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Put Some Respek on Their Names: Conducting Qualitative Research with Black Children of Incarceration

What Does Respek Have To Do With Research?



Definition (“Put some respek on my name”): Referred above as Respek*, expands upon the english dictionary word (Respect). Through the spelling and pronunciation as “respek” it signifies urgency in addressing an individual and setting the record straight. Here the disrespect leads to an individual not having any interest in furthering the conversation.  Leading to the questions:  Are you finished? Or Are you done? 


In other words, meaning a situation where someone was disrespected or lied to. The offending party has a misunderstanding of their character and there can be no further discussion because of this. They completely misconstrued the factual information and offended who the person is and where they come from.


Meaning in Context: Birdman To Breakfast Club: "Stop Playing With My Name"


Why Is Respect (aka Respek) Important When Researching Black Families?


Respect is an unspoken characteristic that guides intimate interactions in and within the Black community.  Respect is seen as an honor code, that when broken has lifelong effects.  When conducting research, respect is NOT something that scholars are trained to see as being an important component of their work.  When not planned properly, the actions of researchers can come across as disrespectful and/or tone deaf.  In other words, researchers have or show an “obtuse insensitivity or lack of perception” (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tone-deaf). In these instances, those conducting studies engage with racially different communities in ways that go against their traditional codes of the streets.  When a community's mores and/folkways are disregarded as a direct result of one’s interest in gaining research by any means necessary.


This blog is a Public Service Announcement (PSA) that serves to remind both researchers and practitioners that extra precautions must be taken in order to gain a dynamic understanding about children of incarcerated parents. As such, having an in-depth and full scope of theoretical frameworks that attempt to describe the population, is not enough.  In addition to that understanding, one must engage directly-impacted individuals. Specifically, those with lived experiences should be included in all phases of the research process.  They are the true experts. Therefore, they must be compensated for their leadership role on projects and their engagement within your programming.  For example, it is recommended that children of incarcerated parents and other directly-impacted individuals be brought into the research team as consultants or research associates.


In this blog we write about lessons learned from conducting in-depth qualitative interviews with a national sample of Black children of incarcerated parents. We begin by providing further contextualization of how we came to this research, techniques used and why ongoing planning is important when conducting research with individuals from different racial backgrounds than study interviewer and/or principle investigator. In this blog we seek to challenge readers to critically think about their framing, implementation and dissemination of research studies prior to engaging with subjects. One must be fully aware of their reasoning for embarking upon the study and have clear understanding of their unconscious framing, questioning, probing and engagements during the study.  It should be the goal of each member of the research team to refrain from moving forward with studies that incorporate implicit bias, racist undertones and/or uphold negative myths about a population one is not a member of.



How We Came To This: Our Planning, Techniques and Research Methodology 


Because of the respect we hold for ourselves and those communities that are made of residents who resemble Black and Brown people, we took extra precautions in engaging in our current qualitative research project with families affected by mass incarceration.  Specifically, the frame of our study was strategically constructed in a manner that allowed for the resilience among children of incarcerated parents to be discussed, highlighted and uplifted.  This is a direct result of how we see the “population” and our need to assure that we put respect on their names.  Respect is not just about how you enter a community and engage with them. It is also about how you compensate for your inside sources and subjects.  How you interpret your research findings and how you disseminate your research findings.



The R-E-S-P-E-C-T Principles of Researcher-Subject Engagement


Requirements for the Directly Impacted. For too long, the voice of Black people has been stolen resulting in the lack of credit for their contributions to research studies. Instead of speaking for study subjects, researchers are obligated to allow participants to use their own voices to share their narratives and lived experiences. In doing so, each individual becomes humanized by having control and power over their story, opposed to being solely known as an identification number within the study. For example, the research study, Success and Resilience Among Children of Incarcerated Parents, held a three day digital conference exclusively consisting of Black directly impacted participants who highlighted their excellence through various methods. Stories were shared of past instances where directly impacted individuals were required to use certain language when speaking on panels. “When I speak on certain panels they want you to use certain words. I shouldn’t have to be forced to say I’m a girl of color, nor a black woman.” Researchers, practitioners, and funding agencies, do not guide the language or programming for these individuals as a means to repurpose and make palatable for white people. It is disrespectful and results in directly impacted individuals turning down opportunities to participate. In our study, each participant held the researchers to a higher regard for stepping back and creating a platform that gave them control to amplify their Black voice on their own terms.


Experts in the Field. What is the definition of an expert? - a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area. In academia, an expanded definition of expert is mandatory when determining “who are considered the experts?” and “why are they considered experts.” Research scholars, by default, are often deemed “the experts” by way of educational experience, publications, and scholarship. Regardless of attained learned experiences, it is the researcher’s responsibility to recognize directly impacted individuals as experts. Researchers must change the way they think as they have been fed false narratives in regards to the definition of an expert. All study participants are experts within the respected research field as they have extensive lived experiences. Researchers need to “put some respect on the names” of directly impacted individuals through the identification as an expert and hold your colleagues accountable to do so also.


Sample and Social Media.  When conducting research studies with directly impacted individuals, snowball sampling and the use of social media are essential to gaining study participants. Through snowball sampling, directly impacted individuals can recruit others who are also experts on the research topic to participate in the study. Researchers should ensure they are adapting to new research methodologies when probing for study samples. When conducting research with directly impacted individuals, researchers typically obtain study samples from correctional facilities. However, in the age of technological advancement, researchers should use social media as a means to promote the research study and draw attention to potential study participants. Due to the Black communities lack of access to the ivory towers, social media can be used as a way to stay connected and deliver information to the community. Directly impacted individuals use social media as a platform to post positive pictures with their parents and share life achievements and accomplishments with followers. By changing the standards of research procurement this will open the opportunity to display positive perspectives within the study. 


Pay the Participants. It is imperative to respect all participants through compensation for their contributions in research studies. Payment for participation in research should be just and fair including how much money research subjects receive, and what subjects receive payment for, such as their time, inconvenience, discomfort, or some other consideration. In addition, as experts, study participants should be included in all stages of the research process. As such, they should also be compensated for their engagement and leadership roles on projects and with programs.  For example, it is recommended to bring them on as consultants because they are experts. In addition, these individuals are capable of and should be offered the opportunity to serve on advisory committees, executive boards, research studies, and as advisors or mentors. 


Executive Team Members Who Identify As Black. Black researchers investigating social phenomena in the Black community are deemed as illegitimate because they are seen to have bias or use qualitative methods to get in-depth research. Within the academy, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are not viewed as prestigious as Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). However, Black researchers have knowledge of the culture and have lived experiences similar to the community, which gives them the ability to catch nuances and microlevel behaviors which others may miss. By having Black researchers within leadership, not as tokens, will give the data a richer analysis and push it further by taking considerations than with non-Black teams. Making Black graduate students more a part of the research by allowing them to be first authors or adding questions to your survey instruments will not detract from your research at the same time it will elevate theirs. This means not to give all of the labor to Black researchers but also educate yourself on the topic simultaneously.


Cultural Differences. Researchers like to consider themselves as having a “beginner’s eye” and are objective, however, scholarship has shown how researcher bias can easily infiltrate the data. Researchers of the criminal (in)justice system bring their own bias that are rooted in patriarchy, white supremacy, and heteronormativity. There are cultural differences that may seem as positive or negative depending on one’s background. Ethnocentrism permeates criminology and sociology, and biological determinism is still incorporated into analysis and findings within data. Even with longitudinal data collection, extended time spent in the “field” does not equate to one's ability to translate research findings culturally correct. As researchers, whites and non-Blacks need to be aware of the differences of their own culture versus the Black community they are studying. If the information which is being shared by the Black community makes you uncomfortable or it is shocking then you do not know enough about the population you are studying.  In these instances, you should see “Executive Team.”


Trust and The Lack Of It. The Black community has been deceived, manipulated, and exploited by researchers, “white coats,” and academics for generations. There is a lack of trust because of years of abuse and the appropriation of language and ideas. What some refer to as “culture vulturing”. Because of this, researchers choose subjects that are “safe” or comfortable with, which is not a representation of the population as a whole. It is the role of the researcher to make the participant comfortable and not the other way around.  If you find yourself removed from your comfort zone as a result of what you are hearing, you are not ready for that study.  When conducting qualitative studies your interviewees responses should not offend you or be seen as offensive.  Remember, this study is not about you and if you cannot get out the way, this raises major ethical concerns. Research should not be forced or either side. 

Black Lives Matter and Children of Incarcerated Parents





Throughout our research, we have heard about their experiences being a child of an incarcerated parent. Participants stated that researchers are not putting faces or names to the statistics about COIP. Therefore it doesn't humanize the population that is being studied because a number has no soul or connection. This humanization is what the current Movement for Black Lives is asking for. Although researchers may use the same terminology as their study subject, does not exclude them from perpetuating negative stereotypes and bias. It is impossible to articulate things that you know nothing about. 


As a researcher in academia, there are numerous roles and responsibilities when conducting studies with directly impacted individuals. These individuals, more specifically Black, yearn for their voices to be heard but are silenced every day due to societal injustices in America.  


TW:@DrBMuhammad1 Twitter/IG: @drbjgate Twitter/IG: @prettysydni

IG: @DrMuhammad_Experience

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