Researching Race

Sometimes we do not realise that when we give advice or criticism, we are in fact speaking life or death (some would say a bit extreme) into that situation.  But it is true.  When you trample on a person’s confidence, or make disparaging remarks about someone’s ideas, you may be damaging that person’s drive and motivation, and in effect killing their dream.

We all need someone to bounce ideas off.  For someone to provide us with reassurance that we are ‘good enough’ to achieve academic success.  This should be the role of our academic supervisor, but unfortunately some supervisors lack empathy that is required to alleviate students insecurities and anxiety.

I was reminded of the influence supervisors have on students, and the negative impact poorly given advice and criticism can have on an individual. I was speaking to a lady I have never met in person.  A mutual friend had given her my contact details.  She is currently studying a MBA and wanted to bounce some ideas around with someone else other than her supervisor.  Her confidence had been bruised as a result of her supervisors inapt feedback and emotive analysis of her research idea.

It saddens and annoys me when I hear about supervisors’ harsh feedback and emotive assessment of students’ work. Especially the work of black students, who through research are attempting to incorporate race issues into their study.

Unfortunately, many individuals in position of power tend to be from the dominant white male group.  They lack emotional intelligence and are plagued with unconscious racial bias. They then end up making judgements based on their white superiority and position of privilege.

I am reminded of Audre Lorde’s quote –  ‘The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.’  I agree.  Why would a white male supervisor, want to support a black female student to highlight, through her study, racial inequality in white institutions? To do so, would mean having to be consciously aware of their own racial bias and superiority.  But we should not be deterred.

When completing my own PhD research, I was told by the National Research Committee that I would have to include white women in my research sample and compare their experience with black women.  I disregarded their advice because I strongly believed in my methodology and the research path I had chosen.  I kept drawing on Audre Lorde’s quote, and was even more determined to make black women the focal point of my study.  I therefore encourage others who are facing obstacles in academia, to draw on this quote to energise yourselves and remain resilient and persevere.

We all know that there is a lack of UK research that focuses on race issues.  If we do not produce this research for ourselves then no one will produce it for us. We will have to continue to adapt African-American studies to theorise about racial issues in the UK.  So it is imperative that we start theorising about race and race/gender issues.  Or we will continue to be silenced and our ideas undermined to protect the ego of the dominant privileged groups.

To end, I will use the words of Audre Lorde once again,

‘When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.’

You can, if you believe you can, because I did it, and so can you.

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