Black Women Resistance to Whiteness in Social Work



As Black women, we are often challenged within organisations to critique incomplete and underdeveloped cultural competence/diversity organisational goals. Our Black bodies are used to meet a diversity/inclusion quota and create programming that appears representational of the larger community for the appearance of inclusivity. However, the white experience is set as the standard of living within systems connected to family, community and individual social and personal needs. Challenges transform to workplace stressors through unequal professional demands/workloads, racist tropes, silencing, questioning credentials, ‘racial gaslighting’, emotionally draining work, white fragility, and violence. At the core of our concern: Once the path has been traversed and it’s time for us to move on to other professional or personal endeavors, what happens to the work created when Black women as change agents and leaders leave the space? What happens to the outcomes associated with the tireless work, accomplishments, and the intention for the work to continue? As Black women, we have found in providing cultural competency/diversity training that this instruction is steeped in whiteness and that presenters/teachers must pursue this education as a form of resistance as these presentations strengthen our pedagogy by addressing that whiteness and decenter whiteness for the betterment of our profession globally.

Author Biography

Yolanda Spears, University of Iowa School of Social Work

Clinical Assistant Professor

Coordinator, Certificate in Critical Cultural Competence



Agustí-Panareda, J. (2006). Cross-cultural Brokering in the Legal, Institutional and Normative Domains: Intercultural Mediators Managing Immigration in Catalonia. Social & Legal Studies, 15(3), 409-433.

Anderson, K. F. (2012). Diagnosing Discrimination: Stress from Perceived Racism and the Mental and Physical Health Effects*. Sociological Inquiry, 83(1), 55–81. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-682x.2012.00433.

APA Dictionary of Psychology. (2019).

Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW), Audited financial and annual reports. (2018-2019). Retrieved January 7, 2020, from

Black Lives Matter. (2019, October 24). Retrieved from

Cleaver, K.N. (1999) Women, power, and revolution, New Political Science, 21:2, 231-236, DOI: 10.1080/07393149908429865

Collins, P. (2000). Gender, Black Feminism, and Black Political Economy. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 568(1), 41–53.

Collins, P. (1986). Learning from the Outsider Within: The Sociological Significance of Black Feminist Thought. Social Problems, 33(6). doi: 10.2307/800672

Council on Social Work Education. (2015). Annual Statistics on Social Work Education in the United States.

Crenshaw, K. (1991). Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color. Stanford Law Review, 43(6), 1241-1299. doi:10.2307/1229039

Cross, T. (1988). Services to minority populations: Cultural competent curriculum. Bulletin of the Research and Training Center on Family Support and Children's Mental Health, Portland State University. Focal Point, 3, 1-4.

Cross, T., Baxron, B., Dennis, K., & Isaac, M. (1989). Toward a culturally competent system of care. Washington, DC: CASSP Technical Assistance Center, Center for Child Health and Mental Health Policy, Georgetown University Child Development Center.

DataUSA. (2019). Social workers. Retrieved from

Davis, A. & Ernst, R. (2017). Racial gaslighting. Politics, Groups, and Identities, 7(4), 761–774. doi: 10.1080/21565503.2017.1403934

DiAngelo, R. (2018). White fragility: Why it's so hard for White people to talk about racism.

DeLoach, L. (2018). The Effects of Mediatized Hate: Coping with Life in Trumpland. Gutsche, R. (Ed.). The Trump Presidency, Journalism and Democracy. New York & Oxen, UK: Routledge, pp. 299-310.

Digest of Education Statistics, 2018. (n.d.). Retrieved January 7, 2020, from

Dunbar, P. (1999). We Wear the Mask. The New Crisis, 106(1), 56.

Ellis, C. (2004). The ethnographic I. a methodological novel about autoethnography. Walnut Creek: AltaMira.

Frankenberg, R. (1993). White women, race matters: The social construction of whiteness / Ruth Frankenberg. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Guess, T. (2006). The Social Construction of Whiteness: Racism by Intent, Racism by Consequence. Critical Sociology, 32(4), 649-673.

Green, S., Bennett, B., & Betteridge, S. (2016). Cultural responsiveness and social work - a discussion. Social Alternatives, 35(4), 66-72.

Hansen, D. T., Burdick-Shepherd, S., Cammarano, C., & Obelleiro, G. (2009). Education, Values, and Valuing in Cosmopolitan Perspective. Curriculum Inquiry, 39(5), 587–612. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-873x.2009.00461.x

Hooks, B. (2015). Ain't I a woman: Black women and feminism. (2nd ed.). New York, New York Oxfordshire, England: Routledge.

Ishimaru, A. M., Torres, K. E., Salvador, J. E., Lott, J., Williams, D. M. C., & Tran, C. (2016). Reinforcing Deficit, Journeying Toward Equity: Cultural Brokering in Family Engagement Initiatives. American Educational Research Journal, 53(4), 850–882. doi: 10.3102/0002831216657178

Ladson-Billings, G. J. (2005). Is the team all right? Diversity and teacher education. Journal of teacher education, 56(3), 229-234.

Jardina, A. (2019). White identity politics. USA: Cambridge University Press.

Jones, K. & Okun, T. (2001). Peace Development Fund. (n.d.). Dismantling racism: a workbook for social change groups. Amherst, MA.

McIntosh, P. (2003). White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. In S. Plous (Ed.), Understanding prejudice and discrimination (pp. 191-196). New York, NY, US: McGraw-Hill.

Morris, M., Conteh, M., & Harris-Perry, M. V. (2018). Pushout: the criminalization of Black girls in schools. New York: The New Press.

National Association of Social Workers (2017). Code of Ethics. Retrieved from

Omi, M., & Winant, H. (2014). Racial Formation in the United States. (Third ed., DDA). New York, NY: Routledge.

Padilla, A. (1994). Ethnic Minority Scholars, Research, and Mentoring: Current and Future Issues. Educational Researcher, 23(4), 24-27.

Race Disparity Unit (2019). Social workers for children and families. Gov.UK. Retrieved from

Temple, C. (2010). The Emergence of Sankofa Practice in the United States: A Modern History. Journal of Black Studies, 41(1), 127-150.

Tervalon, M., & Murray-García, J. (1998). Cultural Humility Versus Cultural Competence: A Critical Distinction in Defining Physician Training Outcomes in Multicultural Education. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 9(2), 117–125. doi: 10.1353/hpu.2010.0233.

Wilson, W. (2009). More than just race: Being black and poor in the inner city. New York: W. Norton & Company.






Beyond “cultural competency”: Confronting whiteness in social work