African migrant women working in the Australian aged care sector

Author: Temitope Olasunkanmi-Alimi

Olasunkanmi-Alimi, Temitope, 2021 African migrant women working in the Australian aged care sector, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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There has been very little research that explores the experiences of migrant aged care workers in Australia, and none that focuses specifically on the experiences of women aged care workers who have migrated from Africa. This thesis fills this empirical gap. It is guided by two research questions:

1. What are African migrant women’s experiences of racism in the aged care sector?

2. Can African migrant women meaningfully challenge racism while undertaking aged care work?

In answering these questions, the thesis aims to:

• identify expressions of racism against African migrant women workers in aged care; and

• conceptualise how African migrant women respond to racism in their aged care work.

In this thesis I draw on data generated through in-depth, semi-structured interviews conducted with 30 African migrant women working in residential care and home care in Adelaide, South Australia. My findings indicate that African migrant women working in aged care are subject to micro-aggressions and institutional racism. This racism manifests in ways that deny the ability of these workers to care for and care about clients, and that position them as not ‘real’ carers.

The data indicated that micro-insults are most commonly perpetrated by clients’ families and co-workers and are often expressed through assumptions that the African workers are incompetent, thus devaluing their skills. The study participants also described experiencing institutional racism in the design and delivery of training and induction programs, with regard to expectations about their English language proficiency, and in formal complaints/reporting processes. Interactions, processes and practices that deny and overlook the racism experienced by these workers has left them feeling ‘Othered’.

Participants reported that they respond to micro-assaults perpetrated by clients and colleagues through asserting their professional identity and professional pride. This enables them to reinterpret client racism to allow a more meaningful framing of their work, and directly challenge racism directed at them by colleagues and, to a lesser extent, clients. Participants also communicated that they draw on their religious faith and the knowledge and support of others in similar positions. While symbolically important, strategies they use have done little to effect systemic change or prevent future racism towards them on the part of clients or colleagues.

While the focus of this thesis is the expression of interpersonal and institutional racism, I contextualise these by making links to the colonial foundations of racial micro-aggressions and institutional racism with reference to the work of Stuart Hall and Whiteness theory. In doing so, I highlight how micro-aggressions and institutional racism are underpinned by colonial discourses which ‘Other’ particular racial groups, constructing them as less capable and ‘backward’ in relation to the ‘West’.

My findings give rise to a series of recommendations that are designed to shift the responsibility of managing racism from workers and embed them in institutional processes instead. However, any institutional strategies to redress racism through ‘multicultural training’ or ‘cultural competencies’ need to be sensitive not only to individual racist behaviours, but to the Whiteness that structures practices and expectations in the aged care system. The problem, I suggest, needs to be reframed from one of intercultural difference, understanding or communication, to the historical and colonial hierarchies that underpin individual and institutional racism – an issue that is far more complex.

Keywords: African mgrants, African women, aged care , micro-aggressions, migrants, racism

Subject: Sociology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2021
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Dr Monique Mulholland