to pinpoint where that accent comes from, and where you speak slightly different to the way I speak.
I think we're all very community based up here, this part of the county. Most of the people who work here are from the area. And I think the language is very important as well. The main language is Welsh. It's a language of all the staff. Every member of the staff has an ability to speak Welsh. Some have learnt, but others are Welsh first language. I think every resident here is Welsh speaking, and that in itself is something different. It's not smugness. It's a cosiness we have in the language. It's something we use on a regular basis.
I was born in England and brought up in Wales … brought up by very English parents, but brought up in a Welsh medium primary school. So I didn't belong to either. I was Welsh in the cultural school expectations … learnt Welsh history … but yet my home life was purely, purely English by experience, and I never fitted into one. At home, parents would joke about not being Welsh … but the Welshness … and, at school, I was ostracised because of the English. I didn't fit in either, so I felt alienated from both. So I've always described myself neither as English or Welsh, but British.
Well I had this discussion with some friends, and we actually discovered that, when we were in England, I say that I'm Guyanese, and they say that they're Jamaican, or whatever. But, when we go abroad, we always say that we're British, because that's what people would identify us with. But I always consider myself to be Guyanese, because of the fact that a lot of how I view life and my values, I think, come from Guyana. But there are sides of me that Guyanese people would say is very British. So, it's caught between the two, and I think I struggled for a while with that … not being Guyanese, not being British … but accept that I'm a bit of both actually now.
When you grow up in a country where everyone looks like you, it's not something that you wake up every morning being conscious of. You don't wake up and say, “Oh, yes, morning Alison … you're black”. You just don't think about it. And being here, I think I was probably about nineteen when somebody was describing me, and they said, “Oh, you know, she's five foot two, three, and she's black”. And it was the first time I'd heard myself described as being black. And it kind of stuck in my mind, because it suddenly made me realise that being black meant something significant in this country. I kind of felt that it was more a question of whether you were black enough, when I was with black friends who perhaps had to me … it was more about the fact that they had been brought up in this country and, therefore, being black had been significant to them from an earlier stage. And so it was a focus of a lot of what they did, and a lot of what they were. It occurred to me that it was very different for me perhaps, coming from a place where I had a very strong black identity. My teachers were black, the doctors were black … everybody was black. And you didn't have that question about what you could achieve, and what you couldn't achieve, that perhaps I'd taken it for granted. And, for them, it was a constant reaffirmation that, yes, I've got a right to be here.
I don’t believe that England is my country, if you like. I don’t believe it is, because we weren’t English. And we’re not English, and we’ll never be English, because that’s, that’s not allowed either, within the family if you like. You are Irish. Whether you like it or not, that’s what you are. And I used to do it to wind my dad up when I was a kid. I got a flag, got a Union Jack, and got it sewn on to my jacket. And it was like that was the worst thing I could do, and I knew he would go mad, but I did it anyway. So no, I’ve been too indoctrinated really with the sense that England is not your country. I think Britain perhaps feels a bit different, because England means something not very positive, I think, within my community. But I can’t say that I would actually belong in Ireland either, so it’s a bit of a difficult one really.
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You may have beeen struck by the range and complexity of the feelings expressed by the speakers in this clip. Four of the five speakers are white, and one is black. Two of the Welsh-based speakers describe different degrees of discomfort about the extent to which they belong to, or are accepted by, the communities in which they work. The last speaker, of Irish descent, is very definite that she is not English, but is unsure of belonging in Ireland either. The term ‘British’ appears to be a useful compromise for her. The black speaker distinguishes between describing herself as Guyanese when she is in Britain, and as British, when she is abroad. You may have thought about how these social workers live out different identities in different aspects of their lives.


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