Colonial Encounters: Racialized Social Workers Negotiating Professional Scripts of Whiteness


  • Harjeet Kaur Badwall York University



race, racism, whiteness, colonialism, critical social work


This article examines the ways in which racialized social workers negotiate the values and practices of a social work profession that is constituted through scripts of whiteness. In particular, I examine how social work imagines itself as a site of social justice and goodness, and the processes through which racialized workers’ desires to be good collide with the racist encounters experienced in everyday sites of practice. I build upon scholarship that critiques the centralization of whiteness in social work and makes visible the liberal foundations of the profession that are implicated in constituting colonial and imperial practices of moral superiority. I argue that the professional values and practices committed to the goals of social justice are the same values and practices that reinstall whiteness and underpin incidents of racial violence. Historically, racialized bodies have been constituted as the Other—subjects to be regulated, controlled, and saved within the colonial project by white, bourgeois subjects. This article, based on interviews with racialized social workers in Canada, examines the dilemmas that emerge when racialized Others become the helpers and perform an identity that historically was never meant for them.

Author Biography

Harjeet Kaur Badwall, York University

School of Social Work Assistant Professor