In 2010 I was a student in Oklahoma’s Northeastern State University social work program. The first semester was known as the pre-social work semester, and the intent was to root out students who were not ideologically aligned with the profession. The class was asked to write a position paper on Peggy McIntosh’s essay White Male, White Privilege. Upon completion of our papers, students were asked to give a brief presentation discussing what they learned about their own racist attitudes. I watched in absolute amazement as the students, one by one, stood in front of their peers and went along with the program ̶ ̶ admitting that they were not aware of their own racism until reading Mcintosh’s essay. I refused to capitulate to such nonsense and was later told that I was not fit for the profession because of my oppositional attitude.
Social work, as a profession, is politically motivated. The primary purpose is advocating for social change which best helps the fields primary constituency (Gray, 1996). Dominated by the left, social workers believe that capitalism is the root cause of poverty, inequality and most importantly, racism. Social workers are trained to view socialism as a core ideal of the profession while also viewing it as being a fundamentally correct worldview (Duarte, 2017). To effectively accomplish their goal, social workers need to “see society as a struggle between groups with competing interests” (Duarte, 2017) to deconstruct what they view as, systems of oppression.
The term hegemony refers to the power of a dominant group. Social workers, and the left in general, view white America as an oppressive system. There has been a mass awakening to the indoctrination taking place in our universities with the teaching of concepts like white privilege and critical race theory. CRT, as it has come to be known, defines racism in terms relating to social status and power. What used to be defined as a hatred for someone based on the color of their skin, or their nationality, is now a politicized term which equates racism to any dominant social structure. Advocates of CRT claim that our society is built for the benefit of white people and, for the purpose of perpetuating whiteness while leaving others behind or forcing them to conform. It stands to reason then, that if social workers intend on dismantling what they view as an oppressive power structure, they must deconstruct whiteness altogether.
This is what LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) Cristina Combs intends to do with her Twelve steps to recovery from whiteness program. Based on the tenets of white privilege philosophy and critical race theory, this twelve-step program attempts to break down the sickness (as they see it) of whiteness for the purpose of creating a more equitable world. Step one of course, is admitting you are racist. I watched my fellow classmates do this at NSU. Step two involves acknowledging that as a white person, you will never know what it is like to walk in the shoes of a person of color. Step three is understanding the need to be gentle with yourself as you come to grips with the horrible things you have done to perpetuate white supremacy. The whole thing reads like an alcoholics’ anonymous program where admitting you were wrong and weak is the first step to recovery.
In an article entitled Owning Whiteness: The Reinvention of Self and Practice, Blitz (2006) discusses the Helms racial identity model where whiteness is broken down into six distinct phases ̶ ̶ contact, disintegration, reintegration, pseudo-independence, immersion/emergence, and autonomy (Blitz, 2006). These phases start with a white person being aware of racial differences but being satisfied with the status quo (Blitz, 2006). The next phase involves the realization that there are social implications to whiteness which cause feelings of guilt (Blitz, 2006). The reintegration phase involves adopting the attitude that whites have it better than people of color and denying any responsibility for their own racism (Blitz, 2006). The next phases, which could be identified as recovery phases, involves white people becoming dependent on persons of color to help them define their racial identity (Blitz, 2006). Finally, white people who recover from whiteness (if you will) emerge with new ideas on morality, and how to approach discussions about how other white people deal with their own racism (Blitz, 2006).
There are some serious implications in the way the left, and those in the social work profession, (if it can be called that) are defining racism and systems of oppression. There is a stark contrast between the worldviews of the left and right. First, leftists are largely atheistic and hold a Darwinist view of man’s origins. Many of the beliefs associated with white supremacy can be traced back to evolutionary thinking. Francis Galton, according to the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, was an English psychologist who was related to Charles Darwin and shared many of his views concerning his theory of evolution. Galton, because he believed in evolutionary science, was convinced that Africans were inferior. Stating in his book “Tropical South Africa” that they had no independent will of their own, Galton believed that Africans needed leadership and preferred a life of servitude. This belief was later used to justify slavery. In fact, Africans who resisted slavery were considered mentally ill, as it was generally believed that blacks were incapable of self-care and freedom. This disease was referred to as Drapetomania and it is the root belief in what is driving the discussion of racism today.
The left argues that African Americans need the protection of the welfare state to give them an advantage in capitalist America, which they claim is a system of oppression. As mentioned earlier, for social workers to accomplish their mission, they need to see society as competing groups with a dominant social structure oppressing people of color for its own benefit. It is because they view white people as being superior that they feel the need to advocate for policy changes which they claim, will create a more equal footing in the first place. It is the very meaning behind Joe Biden’s slip of tongue when he said, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” Joe Biden believes that black people can not compete in white America and that they need his handouts to make it fair. The very idea that “whiteness” is something that must be de-constructed to make the world more fair is an admission that they believe white people are better and, they are self-projecting their own misguided feelings of guilt onto the rest of us. They are the one’s suffering from a mental illness. They are obsessed with the idea that white people are superior, and they need to make concessions in their pursuit of total equality. What they are really doing is creating and maintaining a steady stream of victimized people to keep a voter base and, justify their agenda.
Blitz, L.V. (2006) Owning Whiteness: The Reinvention of Self and Practice. Journal of emotional abuse, 6(2) pp. 241-263
Combs, C. (N.K.D) Recovery from White Conditioning https://practicetransformation.umn.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Recovery-from-White-Conditioning-PPT.pdf
Creating racism: Psychiatry’s betrayal. Citizens commission on human rights. http://www.cchrstl.org/documents/racism.pdf
Duarte, F (2017, February 6) Building a political agenda for social work. https://swhelper.org/2017/02/06/building-political-agenda-social-work/
Gray, M. (1996). Social work and politics. Social Work/ Maatskaplike Werk, 32 pp.1–8.
Gray, M., Van Rooyen, C. C., Gavin, R. & Gaha, J. (2002) The political participation of social workers. International journal of social welfare, 11, pp. 99-110.
McIntosh, P. (1988) White Privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack https://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/mcintosh.pdf