Since February of last year, I have been talking to Black and Latina women from the Bay Area about their perceptions of and experiences with police. These women that I have had the pleasure of speaking with have all been between the ages of 18-25. As I have sat with stories of their interactions with police, as well as their views of police and policing today, I couldn’t help but think: How have I not have had the experiences that these women have had?
I am a part of the same demographic of women who have participated in these interviews: young, in her mid-ish 20s, Black and from Oakland. Questions of how I have not had experiences similar to the young women of Color I’ve interviewed, as well as acknowledging my role as a researcher, dawned upon me during two separate interviews when two Black women from Oakland asked me if I had ever been stopped by police. When I gave them an answer and inquired about why they had asked, they followed up with statements like: “You’ve only been in a traffic stop, huh?” or “You don’t look like you’ve been stopped by the police because you look like you went to college.”
These statements not only provided a fraction of these women’s perceptions of and experiences with policing, but also provided some insight into the role(s) of a participant and a researcher. I was glad that these women asked me questions as I had asked them many. I was elated that they knew they had the space to ask me questions. I have done many interviews where participants felt that I was looking for a particular answer or felt pressured to answer questions in a particular manner.
As a qualitative researcher, I am interested in the experiences and narratives that others share with me; but I realized that I often miss other narratives and experiences as well: How does a participant see me as a researcher? What do they think my stories are and how does this influence how we interact with one another? What does all of this mean in regard to “building rapport”?
As much as I can understand and acknowledge esoteric statements and experiences of those I relate to, I realized that barriers can still exist: I am still a researcher and I am still the one asking the questions.