University of Tasmania

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Australian Social Work is White

What does it mean to be White? More specifically, how does Whiteness impact social work’s engagement with Indigenous people and peoples? This question is one many social workers may not have considered, despite their dedicated use of a reflexive praxis framework in working with clients from different cultural backgrounds. Indeed, the immediate response from many might be to take the question as critiquing social work’s core operating premises or suggesting a lack of engagement with Indigenous2 people. This is not the intent of the question or how we address that question within this chapter. Rather, our purpose is to refocus the racial lens away from aspects of Indigeneity, which is the usual starting point for most discussion of Indigenous related social work practice, to the race of the majority of social work practitioners and educators, white EuroAustralians. Our purpose is to highlight how race, and more specifically, whiteness, affects the assumptions, presumptions and perspectives that guide social work thinking, practice and professional guidelines in Australia.

We begin the process of turning the lens in this chapter by firstly taking a critical look at how Whiteness is currently wrestled with within the Australian social work profession. Our central premise is that privileging an examination of Whiteness is central to uncovering new ways of thinking about how race creates barriers in practice. This, we believe, is especially pertinent to social work’s practice with Indigenous people/s. We begin with an outline of Whiteness theory and White Fragility Theory and its relevance to a re-understanding of the social work profession in a colonised settler society like Australia. We also examine the socio-demographic location of most Australian social workers in relation to their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients. We then examine the merits of decolonisation for social work thinking, practice, education and teaching and learning. We end with a simple yet complex message – that perhaps for now all we can do is learn to listen deeply while we hold in tension the paradoxes that emerge from decolonisation efforts.


Publication title

Our Voices: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social work


B Bennett and S Green






DVC - Academic


Red Globe Press

Place of publication




Rights statement

Copyright 2019 Bindi Bennett and Sue Green, under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Other culture and society not elsewhere classified; Expanding knowledge in education; Expanding knowledge in human society