The Woke Disrupter

A Call to Action


  • Jessica Donohue-Dioh University of Houston
  • Jacqueline Wilson
  • Stephani-Nicole Leota



Dismantling racism, anti-racism, White supremacy, institutional racism


This article examines one of the most dangerous personifications of white supremacy, the Woke Vigilante - the “liberal do-gooder” and the social work profession’s role in their creation. White supremacy is frequently named to identify overt racism and discrimination by hate groups, ultra conservatives and increasingly throughout the government. There is another breed of white supremacy which lies beneath the surface and believes itself to be an ally, this is the Woke Vigilante. Unexamined social work education provides the right ingredients with the moral authority to turn white social workers into Woke Vigilantes. This conceptual article highlights the ways in which social work education currently addresses competencies of diversity and difference, as well as social justice. The authors then present a persuasive argument for white academic social workers to alter course and promote teaching and practice skills which incorporate social justice skills at all levels of practice, in other words social justice meta-practice skills. The danger of white supremacy when it is disguised as the Woke Vigilante may be best captured by Malcolm X when he spoke of the white liberals who disguise themselves as friends to the Black man only as a means to benefit their own self-interest without genuinely asking or listening to that which the Black community actually wants (X, 1963). Social work is all too familiar with the white liberal and must consider this a call to action, as well as a forewarning against further perpetuation of white hegemonic societal structures giving license to white do-gooders eager to go into Black communities and effect change. Authors present a resolve for white social workers to adopt the role of the Woke Disrupter.


Adams, M., & Zúñiga, X. (2018). Core concepts for social justice education. In M. Adams, W. J. Blumenfeld, D. C. J. Catalano, K. S. DeJong, H. W. Hackman, L. E. Hopkins, B. J. Love, M. L. Peters, D. Shlasko, & X. Zúñiga (Eds.), Readings for diversity and social justice (4th ed., pp. 41-49). Routledge.

Alexander, M. (2012). The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. The New Press.

Anderson, T., & Hill. J. (Hosts). (2020, July 30). Okay allies, now let’s get in formation! (Feat. Jarrett Lucas) (No. 26) [Audio podcast episode]. In FANTI. MaximumFun.

Androff, D., & McPherson, J. (2014). Can human rights-based social work practice bridge the micro/macro divide? In K. R. Libal, S. M. Berthold, R. L. Thomas, &. L. M. Healy (Eds.), Advancing human rights in social work education (pp. 39-56). Council on Social Work Education.

Baradaran, M. (2017). The color of money: Black banks and the racial wealth gap. Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press.

BBC. (2020, June 20). Breonna Taylor: Louisville officer to be fired for deadly force use. BBC News.

Bell, L. A. (2018). Theoretical foundations for social justice education. In M. Adams, W. J. Blumenfeld, D. C. J. Catalano, K. S. DeJong, H. W. Hackman, L. E. Hopkins, B. J. Love, M. L. Peters, D. Shlasko, & X. Zúñiga (Eds.), Readings for diversity and social justice (4th ed., pp. 34-41). Routledge.

Buck, P. D. (2013). Constructing race, creating white privilege. In T. E. Ore (Ed.), The social construction of difference: Race, class, gender and sexuality.

Cave, D., Albeck-Ripka, L., & Magra, I. (2020, June 6). Huge crowds around the globe march in solidarity against police brutality. The New York Times.

Council on Social Work Education [CSWE]. (2015). Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards. Commission on Accreditation, Commission on Educational Policy.

Davis, C. (2020). You came to SW [social work] to ‘help people,’ I came to free myself and my people. We are not the same. [Tweet] shared via @CharlaYearwood Twitter.

Dettlaff, A. J., Weber, K., Pendleton, M., Boyd, R., Bettencourt, B., & Burton, L. (2020). It is not a broken system, it is a system that needs to be broken: The upEND movement to abolish the child welfare system, Journal of Public Child Welfare, 14(5), 500-517.

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

Dominelli, L. (1998). Anti-racist social work (4th ed). British Association of Social Work [BASW].

Finn, J. L., & Jacobson, M. (2003). Just practice: A social justice approach to social work. Eddie Bowers Publishing Inc.

Ford, A. C. [@iSmashFizzle]. (2020, September 24). Empowered incompetence is so dangerous [Tweet]. Twitter.

Gallardo, M. E. (2014). Developing cultural humility: Embracing race, privilege, and power. Sage.

Grise-Owens, E., Miller, J. J., & Owens, L. (2014). Responding to global shifts: Meta-practice as a relevant social work practice paradigm. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 34, 46-59.

Grise-Owens, E., Miller, J. J., & Owens, L. (2018). Activating a teaching – learning philosophy. CSWE Press.

hooks, b. (2000). Where we stand: class matters. Routledge.

Jaggers, G. L. (2003). That rare moment in history: The future of the NABSW, peril or progress (Vol II). National Association of Black Social Workers [NABSW].

Jones, N. H. (2019, August 18). The 1619 project. The New York Times Magazine.

Kendi, I. X. (2019). How to be an antiracist. One World.

Kirst-Ashman, K. K., & Hull Jr., G. H. (2018). Empowerment series: Understanding generalist practice (8th ed.). Cengage.

Lasch-Quinn, E. (1993). Black neighbors: Race and the limits of the reform of the American settlement house movement, 1890-1945. The University of North Carolina Press.

Leonard, T.M. (2013). Encyclopedia of the developing world. Taylor and Francis.

Lourde, A. (1983). There is no hierarchy of oppressions. Interracial Books for Children Bulletin, 14(3-4), 9.

Merriam-Webster (n.d.-a). Vigilante. In Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary (11th ed.).

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.-b). Woke. In Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary (11th ed.).

Mihalopoulos, D. (2020, August 27). Kenosha shooting suspect fervently supported ‘Blue Lives,’ joined local militia. National Public Radio [NPR].

Miller. J. J. (2020a, September 25). Opinion: Three reasons to thoughtfully embed social workers into police departments. Courier Journal.

Miller, J. J. (2020b, June 1). From the dean. UK College of Social Work Newsletter.

Miller, J. J. [@DrJayMiller1]. (2020c, September 23). When it comes to #justice, don't tell me what's easy - show me what's RIGHT. Justice is a verb. [Tweet]. Twitter.

Miller, J. L., & Garran, A. M. (2017). Racism in the United States: Implications for the helping professions (2nd ed.). Springer Publishing Company.

Morris, M. W. (2016). Pushout: The criminalization of Black girls in schools. The New Press.

National Association of Social Workers [NASW]. (2020). Read the code of ethics; Approved by the 1996 NASW delegate assembly and revised by the 2017 NASW delegate assembly.

Nuyen, S., & Slotkin, J. (2020, May 31). Grief, outrage over George Floyd spread further. NPR.

Patterson, O. (1998). Rituals of blood: Consequences of slavery in two American centuries. Basic Civitas.

Popper, K. (1945). The open society and its enemies (Vol I). Routledge.

Ratcliff, S. (Ed.). (2017). Oxford Essential Quotations (5th.). Retrieved online

Rawls, J. (1971). A theory of justice. Belknap Press.

Roberts, D. E. (1997). Killing the black body: Race, reproduction, and the meaning of liberty. Pantheon Books.

Rogers, A. T. (2019). Human behaviors in the social environment (5th ed.). Routledge.

Rothstein, R. (2018). The color of law: A forgotten history of how our government segregated America. Liveright.

Salsberg, E., Quigley, L., Mehfoud, N., Acquaviva, K., Wyche, K., & Sliwa, S. (2017). Profile of the social work workforce. CSWE. .

Singer, J. B. (Producer). (2020a, July 19). Both/And or Either/Or: Social work and policing (No.127) [Audio podcast episode]. In Social work podcast.

Singer, J. B. (Producer). (2020b, July 24). Social work must bend the arc of justice: A conversation with Mildred “Mit” C. Joyner [Video podcast]. In Social Work Podcast.

Singer, J. B. (Producer). (2020c, September 4). Deans, directors and anti-racism [Video podcast]. In Social work podcast.

Stalvery, L. M. (1970). The education of a WASP. The University of Wisconsin Press.

SWCAREs (facilitator). (2020, June 30). Social work so white with Rachel Cargle [Webinar]. SWCAREs Webinar.

Telles, E. (2014). Pigmentocracies: Ethnicity, race and color in Latin America. The University of North Carolina Press.

U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2019, September 9). Occupational outlook handbook.

Walker, R. (2020). The unapologetic guide to Black mental health: Navigate an unequal system, learn tools for emotional wellness, and get the help you deserve. New Harbinger Publications.

Whitaker, B. (Correspondent). (2020, June 7). Sherrilyn Ifill: Why George Floyd’s killing is a tipping point and how America can move forward. 60 Minutes, CBS News.

X, M. (1963). Malcolm X speech. Digital history ID 3619. Digital history 2021.