• Three Things Folks Get Wrong When They Research Communities of Color

    1. They assume that because they grew up in a community of color, they know how to research all communities of color.It’s a relatively common assumption that tends to go as follows: “I’m black, I’m interviewing black folks, I don’t need to worry about differences in language, culture or religion.”However that couldn’t be further from the truth. If I continue to use black Americans as an example, depending on where you are in the United States there could be dramatic differences among black American communities. Southern black Americans may have language choices that are far different from northern black Americans. Black Americans in New York could practice Islam, Christianity, Lukumi, or any other number of religious beliefs and frameworks. The experience of black American living in rurual Mississippi, could be radically different from the experience of an individual who grew up in Atlanta.The point is that black Americans, like most racial groups (this also applies to national and ethnic groups obviously), are diverse. This means that anytime you enter a community, even if it’s one you grew up in, you have to do your due diligence to learn about the [other] people who live there…. Which leads me to my next point…
    2. They think that simply asking respondents about their racial identities and whatever they are interested in is enough. As the old people say, you don’t know what you don’t know. The only way to overcome this challenge is to make sure you do your due diligence. In this case, that means doing adequate pilot studies and testing questions before you start your research… But before I get to ahead of myself, let me explain why this is so important.Often folks will focus in narrowly on the racial identity of the group they are most interested in and it’s correlation to whatever variable (subject) that they happen to be most interested in. This is a problem, because as I just demonstrated, everyone has a number of identities that has varying degrees of importance to their everyday life. In the academy this is referred to as intersectional identities (that is, identities are said to intersect like a crossroads, as opposed to running parallel and separate). The point is, it’s hard to say that gender, or race, or religion is most important for any group of people. For everyone, those identities twist and turn amongst each other in a way that is unique to them and their communities.As a researcher, writer, journalist, case worker, organizer, etc… It’s your responsibility to always keep that in mind. You accomplish this in your research by asking a broad swatch of questions that allow folks to tell you what is most important for them, instead of the other way around.
    3. They don’t know that the order in which they ask interview questions is important.This one is relatively straightforward; the order in which you ask someone a set of questions matters, a lot. If you don’t take into account how/when you ask your respondent a question, you could wildly bias your results.Maybe this is better described through an example:Say I want to do an interview with a young woman around safe-sex and HIV/AIDS transmission.

      If I begin the interview by asking her about her friends, where she grew up and what kind of career she would one day like to pursue, I am setting up a conversation that will make her feel comfortable.

      However, if I begin the interview by asking her how many partner’s she’s had, and whether or not she used a condom the last time she had oral sex, I’m obviously going to have a very different conversation.

      One conversation will allow for trust and comfort to be slowly developed over the course of our talk. The other will likely create a space where the young woman feels defensive, and maybe even offended.

      Which one do you think would be more productive for your research?

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