Working Our Way Out of Privilege: Lessons from South Africa on Preparing White Americans for a National Transitional Justice Process

Main Article Content

Susan Wysor Nguema


social work, whiteness, truth and transformation, reconciliation, racial injustice


This study utilized difference-in-differences analysis to determine likelihood of confidence in four major public institutions over three periods of time in South Africa and the United States, two prior to South Africa’s transitional justice process and one after.  Results indicate that Black South African confidence rose while White South African confidence dropped drastically.  American confidence levels, for both races, remained relatively consistent over all three time periods.  The drastic drop in White South African likelihood of confidence points to possible feelings of loss related to power and privilege.  These results provide insight for social workers interested in addressing racial injustice in the United States, particularly for White social workers seeking to prepare White individuals for what a transitional justice process may look like and the resulting feelings of loss from the creation of a more equitable state.

Abstract 488 |


Abdullah, S. (2015). Multicultural social work and national trauma: Lessons from South Africa. International Social Work, 58(1), 43-54.
Androff, D. K. (2010). Truth and reconciliation commissions (TRCs): An international human rights intervention and its connection to social work. British Journal of Social Work, 40(6), 1960-1977.
Ashenfelter, O., & Card, D. (1985). Using the longitudinal structure of earnings to estimate the effect of training programs. Review of Economics and Statistics, 67(4), 648-660.
Boeskool, C. (2016, March 3). When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression. Huffington Post. Retrieved from
Boesenecker, A. P., & Vinjamuri, L. (2011). Lost in translation? Civil society, faith-based organizations and the negotiation of international norms. International Journal of Transitional Justice, 5(3), 345-365.
Bonilla-Silva, E. (2017). Racism without racists: Color-blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in America. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.
Buckley-Zistel, S. (2014). Narrative truths: On the construction of the past in truth commissions. In S. Buckley-Zistel, T. Koloma Beck, C. Braun & F. Mieth (Eds.), Transitional justice theories (pp. 144-162). London, UK: Routledge.
Chapin, R. (2014). Social policy for effective practice: A strengths approach. New York, NY: Routledge.
Cleveland, C. (2013). Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the hidden forces that keep us apart. InterVarsity Press.
Collins, K. J. (2013). Transforming teaching and learning in South Africa: First year in the bachelor of social work. Social Work Education, 32(4), 523-537.
CSWE Commission on Accreditation. (2016). EPAS handbook. Council on Social Work Education.
Davis, F. (2016, July 8). This country needs a truth and reconciliation process on violence against African Americans – right now. Yes! Magazine. Retrieved from
Delaney, J. A., & Kearney, T. D. (2016). Alternative student-based revenue streams for higher education institutions: A difference-in-difference analysis using guaranteed tuition policies. Journal of Higher Education, 87(5), 731-769.
Du Bois, W. E. B. (2003). The souls of white folk [1920]. Monthly Review, 55(6), 44.
DuVernay, A., Averick, S., & Barish, H. (Producers), & Duvernay, A. (Director). (2016, October 7). 13th [Documentary]. United States: Kandoo Films & Forward Movement.
Fanon, F. (2008). Black skin, white masks [1952]. New York: Grove Press.
Fletcher Hill, J. (2017). The Sin of White Supremacy: Christianity, Racism, & Religious Diversity in America. Orbis Books.
Fredrickson, G. M. (1981). White supremacy: A comparative study of American and South African history. New York: Oxford University Press.
Garner, S. (2017). Racisms: An introduction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Gibson, J. L. (2004). Overcoming apartheid: Can truth reconcile a divided nation? New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.
Harvey, J. (2014). Dear White Christians: For those still longing for racial reconciliation. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.
Hölscher, D. (2008). The emperor's new clothes: South Africa’s attempted transition to developmental social welfare and social work. International Journal of Social Welfare, 17(2), 114-123.
Hu, Y., van Lenthe, F. J., Judge, K., Lahelma, E., Costa, G., de Gelder, R., & Hu, Y. (2016). Did the English strategy reduce inequalities in health? A difference-in-difference analysis comparing England with three other European countries. BMC Public Health, 16, 1-12.
Imbens, G. W. & Wooldridge, J. M. (2007). What’s new in econometrics: Difference-in-difference estimation lecture notes. Retrieved from
International Center for Transitional Justice. (n.d.). Retrieved August 1, 2016 from
International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW). (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2017 from
Ipsos/Reuters/UVA. (2017). Reuters/Ipsos/UVA Center for Politics Race Poll [Full results and methodology]. Retrieved February 1, 2019 from
Jones, R. P., Cox, D., Cooper, B., & Lienesch, R. (2015). Anxiety, nostalgia, and mistrust: Findings from the 2015 American Values Survey. Public Religion Research Institute.
Jones, R. P. (2016). The end of white Christian America. Simon and Schuster.
Jost, J. T., & Kay, A. C. (2010). Social justice: History, theory, and research. In S. T. Fiske, D. T. Gilbert, & G. Lindsey (Eds.), Handbook of Social Psychology, Vol. 2, 5th ed (pp. 1122-1165). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Katzenstein, S., & Snyder, J. (2009). Expediency of the Angels. The National Interest, (100), 58-65.
Lombard, A. (2008a). The impact of social transformation on the non-government welfare sector and the social work profession. International Journal of Social Welfare, 17(2), 124-131.
Lombard, A. (2008b). The implementation of the white paper for social welfare: A ten-year review. The Social Work Practitioner-Researcher, 20(2), 154-173.
Marshall, T. H. (1950). Citizenship and social class. United Kingdom: Cambridge.
Massey, D. S., & Denton, N. A. (1993). American apartheid: Segregation and the making of the underclass. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Mokgoro, J. Y. (1998). Ubuntu and the law in South Africa. Potchefstroom Electronic Law Journal/Potchefstroomse Elektroniese Regsblad, 1(1).
National Association of Social Workers (NASW). (n.d.) Retrieved on March 15, 2016 from
Nussbaum, B. (2003). African culture and Ubuntu. Perspectives, 17(1), 1-12.
Philpott, D. (2007). Religion, reconciliation, and transitional justice: The state of the field.
Rawls, J. (1971). A theory of justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Republic of South Africa. (1994). White Paper on Reconstruction and Development. 1994. Notice No. 1954 of 1994. Government Gazette, 353(16085.23), November. Pretoria: Government Printers.
Roediger, D. R. (2002). Colored white: Transcending the racial past. Berkley, CA: University of California Press.
Roht-Arriaza, N. (2006). The new landscape of transitional justice. In Roht-Arriaza, N., & Mariezcurrena, J. (Eds.). Transitional justice in the twenty-first century: Beyond truth versus justice (pp. 1-16). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Roht-Arriaza, N., & Mariezcurrena, J. (2006). Transitional justice in the twenty-first century: Beyond truth versus justice. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Scales, T. L., & Kelly, M. S. (2011). " To Give Christ to the Neighborhood": A Corrective Look at the Settlement Movement and Early Christian Social Workers. Social Work and Christianity, 38(3), 356.
Schreiter, R. J. (2015). Reconciliation: mission and ministry in a changing social order. Orbis Books.
Shore, M. (2016). Religion and Conflict Resolution: Christianity and South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Routledge.
Scott, I. M. (2014). Crimes against humanity in the land of the free: Can a truth and reconciliation process heal racial conflict in America? Santa Monica, CA: Praeger.
Smith, L. (2008). South African social work education: Critical imperatives for social change in the post-apartheid and post-colonial context. International Social Work, 51(3), 371-383.
The Truth Telling Project. Retrieved August 1, 2016 from
The War As I See It. (2015). Retrieved August 1, 2016 from
Tisby, J. (2019). The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism. Zondervan.
Van der Merwe, H., Baxter, V., & Chapman, A. R. (2009). Assessing the impact of transitional justice: Challenges for empirical research, New York, NY: United States Institute of Peace Press.
Volf, M. (2010). Exclusion & embrace: A theological exploration of identity, otherness, and
reconciliation. Abingdon Press.
Wallis, J. (2015, January 15). White Christians need to act more Christian than white. Washington Post. Retrieved from
Wei, X., Li, H., Yang, N., Wong, S. Y. S., Chong, M. C. S., Shi, L., & Griffiths, S. M. (2015). Changes in the perceived quality of primary care in Shanghai and Shenzhen, China: A difference-in-difference analysis. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 93(6), 407-416.
Wells, I. B. (1893). Lynch law. Paper presented at the Ida B. Wells, Frederick Douglass, Irvine Garland Penn, and Ferdinand L. Barnett. The Reason Why the Colored American is not in the World’s Columbian Exposition, Ed. Robert W. Rydell.
Wise, T. (2011). White like me: Reflections on race from a privileged son. Berkley, CA: Soft Skull Press.
World Values Survey. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2016 from