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Keywords:

  • culture;
  • ethnicity;
  • indigenous communities;
  • literature review;
  • nursing;
  • race;
  • racism;
  • whiteness

Abstract

Title. ‘Marking’ the white terrain in indigenous health research: literature review

Aim.  This paper is a report of a literature review of the concept of whiteness in relation to research partnerships with indigenous Australian healthcare professionals, participants and community members.

Background.  As researchers, we were confronted with the visibility of our whiteness and the oppressive, discriminating history on our indigenous partners wrought by the colour of our skin. This personal discord began an intensely provocative, reflective journey accompanied by a search of the literature on ‘whiteness’.

Methods.  The EBSCOhost, InfoTrac, Blackwell Synergy, ScienceDirect, SAGE Full-Text Collections and CINAHL databases were searched in 2004. The primary keywords were ‘whiteness’, ‘white studies’ and ‘white privilege’. Secondary keywords: ‘culture’, ‘race’, ‘racism’, ‘indigenous’, ‘indigenous communities’, ‘race relations’ and ‘colonialism’. No date restrictions were imposed, but most of the literature dated from the 1990s.

Findings.  Exposure to the literature on ‘whiteness’ and the experience of working with indigenous Australians challenged us to recognize and address the privilege and power historically and contemporaneously conferred on us as white women. Largely invisible to white people is the structural advantage conferred by the ‘white’ standpoint and the set of ‘unmarked’ cultural practices that are usually set as the default positioning.

Conclusion.  To achieve useful research outcomes that influence the well-being of indigenous populations necessitates that non-indigenous researchers and healthcare providers stringently examine their own racial and social positioning. Without doing this we, consciously or otherwise, uphold white hegemony and racialist inequality.