Cultural competence as whiteness in health and social care

Lani Russell*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Critical Whiteness studies seek to understand ways people racialized as White collectively maintain racist systems even whilst professing anti-racism. Key to Whiteness are discursive moves that have the effect of making the benefits of being White invisible for the beneficiaries. In the era of Black Lives Matter and decolonisation, it has been noticed that Whiteness is increasingly defensive and disturbed. With its invisibility under threat, hegemonic Whiteness now relies on disavowal of open racists as “too” White (by implication, not really White), as part of a continuous process of protecting its appearance of being position-free and universal. Thus its “civilizational” reach is underpinned. This chapter argues that in health and social care, the machinery of Whiteness can be seen at work in attempts to instil “cultural competence”. Whilst cultural competence is popular as a tool for redressing racism in institutional contexts, in practice it reflects and re-inscribes social difference. Cultural competence is therefore best understood as a technology of Whiteness. The chapter considers the promotion of cultural competence in Scotland and identifies the traces it bears of Scotland’s particular history of race and racism as a former slave-owning wing of British colonialism now seeking to position itself as multicultural and post-colonial. Efforts to foster cultural competence offer a terrain on which Whiteness “in the headlights” seeks its once cosy invisibility, yet can also be seen as creating liminal spaces where racial certainties may be unsettled.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Critical Whiteness: Deconstructing Dominant Discourses Across Disciplines
EditorsJioji Ravulo, Katarzyna Olcoń, Tinashe Dune, Alex Workman, Pranee Liamputtong
Place of PublicationSingapore
PublisherSpringer Nature
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9789811916120
ISBN (Print)9789811916120
Publication statusPublished - 28 Dec 2022


Dive into the research topics of 'Cultural competence as whiteness in health and social care'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this