‘The Mirage of Action’
Exploring the Social Work Professions’ Perpetuation of White Supremacy Through ‘Well-Intentioned’ Actions
Keywords:White Supremacy, Social Work, Heterocentric White Women, Discomfort, Racism
This autoethnographic study highlights complex strategies for maintaining white supremacy used by “well-intentioned” heterocentric white female social workers that are enacted under the guise of practicing anti-racism in social work practice settings, classroom environments, policy initiatives, and advocacy work. Using autoethnography was both unplanned and deliberate. Unplanned, we needed a research method that allows us to explore the untouchable subject of heterocentric white female social workers and deliberate in that we could use our experiences to break ground and establish white supremacy among heterocentric white female social workers that espouse anti-racist values as an area of study. We draw on education, anthropology, sociology, and other disciplines to name some of the ongoing challenges to dismantling racism, colonialist, and reformer narratives in social work, and identify strategies used by all white folx, but particularly heterocentric white female social workers to neutralize the suggestion or accusation of their acts as racism. We name three challenges to dismantling racism among heterocentric white female social workers: hiding behind the data, anti-racist book clubs, and crying and comfort. We conclude with further questions for those who hold power in the field and a reflection upon our own continued intersecting struggles with these concepts.
Accapadi, M. M. (2007). When White women cry: How White women’s tears oppress Women of Color. The College Student Affairs Journal, 26, 208-216. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ899418.pdf
Almeida, R. V., Werkmeister Rozas, L. M., Cross-Denny, B., Lee, K. K., & Yamada, A. M. (2019). Coloniality and Intersectionality in social work education and practice. Journal of Progressive Human Services, 30(2), 148-164. https://doi.org/10.1080/10428232.2019.1574195
Amico, R. P. (2017). Exploring White privilege. Routledge.
Applebaum, B. (2017). Comforting discomfort as complicity: White fragility and the pursuit of invulnerability. Hypatia, 32(4), 862-875. https://doi.org/10.1111/hypa.12352
Arday, J., & Mirza, H. S. (2018). Dismantling race in higher education: Racism, whiteness and decolonising the Academy. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-60261-5
Barker, R. L. (2013). The social work dictionary (6th ed.). NASW Press.
Battle, S. (2017). Black men, white teachers, white colleagues: An autoethnographic triangulate of racial profiling interaction and closure. Reflections: Narratives of Professional Helping, 22(2), 46-56. https://reflectionsnarrativesofprofessionalhelping.org/index.php/Reflections/article/view/1373/1349
Beck, E. (2019). Naming White supremacy in the social work curriculum. Affilia - Journal of Women and Social Work, 34(3), 393-398. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886109919837918
Berlak, A. C. (2004). Confrontation and pedagogy: Cultural secrets, trauma, and emotion in antioppressive pedagogies. Counterpoints, 240, 123-144. https://www.jstor.org/stable/42978384
Bochner, A. P., & Ellis, C. (2016). Evocative autoethnography: Writing lives and telling stories. Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315545417
Bochner, A. P., & Ellis, C. (1996). Talking over ethnography. In A. Bochner & C. Ellis (Eds.), Composing ethnography: Alternative forms of qualitative writing (pp. 13-45). AltaMira Press.
Boys, S., Walsh, J. S., & Khaja, K. (2018). Teaching Trump: Student recommendations to ensure safe discussions in a time of polarized political divide. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 38(4), 347-362. https://doi.org/10.1080/08841233.2018.1503625
Butler, J. (1988). Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory. Theatre Journal, 40(4), 519. https://doi.org/10.2307/3207893
Center for Health Workforce Studies. (2006). Licensed social workers in the United States, 2004. https://www.socialworkers.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=mV_QzN0aDzc%3D&portalid=0#:~:text=In%202004%20licensed%20social%20workers,83%25%20compared%20to%2086%25).&text=%D0%B0%20Nearly%20four%20out%20of,work%20degree%20was%20an%20MSW
Chapman, C., & Withers, A. J. (2019). A violent history of benevolence: Interlocking oppression in the moral economies of social working. University of Toronto Press. https://doi.org/10.3138/9781442625082
Collins, P. H. (1990). Defining Black feminist thought. In P. H. Collins (Ed.), Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment (pp. 19-40). Routledge.
Corley, N. A., & Young, S. M. (2018). Is social work still racist? A content analysis of recent literature. Social Work, 63(4), 317-326. https://doi.org/10.1093/sw/swy042
Council on Social Work Education. (2020). Statement on Social Justice. Retrieved on December 1, 2020 from https://www.cswe.org/News/Press-Room/CSWE-Statement-on-Social-Justice#
Crawford, F. R. (1994). Emic social work: A story of practice. Urbana-Champaign, IL.
D’Eon, M. F. (2019). Racism, research, and the human condition. Canadian Medical Education Journal, 10(3), e1-4. https://doi.org/10.36834/cmej.68649
Damian, A. J., & Gonzalez, M. (2020). Dismantling racism in research. The Lancet, 396, 237. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)31534-8
Danforth, L., Hsu, H. T., & Miller, J. W. (2020). Color-blind racial attitudes among social work students: Exploration of individual and social network correlates. Journal of Social Work Education, 56(3), 412-427. https://doi.org/10.1080/10437797.2019.1661910
DiAngelo, R. J. (2018). White fragility: Why it’s so hard to talk to white people about racism. Beacon Press.
Dominelli, L. (1989). An uncaring profession? An examination of racism in social work. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 15(3), 391-403. https://doi.org/10.1080/1369183X.1989.9976127
Dorr, L. L. (2004). White women, rape, and the power of race in Virginia, 1900-1960. University of North Carolina Press.
Ellis, C. (2008). Autoethnography. In L. Given (Ed.), The SAGE encyclopedia of qualitative research methods (pp. 48-51). Sage Publications.
Frankenberg, R. (1993). White women, race matters: The social construction of Whiteness. University of Minnesota Press.
Gair, S., Miles, D., Savage, D., & Zuchowski, I. (2015). Racism unmasked: The experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in social work field placements. Australian Social Work, 68(1), 32-48. https://doi.org/10.1080/0312407X.2014.928335
Garrison, J. (1999). Review: Feeling power: Emotions and education. Educational Researcher, 28(9), 33-43.
Garza, A. (2021). Black Lives Matter Herstory. Retrieved on January 8, 2021 from https://www.blacklivesmatter.com/herstory
Gray, M., Coates, J., Yellow Bird, M., & Hetherington, T. (2013). Decolonizing social work. Ashgate.
Hamad, R. (2020). White tears/Brown scars: How White feminism betrays Women of Color. Catapult.
Hardeman, R. R., & Karbeah, J. (2020). Examining racism in health services research: A disciplinary self-critique. Health Services Research, 55, 777-780. https://doi.org/10.1111/1475-6773.13558
Harris, J., & White, V. (2013). A dictionary of social work and social care. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acref/9780199543052.001.0001
Holley, L. C., & Steiner, S. (2005). Safe space: Student perspectives on classroom environment. Journal of Social Work Education, 41(1), 49-64. https://doi.org/10.5175/JSWE.2005.200300343
Jacob, K., Kallivayalil, R., Mallik, A., Gupta, N., Trivedi, J., Gangadhar, B., Praveenlal, K., Vahia, V. & Sathyanarayana Rao, T. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual5: Position paper of the Indian Psychiatric Society. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 55(1), 12-30. https://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5545.105500
Jensen-Hart, S., & Williams, D. J. (2010). Blending Voices: Autoethnography as a Vehicle for Critical Reflection in Social Work. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 30(4), 450-467. https://doi.org/10.1080/08841233.2010.515911
Johnson, T. (2020, June 11). When black people are in pain, white people just join book clubs. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/white-antiracist-allyship-book-clubs/2020/06/11/9edcc766-abf5-11ea-94d2-d7bc43b26bf9_story.html
Joffee-Walt, C. (Host) (2020). The Book of Statuses (No. 1) [Audio podcast episode]. In Nice white parents. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/30/podcasts/nice-white-parents-serial.html
Kriegler, S., & Bester, S. E. (2014). A critical engagement with the DSM-5 and psychiatric diagnosis. Journal of Psychology in Africa, 24(4), 393-401. https://doi.org/10.1080/14330237.2014.980629
Kumashiro, K. (2002). Troubling education: Queer activism and anti-oppressive pedagogy. Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203819753
Ladson-Billings, G. (2000). Racialized discourses and ethnic epistemologies. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (2nd ed., pp. 257-277). Sage.
Lasch-Quinn, E. (1993). Black neighbors: Race and the limits of reform in the American Settlement House movement, 1890-1945. University of North Carolina Press.
Lee, E., & Bhuyan, R. (2013). Negotiating within Whiteness in cross-cultural clinical encounters. Social Service Review, 87(1), 98-130. https://doi.org/10.1086/669919
Lopez, I. H. (2006). White by law: The legal construction of race. New York University Press.
Matias, C. E., & Mackey, J. (2016). Breakin’ down Whiteness in antiracist teaching: Introducing critical Whiteness pedagogy. Urban Review, 48(1), 32-50. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11256-015-0344-7
Mayo, C. (2002). The binds that tie: Civility and social difference. Educational Theory, 52(2), 169-186. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-5446.2002.00169.x
McLaughlin, K. (2005). From ridicule to institutionalization: Anti-oppression, the state and social work. Critical Social Policy, 25(3), 283-305. https://doi.org/10.1177/0261018305054072
McMahon, A., & Allen-Meares, P. (1992). Is social work racist? A content analysis of recent literature. Social Work, 37(6), 533-539. https://doi.org/10.1093/sw/37.6.533
McNay, M. (1992). Social work and power relations: Towards a framework for an integrated practice. In Women, oppression and social work: Issues in anti-discriminatory practice (pp. 48-66). Taylor & Francis Group. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203417386-7
Méndez, M. G. (2014). Autoethnography as a research method: Advantages, limitations and criticisms. Colombian Applied Linguistics Journal, 15(2), 279-287. https://doi.org/10.14483/udistrital.jour.calj.2013.2.a09
Merriam Webster. (2020). White supremacy. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/white%20supremacy
Miller, S. E. (2013). Professional socialization: A bridge between the explicit and implicit curricula. Journal of Social Work Education, 49(3), 368-386. https://doi.org/10.1080/10437797.2013.796773
Mizrahi, T., & Davis, L. E. (Eds.). (2020). Encyclopedia of social work (20th ed.). Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acref/9780195306613.001.0001
Patel, L. (2016). The irrationality of antiracist empathy. English Journal, 106(2), 81-84.
Payne, M., & Askeland, G. A. (2008). Globalization and international social work: Postmodern change and challenge. Routledge Press.
Pewawardy, C. (2003). 100 tactics and attributions: Dodging the dialog on cultural diversity. Multicultural Education, 11(1), 21-28.
Quiros, L., Kay, L., & Montijo, A. M. (2012). Creating emotional safety in the classroom and in the field. Reflections: Narratives of Professional Helping, 18(2), 42-47. https://reflectionsnarrativesofprofessionalhelping.org/index.php/Reflections/article/download/12/70/
Razack, S., & Fellows, M. L. (1998). The race to innocence: Confronting hierarchical relations among women. Journal of Gender, Race and Justice, 1(2), 335-352. https://scholarship.law.umn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1278&context=faculty_articles&fbclid=IwAR3Hku7Wn7RmHNYlkEmfNt0yj6-fQkS97f2i6czjDi4FMAL8RixsO2R6bnU
Rowe, W., & Rapp-Paglicci, L. A. (Eds.). (2008). Comprehensive handbook of social work and social welfare: Social work practice (2nd ed., Vol. 3). John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Saad, L. F. (2020). Me and White supremacy: Combat racism, change the world, and become a good ancestor. Sourcebooks.
Sinanan, K. (2020, June 10). BLM 2020: Breathing, resistance, and the war against enslavement. Age of Revolutions. https://ageofrevolutions.com/2020/06/10/blm-2020-breathing-resistance-and-the-war-against-enslavement/
Sowbel, L. R. (2011). Gatekeeping in field performance: Is grade inflation a given? Journal of Social Work Education, 47(2), 367-377. https://doi.org/10.5175/JSWE.2011.201000006
Specht, H., & Courtney, M. E. (1994). Unfaithful angels: How social work has abandoned its mission. The Free Press.
Sue, D. W. (2015). Race talk and the conspiracy of silence: Understanding and facilitating difficult dialogues on race. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Tate, S. A., & Page, D. (2018). Whiteliness and institutional racism: Hiding behind (un)conscious bias. Ethics and Education, 13(1), 141-155. https://doi.org/10.1080/17449642.2018.1428718
Thyer, B. A. (2008). Comprehensive handbook of social work and social welfare: Human Behavior in the Social Environment (2nd ed., Vol. 2). John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Timms, N. W., & Timms, R. (2016). Dictionary of social welfare . Taylor & Francis. (Original work published in 1982)
Tolliver, W. F., Hadden, B. R., Snowden, F., & Brown-Manning, R. (2016). Police killings of unarmed Black people: Centering race and racism in human behavior and the social environment content. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 26(3-4), 279-286. https://doi.org/10.1080/10911359.2015.1125207
Trattner, W. I. (1999). From poor law to welfare state: A History of Social Welfare in America (6th ed.). The Free Press.
Trepagnier, B. (2017). Silent racism: How well-meaning White people perpetuate the racial divide. In Silent racism: How well-meaning White people perpetuate the racial divide. Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315284453 (Original work published in 2010)
Turner, G. W., Pelts, M., & Thompson, M. (2018). Between the academy and queerness: Microaggressions in social work education. Affilia: Journal of Women & Social Work, 33(1), 98-111. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886109917729664
Walsdorf, A. A., Jordan, L. S., McGeorge, C. R., & Caughy, M. O. (2020). White supremacy and the web of family science: Implications of the missing spider. Journal of Family Theory and Review, 12(1), 64-79. https://doi.org/10.1111/jftr.12364
Walter, M., Taylor, S., & Habibis, D. (2011). How white is social work in Australia? Australian Social Work, 64(1), 6-19. https://doi.org/10.1080/0312407X.2010.510892
White, B. W. (2008). Comprehensive handbook of social work and social welfare: The Profession of Social Work (2nd ed., Vol. 1). John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Zembylas, M. (2018). Affect, race, and white discomfort in schooling: Decolonial strategies for ‘pedagogies of discomfort.’ Ethics and Education, 13(1), 86-104. https://doi.org/10.1080/17449642.2018.1428714
Zuberi, T., & Bonilla-Silva, E. (2008). White logic, White methods: Racism and methodology. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Copyright to works published in Advances in Social Work is retained by the author(s).