Wrestling the Elephant

Teaching as a Racialized Body in the Social Work Classroom


  • Carolyn Mak Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto
  • Mandeep Kaur Mucina
  • Renée Nichole Ferguson




Dismantling white supremacy, social work classroom, critical race theory, decolonization, racialized identities


White supremacist ideology is the elephant in the social work classroom, negatively impacting educators’ abilities to facilitate discussion and learning. One of the most effective ways to dismantle and organize against white supremacy is to politicize the seemingly benign moments that occur in the classroom that can create discomfort for students and instructors. Politicization includes identifying and addressing both the racial (micro-) aggressions that occur in the classroom and the processes and institutional policies that create complacency and lull us to sleep. In this conceptual piece, we use a Critical Race Theory (CRT) framework to understand how white supremacy perpetuates itself in the classroom, with a particular focus on whiteness as property. As well, we explore what it means to decolonize the classroom. Using a vignette based on our teaching experiences, we use these two frameworks to analyze classroom dynamics and interactions, and discuss how implications for social work education include waking from the metaphorical sleep to recognize the pernicious effects of whiteness and white supremacy. Included are practical individual teaching, relational, and systemic suggestions to enact change.


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