3.1 ‘Race’, ethnicity and communication
As noted in the Introduction, much of the debate about difference and diversity in health and social care has focused on issues of ‘race’ and ethnicity. It is perhaps the area that first comes to mind when there is discussion about issues of communication and difference in care services, but it is also an area where the arguments are most complex and contentious.
As you saw in Section 1, ‘racial’ or ethnic diversity has often been constructed as a ‘problem’ for health and social care services, rather than as a cause for celebration and affirmation. Your work on Section 1 demonstrated the important part played by language and terminology in the construction of differences. Nowhere is this truer than in the area of ‘race’ and ethnicity, where attention has been focused on ‘using the right words’. It is not uncommon for meetings and staff development sessions on anti-racism to get ‘hung up’ on issues of terminology, with white workers in particular anxious to discover what are the ‘correct’ or ‘appropriate’ terms that should be used for certain ethnic groups. Although this can sometimes be a distraction from facing up to racism at a structural level, it reflects an intuition that language is important in constructing the ways in which issues of ‘race’ and ethnicity are approached.
Since there is often much confusion about the terms ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’, this section begins with a brief analysis of how they are used, and how they are used in this course. At the outset, we should say there is a growing body of literature on these issues, and how these terms and concepts are used does not stand still but is perpetually being revisited and redefined (Barker, 1981; Brah, 1996; Hall, 1992; Gilroy, 2000; Gunaratnam, 2003a).