Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Starting Where You Are: How Race Can Constrain Researchers within the Research Setting

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Starting Where You Are: How Race Can Constrain Researchers within the Research Setting

Article excerpt

One can accurately describe the United States as a "total racist society" in which every major aspect of life is shaped to some degree by the core racist realities. (Feagin, 2001, p. 16)

How do mainstream pedagogical approaches to teaching qualitative methods work to silence and marginalize researchers of color? To answer this question, we reflect on our graduate methods training. As full-time faculty members at our respective institutions, we are both charged with training the next generation of qualitative researchers. Thus, the basis of this manuscript emerged through our efforts, as Black women, to transform our own teaching and engagement in research.

Qualitative researchers are often encouraged to reflect on how their backgrounds impact the ways they see the world and how that view impacts the ways in which they conduct research. Thus, as part of studying social worlds, qualitative researchers are urged to "start where you are." They are expected to actively engage in their social worlds in order to provide meaningful linkages between their personal experiences on the one hand and intellectual curiosity on the other. The notion of "starting where you are" comes from the work of Lofland, Snow, Anderson, and Lofland (2006), who maintained that

It is often said among sociologists that, as sociologists, we "make problematic" in our research matters that are problematic in our lives. With the proviso that the connection between self and study may be a subtle and sophisticated one, not all apparent to an outside observer, we would argue that there is considerable truth to this assertion. In fact, much of the best work in sociology and other social sciences-within the fieldwork tradition as well as with other research traditions-is probably grounded in the past and/or current biographies of its creators. That such linkages are not always, perhaps not even usually, publicly acknowledged is understandable; the traditional norms of scholarship do not require that researchers bare their souls, only their procedures. In recent years, however, a number of fieldworkers within anthropology and sociology have bared both their souls and lives in their ethnographic texts. In doing so, they advocated, whether directly or indirectly, not only for starting where you are but staying there and making the personal or biographic the focus of your ethnography. (pp. 11-12)

In other words, ethnographic fieldwork can offer researchers a place of familiarity. Much of what attracted us both to qualitative approaches was the fact that the field offers a "symbolic home" where we can include the lessons gained from our previous journeys. This is a particularly significant "place" for researchers of color, who often experience feelings of being marginalized throughout their educational experiences (Benton, 2001; Lewis, Chesler, & Forman, 2000). While we agree with Lofland et al.'s notion of qualitative researchers "starting where you are," we contend that the authors fail to acknowledge the ways that researchers' racial and gender statuses influence their interactions within the research setting.

In this manuscript, we argue that teaching qualitative methods must include a reflective period during which teachers and students are asked to recognize the role racial and gender statuses will inevitably have on fieldwork experiences. Likewise, the idea of "starting where you are" requires us to acknowledge that our participants also have a starting point, and participants' perceptions of the researcher and research environments are largely filtered through gendered and racialized lenses.

Advocates of colorblindness argue that the US has achieved the goals set during the Civil Rights Movement. As such, the most efficient way to execute anti-racists practice and policies is to disregard race (Connerly, 2007; Skrentny, 1996). Yet, critics have argued that race conscious policies and practices are necessary to address racial inequalities (Omi & Winant, 2014). …

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