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Review of 'Co-production: Whiteness, mental health and diagnosis' 

An Advanced Studies Seminar with The Collaborating Centre for Values-based practice in Health and Social Care, St Catherine's College Oxford. 

Survivor Researcher Network member Molly Carroll reflects on her experience of the day: 

The day before Theresa May’s deadline for children as young as 2 to be registered by their childminders and teachers as ‘foreign nationals’ for the state, I am on my way to Oxford to attend ‘Co-production: whiteness, mental health and diagnosis’. The seminar was organised by Colin King in partnership with The Collaborating Centre for Values-based practice at St Catherine’s College, Oxford.

Colin opened the event by firmly framing the conversation about whiteness in mental health care as a civil rights issue which all too often has deathly consequences. We named people of colour who have died in mental health care and at the hands of the police and a frustration was shared with the often depoliticised framing of racism through ‘Equality & Diversity’

Subjectivities (how someone sees the world due to their position, experiences and identity) were a focus, especially White subjectivities (whiteness) and the event was steeped in academic knowledge about this idea, no surprise there was a strong feminist turn out in the references!

Simon Clarke spoke about his experience or subjectivity as a white educator whilst working to apply a critical framework to his own whiteness. Emma Perry brought the concept of the racialized nature of research and data to the fore in her presentation exploring the challenges with an intersectional coding of NSUN data around restraint. How to move from chasing ‘black data’ for racialized information and start looking for it in ‘white data’.

The Montgomery Report was held up as a possible route to unveil whiteness as a value through value based practice. To use value based practice one has to reflect on our own values thus leaving space to discuss how intersecting systems of power and our role within them affect our values, including including whiteness.

Lez Henry identified how whiteness operates within the media and cultural consciousness, through advertising and newspapers to nursery rhyme songs he heard as a child suggesting Jamaican folk eat cat food. He spoke of the racist expectation of footballer, Patrick Vieira to speak for his entire ‘race’ linking this to point 21 in Peggy McIntosh’s ‘Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack’, a fantastic resource on white privilege encouraging folks to uncover how privilege silently operates in their own lives:

‘21. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.’

Issues of representation, power relations and dehumanisation are intrinsically linked to the survivor movement and as we know must be handled across the intersections illustrated in such works as ‘Dancing to our own Tune’ by the formidable Jayasree Kalathil. Racism and xenophobia (amongst other oppressions) must also stay a core focus of any mental health work in a country which deludes itself with the idea it is ‘post-racial’, where people of colour are still dying and being harmed disproportionately at the hands of police, mental health services and immigration services.

A quote from Lez Henry’s book:

‘Whiteness in the ever present non presence that moulds and shapes reality’

This innovative conference worked to unmask whiteness and show its tracks in shaping society and the mental health system.