I’m the health data analyst with DataWorks and a PhD student in epidemiology at UNC-Chapel Hill. I’m using these posts as space to reflect critically on my dissertation, a collaborative project with the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network and the Concerned Citizens of West Badin Community which assesses race and gender disparities in work exposures and health at an aluminum smelting facility in Badin, NC. Through this collaboration and other projects I’ve participated in, I’ve learned how research can be a powerful tool for highlighting community concerns, and how it can undermine organizing efforts.
What are “Antiracist Research Methods?”
“The opposite of ‘racist’ isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘antiracist.’”
Ibram X. Kendi, How to be an Antiracist
1. Change Systems, Not People
In my dissertation research, we’re concerned about methodological pitfalls that reproduce race as the problem to be contained or managed. My guiding question is what would it look like to conduct research on racial disparities that doesn’t recreate Brown and Blackness as the problem and still addresses the structural conditions that reproduce disparities by race?
We are supplementing my dissertation research with a community survey, which we consider to be antiracist. Below, I’ve listed a few reasons why this is very different from traditional health research methods:
- The survey was initiated by Badin residents’ concerns, instead of by the company.
- We developed the survey tool with the Concerned Citizens of West Badin Community, instead of isolating the effect of one exposure on one outcome.
- Concerned Citizens’ members participated in initial trainings with those who conducted the surveys, instead of outside researchers coming in with no knowledge of the community.
- We are leaving the Concerned Citizens with tools that can continue to be useful for their organizing after I have defended my dissertation, instead of ending the collaboration when the research project is complete.
2. Lead with Assets and Aspirations
I feel grateful to work with a thoughtful team at DataWorks, who are actively working to conduct antiracist research. DataWorks’ primary goals are to serve communities and democratize access to and use of publicly available and administrative data. I think our Health Indicators project demonstrates these values. In vignettes for Durham neighborhoods, it emphasizes community assets through the illustrations as well as links and lists of resources.
In our work, we aim to show where whiteness gains representation, resources and advantages alongside where People of Color are marginalized and disadvantaged. We also try to lead with the hopeful outcome or result. (For example – no person should be cost-burdened by rent, 0%. Currently 46% of Durham renters are…)
3. Prioritize Relationships over Numbers
DataWorks convenes community meetings to help the team understand and respond to questions that community groups want to ask of the data. Mainly, though, we go where we’re invited, and we answer questions that are asked of us by community organizations. To me, this demonstrates the commitment to centering community needs and concerns over those of typical research agendas.
In my dissertation work, my priorities have been to work with the Concerned Citizens as partners in the research, and help strengthen ties between the Concerned Citizens and the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, where communities facing similar struggles can provide solidarity.
This is part 2 of a 3-part blog series that examines the relationship between research and community organizing.
Research and Community Organizing Series:
Part 1: 3 Ways in Which Research Can Be Racist