As part of Black History Month and our ongoing work to make RCOT and the occupational therapy community a more inclusive place for Black individuals, we’re hearing from Kalimah Ibrahiim, RCOT Council Member for England, about celebrating her heritage, her work and inclusion.
It’s the 34th Black History Month, October 2021 in the UK and I am the first black RCOT English Council member and chair of the England board. I wanted to start with that, because the question from all of you should be why is that, and why has it taken so long? In 1996 the only black person to deliver the Elizabeth Casson Memorial Lecture, Elizabeth Yates, called to action British occupational therapists to change the underrepresentation of Black therapists in the profession. Not much has shifted.
I was going to discuss how I got into social care occupational therapy in the justice system, and then moved into public health, but I felt that did not do enough towards Black History Month. I have this opportunity to do some real talk about our profession and I am going to take it.
Being a black woman in any profession in today’s society is difficult. From the time I applied for my degree at Brunel University I was aware and knew it would be a struggle. That’s sad to say out loud that I already was going to have to struggle to get through occupational therapy school. I knew what I was going to face. So, I made that promise with myself that I would stay focussed on completing my degree to become an occupational therapist. Then I could add to the number, representing black occupational therapists to make a difference from within for our communities. This is a promise I have refused to break, especially after experiencing overt and covert racism whilst being a student and a qualified practitioner. I have been mistaken for being a prisoner’s girlfriend, a cleaner, a carer or a service user. Although these professions are highly regarded and valued, I was easily identifiable as a health professional!
These experiences were challenging, hurtful and sometimes demotivating, they are the sort of experiences that black and minoritised ethnic groups face daily. These extra hurdles have been normalised as part of everyday life for black and minoritised ethnic groups and we have to deal with them on a daily basis. This is also happening in occupational therapy education and services. Despite this we keep on pushing to break the cycle and status quo of institutional racism, but it is very exhausting, especially when sometimes you feel alone in organisations that are full of people.
We are on the precipice of something in occupational therapy and with RCOT. There is this opportunity to disrupt and start the antiracist change-making meaningfully and sustainably. RCOT have to grab it with both hands. I felt the change when BAMEOTUK Network as a critical friend influenced RCOT in hiring an EDI officer and the themes for their Annual Conference. I am glad I was able to see this and be a part of it, that’s change in the right direction. My peers and allies also want the same, to see a profession explicitly built on justice and equity, because equality, diversity and inclusion just isn’t enough.
Taking everything I have highlighted into consideration and embedding them into practice will invite people from different ethnicities, sexualities, abilities and genders into this fulfilling profession as a career choice. This is what we want to look like, the communities we serve, to serve them better, and provide space for all to belong in our profession. That is where the contemporary vision of RCOT should be facing and moving towards. We should hold RCOT accountable to lead the professions and show every year they are strategically acting in making this change happen. I am pleased to be a part of the RCOT Council to hopefully influence positive change, justice and equity in occupational therapy.
Kalimah Ibrahiim @KalimahOT
Council Member, RCOT Board: England
Special note: Thanks @LecturerMish for being my sounding board for this article.