Abstract: Who Counts? Challenging Whiteness in Data and Decision Making (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

11914 Who Counts? Challenging Whiteness in Data and Decision Making

Thursday, January 14, 2010: 2:00 PM
Pacific Concourse O (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Ann Curry-Stevens, PhD , Portland State University, Assistant Professor, Portland, OR
Amanda Cross-Hemmer, MPH , Portland State University, Project Manager, Portland, OR
Background and purpose

This study describes the empirical findings of inquiry into the policy dimensions of traditional Eurocentric research methods, and the exclusion of communities of color from policy practice. In Multnomah County, Oregon, the Coalition of Communities of Color approached faculty in the graduate school of social work at Portland State University and requested a partnership to design and develop research that better articulated their lived realities and prepared them for stronger advocacy practices. The resulting study was a community-based participatory research project, with qualitative and quantitative dimensions, focusing on the experiences of immigrants (African, Asian, Latino, Slavic) and other communities of color. Funding of $210,000 was secured. This presentation reports those findings.

Drawing from critical research frameworks of Lawrence-Lightfoot & Davis (1997), Heshusius & Ballard (1996), and Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger & Tarule (1986), the research sought to understand the how mainstream research rendered communities of color invisible, their lives obscured, their programs and services perpetually underfunded, and their policy roles curtailed. Critical social work paradigms provide the theoretical framework for this study (Hick, Fook & Pozzuto, 2005), holding central issues of power and identity.


Using CBPR, the partnership between multi-racial academic researchers and communities of color uncovered a thriving paradigm of whiteness within a city that considers itself deeply progressive. In the research reported here, the researchers conducted focus groups with stakeholders, interviews with Coalition partners and mainstream researchers, and engaged in member-checking at every major decision point. The research team analyzed transcripts using conceptually clustered matrices (Miles & Huberman, 1994) and a grounded theory approach, using iterative, constant comparison, line-by-line analysis (Corbin & Strauss, 1990) including open coding, selective coding, and the development of a narrative line. Checks on reliability were done by an external analyst as well as the Coalition partners.


The study confirms that whiteness manifests in mainstream research and policy practices and that this dynamic is hidden within dominant discourses about research that has been legitimated by the State. Dominant research paradigms continued to illustrate how the “average” experience was, in fact, the experience of white communities of average wealth. In this context, the official databases are perceived as “color-blind” and decisions that draw from these data are similarly refuted as “innocent.” The ripple effects are damaging, as communities of color are undercounted, disparities in income and employment rendered invisible, and their policy priorities marginalized. The presentation will highlight the full range of whiteness practices within research undertaken by mainstream practitioners, and present alternatives that are validated by communities of color. An included site is the CBPR partnership itself.

Conclusions and Implications

When the professed intentions of mainstream policy practitioners is to adhere to data-driven decisions, there is an opening to critique reliance on data developed in the colorblind paradigm, and to develop better data that has been validated by communities of color. The study is believed to shed important light on pathways to eradicate pervasive whiteness within mainstream institutions. The positive advocacy results can provide a framework to be replicated elsewhere.