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For social change organizations working to address intractable social problems throughout the USA, tackling race may not only be unavoidable; it may represent a way to fully engage stakeholders in social change work. We argue that illuminating the relationship between race and leadership can advance our under- standing of how social change leadership happens in practice. We build upon scholarship that emphasizes the ways in which seemingly essentialist, intractable racial categories are actually mutable, and the simultaneous emergence of academic research calling attention to the constructed and collective dimensions of leadership. Using a constructionist lens to analyze narratives from 22 social change organizations and building six of these as in-depth cases, we document three distinct means of understanding race, explore how they help to do the work of leadership, and suggest ways in which they seem to move their work forward.


The final, definitive version of this paper has been published in Leadership, 5(2), May, 2009 published by SAGE Publishing, All rights reserved. Available online at



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