Who does research on the researcher?

Who does research on the researcher?

Photo of antique typewriter holding a sheet of paper that has "What's your story" typed on it

(Image in public domain)

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.

Getting to a place of stability

Getting to a place of stability

Tower of Jenga blocks

CC BY-SA Guma89

This respondent was a foster youth who recently transitioned to independent status in terms of the state. She had been on the streets in the past, but she currently lives with her girlfriend and attends a vocational program to be a chef.

She said she smokes to relieve stress. “The City is losing manners… value and dignity,” she feels, and she said there isn’t much respect anymore. She smokes when feeling disrespected, and got a cannabis card to keep from “spazzing out” from work stressors.

She gave up drinking recently, but is surrounded by people who still imbibe and says she experiences pressure to go out socially where she may be tempted to drink. When she drinks, she smokes more. She said she’s not ready to quit smoking yet, but she is monitoring her smoking. She also enjoys vaping, but says vaping is, “kinda like halfways…not as fulfilling as a whole cigarette.” She noted trends that at first vaping was supposed to be better for you, but that now it seems e-cigarettes are not as good for you.

For single Black mothers and young Black men, she believes, it can take a long time to get to a place of stability (financially, emotionally and with family) to feel able to quit. By the time one gets to that place, generally one has children already, and they’ll have seen what you’re doing and be emulating it.  Of kids, she noted: “You see it, you do it.”