One of you kindly sent me a link to “Behind The Research”, a series from The Atlanta Post that “explores the dynamic work of African-American professors around the country”. The first profile for Behind The Research is of Dr. Sabiyah Prince; coincidentally, she’s part of the Anthropology department here at American University. I thought her name sounded familiar and then I realized that she had been on my favorite NPR program ever, Morning Edition, to discuss the Real Housewives of D.C. with Neda Ulaby, back in August.
Back to The Atlanta Post. Reading this piece made me want to talk to Dr. Prince, myself:
What are you working on now?
I’ve done research over the last five years and right now I’m writing for my book which is about how Washington DC is changing demographically and how African-Americans are affected by the changes, how they are interpreting the changes and how they are responding to the changes. The African-American population in DC has been gradually decreasing since the 1970s.
What an amazing potential resource for DCentric (seriously, thank you to NG for this link).
How do you integrate your personal insight into your research?
When I first started doing my research, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking at. I knew I want to address how DC was changing in some way, but I wasn’t sure specifically how I was going to go about addressing it. You probably know that you can’t just have some broad sprawling idea; you have to have some parameters around it in order to get people to think it’s worthwhile.
So I go out there and I started talking to people and I started to get my ideas from them because I started hearing how people were complaining that ‘DC isn’t black anymore, DC is changing.’ I realized that, “Wow! This is important.” I mean, I could see it myself. I’m native Washingtonian.
I’m sure my perspective is involved but I always work hard to be mindful of that and one of my approaches to prevent my own ideas from overshadowing what other folks have to say is that I’ve been very careful about introducing the subject of race. I’ve realized that if I said to people, “I want to talk to you about…” and then kind of lay it out with a very specific [question], that would somehow influence what they say, so I thought I would be more general in asking “What do you think about DC and how it is changing?” as opposed to, “You know, Black people are decreasing precipitously. Are you angry about this?”
I know exactly what she means about “introducing the subject of race”; I attempt to walk that tightrope whenever I’m talking to someone for DCentric. It’s difficult to bring up issues like race or gentrification in a neutral way, that won’t affect how an interviewee responds.