The Whitewashing of Social Work History

How Dismantling Racism in Social Work Education Begins With an Equitable History of the Profession




Dismantling Racism, Social Work History


Severe racial inequity has characterized the incorporation of ethnic minorities’ contributions to U.S. history and advancements (Sandoval et al., 2016). These disparities are inextricably connected to White Supremacist ideologies and practices, and are perpetuated in higher education through textbooks, pedagogy, and research. Social work, like many disciplines, teaches about its early roots with a whitewashed historical lens. Indeed, review of the social work literature reveals the scarcity of attributions to Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC). Without a more racially diverse perspective on social work’s history, social work scholars promote and sustain White Supremacy. The implications of this are crucial since social work education is predominantly populated by privileged White students who adopt this mentality, unaware of Black, Brown, Latino, Asian, Native or Other ethnic “Jane Addams” who have massively promoted the social welfare of communities for decades without historical recognition or the privileged positions of Addams and Richmond. Historical distortions also potentially discourage BIPOC social work students’ self-efficacy and future efforts to contribute and excel in the discipline. To properly address this issue, social work history must be refaced with a more equitable and just lens. This review seeks to address the gap in the literature pertaining to the need for a greater integration and infusion of racially diverse social work historical contributions in several ways. Recommendations will be made for future research in this area to dismantle racist perspectives in social work history, and strategies will be offered to help social work educators and researchers address this critical issue.


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