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Black Women’s Narratives of NHS Work-Based Learning: An Ethnodrama

The Difference between Rhetoric and Lived Experience

Peggy Warren

This is an eight-scene drama portraying black women reliving their journey through higher education and work-based learning. Black women’s voices are the focus, reflecting on the complexities and dynamics of institutional power, professional exploitation, silencing, subordination and non-transformative education. A black feminist standpoint theoretical approach with an autoethnographic presentation invites the reader into the camaraderie, emotions, tears and laughter of a cohort of mature black healthcare workers engaging in a foundation degree with a promise of promotion. The author captures the voices of the women, weaves in her own account and sets the stories in fictional locations. Using cultural sayings, black philosophy and black music in a creative way, this work offers a platform from which to start discussions on black women’s labour in the NHS.

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I decided to write this book following three separate but interrelated life occurrences. First, my determination to teach from the standpoint that education should be life-transforming. My approach to teaching has been influenced by the works of bell hooks, Audre Lorde, W. E. B. Dubois, Paulo Freire, Booker T. Washington and others who advocate that, for education to be meaningful, it must be a reciprocal process that leads to social or economic liberation for oppressed groups.

Secondly, the puzzling professional regression of some of my Black British and Black Caribbean mature colleagues. Let me explain. Several women working in low-skilled, low-paid roles in the NHS demonstrated their competence to access higher education (HE) and shared with me, and others, their aspirations to engage in professional development. However, over half of the Black British and Black Caribbean women who commenced a part-time, two-year foundation degree (fd) in Health and Social Care ‘failed’ to gain the full qualification.

Finally, my confusion about these ‘failures’ coincided with a visit I made to Ghana in 2008. On the side of a very busy street in Accra, I met an elderly woman who was a stranger to me. This stranger told me little things about myself, for example, my Akan name was the day I was born, and she was resolute that she could direct me to the village of my ancestors. Observing my confusion, exasperatedly, she dismissed me with the Akan word, ‘Sankofa’. ‘Sankofa’ literally means: ‘return to...

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