Little progress has been made to confront racism in research, despite recent calls perpetuated by the racial reckoning of 2020. In an article for The University of Chicago Press, authors including BU School of Social Work Prof. Linda Sprague Martinez say that solving this problem starts with building better anti-racist and anti-oppressive (ARAO) frameworks. These frameworks need to question objectivity, intentionally consider power in research processes, and more equitably disseminate resources among researchers and marginalized communities. “We must collectively ensure that all scholars adopt ARAO research practices,” say the authors. “We call upon the profession to move beyond performative acknowledgments and intentionally center ARAO research.”
Objectivity has long been an essential component of research. However, most of what can be called “objective” follows a status quo that is susceptible to racism and oppression. In order to develop ARAO research, “we must be curious, compassionate, and courageous enough to recognize, call out, and address racist and oppressive acts in real time,” the authors explain. Social work research can help establish histories that acknowledge racist practices and systems across time, including the profession’s own contributions to white supremacy. This contextualizes past research and can help future research address racist practices.
Acknowledge & Identify Power in Research
If knowledge is power and research is the act of creating knowledge, then research is power. Since the majority of grants are given to white principal investigators, that power is inherently white and skewed. The authors suggest that one way to redistribute power in research is using an ARAO lens at every stage: from training to publishing and more.
For instance, the authors propose answering these critical questions to determine if research is supporting ARAO ideologies:
- What questions are being asked?
- How is research designed?
- Who is on the research team?
- How is research being conducted?
The authors propose that including the input of communities being researched in the answers to these questions will automatically lead to more anti-racist practices.
Develop & Invest in ARAO-Driven Research Approaches to Redistribute Power
While community involvement is necessary for ARAO-driven research, the current goals for grants and researchers don’t coincide with those of centering communities. Primary investigators are often seeking tenure or establishing leadership within a field of study. Grants’ timelines don’t account for the time it takes to get community engagement and implement their approaches. These challenges aren’t easy to overcome and will require investments at the individual and structural levels: “It will require institutions, including social work leadership organizations, to invest in training, funding, and capacity-building initiatives that advance these practices.” However, the return on investment for building ARAO capacity in research will result in more effective solutions to society’s most pressing structural problems.