Conducting research through an anti-racism lens

Conducting research through an anti-racism lens

This guide is for students, staff, and faculty who are incorporating an anti-racist lens at all stages of the research life cycle.

How to use this guide

This guide was developed in response to librarians fielding multiple requests from UMN researchers looking to incorporate anti-racism into their research practices. Conducting research through an anti-racism lens is a long-term and ongoing process and must be considered as part of a complex system which oppresses people and groups in multifaceted ways (i.e., classism, ethnocentrism, capitalism, casteism, etc.). While some disciplines, mainly in the humanities and social sciences, have mitigated racism through a depth of understanding of critical race theory, others have not. If you're new to this work, consult the Related Guides and Resources call-out box in the left pane for reading lists to help form a baseline understanding. You can also reach out to your subject librarian for individualized help locating anti-racism learning experiences. This guide shares racist research systems and practices, followed by resources for mitigating those problematic systems and practices, but we acknowledge that this is not a solution to the issues of racism embedded in research.

De-center whiteness in primary research

We are often taught that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) distrust science and refuse participation in studies because they have experienced research atrocities (e.g. UMN land grabTuskegee Studyforced sterilization), but this places the blame on those communities (i.e., “there’s nothing we can do because they don’t trust us”). This distracts from the fact that researchers have often left communities of color out of research due to white centering. The strategies below are designed to de-center whiteness, think inclusively, and build trust between researcher and communities of color when conducting primary research. Mitigate this problematic practice:

 

Evaluate whether your research is WEIRD

Henrich, Heine, and Norenzayan (link to article below) propose that most published research is not representative of the majority of populations because it was conducted with WEIRD societies.

  • Western
  • Educated
  • Industrialized
  • Rich
  • Democratic

The WEIRD acronym can be applied to behavioral research based on cultural, environmental, and socioeconomic factors, but first a few criticisms of the acronym should be understood. WEIRD has been critiqued for not acknowledging values and research practices informed by whiteness. Clancy and Davis (link to article below) write that acknowledging whiteness is needed to "push for a more inclusive and scientifically rigorous future.” Syed and Kathawalla (link to article below) critique the WEIRD acronym for not including race and ethnicity and encourage skepticism for convenient acronyms. Others have written about the need to diversify contexts as well as samples (link to article below). Additionally, more focus could and should be on diversifying the research community and overcoming “the invisibility of non-WEIRD scientists" (link to article below). 

When developing a research design, ask yourself how you can de-center the status quo characteristics described by WEIRD. 

  1. As a researcher, are you making an effort to bridge the cultural gaps between researcher(s) and communities of color?
  2. To what extent is your research question shaped by the needs and priorities of marginalized people, particularly those who will be most directly affected by the research?
  3. Are members of that community involved in the creation process and being compensated for their work?
  4. Are your promotional materials and communications in the language(s) and the medium (ie. email, poster, text) that your target populations can understand and engage with?
  5. Are you actively engaging the communities being researched to ensure an appropriate and meaningful outcome? 

 

Recruit BIPOC people and communities for inclusion in studies

Funding agencies are implementing policies that require diversity in study recruitment (e.g., National Institutes of Health Inclusion of Women and Minorities as Participants in Research Involving Human Subjects), and this is a particular concern for clinical trials. The following are strategies for de-centering whiteness in clinical trial recruitment (note that the use of the term "minorities" is still white centering):

 

Utilize research methods and practices that de-center whiteness

A Toolkit for Centering Racial Equity Throughout Data Integration, by Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy, helps researchers embed questions of racial equity throughout the data life cycle: planning, data collection, data access, algorithms/use of statistical tools, data analysis, and reporting and dissemination. It includes exercises and examples, and encourages a community engaged framework. See the excerpt below:

 

For more information on de-centering whiteness in primary research, see:

De-center whiteness in secondary research

Secondary research involves the summary, collation, and/or synthesis of existing data or research, and often involves deep dives into existing literature. The strategies below are designed to de-center whiteness, think inclusively, and build trust between researcher and communities of color when conducting secondary research. Mitigate this problematic practice:

 

Evaluate whether your research is WEIRD

Henrich, Heine, and Norenzayan (link to article below) propose that most published research is not representative of the majority of populations because it was conducted with WEIRD societies.

  • Western
  • Educated
  • Industrialized
  • Rich
  • Democratic

The WEIRD acronym can be applied to behavioral research based on cultural, environmental, and socioeconomic factors, but first a few criticisms of the acronym should be understood. WEIRD has been critiqued for not acknowledging values and research practices informed by whiteness. Clancy and Davis (link to article below) write that acknowledging whiteness is needed to "push for a more inclusive and scientifically rigorous future.” Syed and Kathawalla (link to article below) critique the WEIRD acronym for not including race and ethnicity and encourage skepticism for convenient acronyms. Others have written about the need to diversify contexts as well as samples (link to article below). Additionally, more focus could and should be on diversifying the research community and overcoming “the invisibility of non-WEIRD scientists" (link to article below). 

When developing a literature search, ask yourself how you can de-center the status quo characteristics described by WEIRD. 

  1. Who are the authors and the organizations which supported (financially or otherwise) the work?
  2.  What are the backgrounds and identities of the authors?
  3. How many parts of the WEIRD acronym can you check off when you read about the populations that were studied? 

 

Follow the praxis put forth by the Cite Black Women Collective

  1. Read Black women's work
  2. Integrate Black women into the CORE of your syllabus (in life & in the classroom)
  3. Acknowledge Black women's intellectual production 
  4. Make space for Black women to speak 
  5. ​Give Black women the space and time to breathe

These principles from the Cite Black Women Collective, which aim to amplify the frequently marginalized voices of Black women, can be applied to all Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).

 

Consult research found in non-Western journals

The Journals Online Project - aimed at providing increased visibility, accessibility, and quality of peer-reviewed journals published in developing countries so that the research outputs produced in these countries can be found, shared, and used more effectively - was launched by the International Network for Advancing Science and Policy (INASP) in response to voices not heard, wasted talent, and unused research.

 

Search for existing collections

Collections of BIPOC-centered resources may already exist in your discipline, and a thorough Google search should lead you to them. For example, the Diverse BookFinder is a database of picture books published since 2002 featuring BIPOC characters that is useful for education disciplines, including early childhood education, elementary education, English education, ESOL/bilingual education, and reading and literacy education programs.

 

For more information on de-centering whiteness in secondary research, see:

Acknowledge that scholarly publishing is racist

Peer review in the publication process is meant to ensure rigid methodology and low bias in what gets published, but that system is flawed. According to the Association for Psychological Science, Murray et al., and Lee & Low Books, most editors are white and/or from Western nations (links to articles below). Lee & Low Books and Wu report that 66-80% of peer reviewers are also white (links to articles below). These gatekeepers control the authorship and content of scholarly journals and books, which ultimately favor white, Western authors - even in works focused on race - according to Boyd, Lindo, Weeks, & McLemore; Wu; Williams; Murray et al.; Heath-Stout; Salinas, and the Association for Psychological Science (links to articles below). Mitigate this problematic system:

 

Look outside peer reviewed literature for perspectives from marginalized voices and groups

Researchers should look at the gray literature for perspectives from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. Gray literature refers to works published outside traditional methods, and the easiest way to access it is through Google. There is no perfect solution, and many strategies will be attempted before useful information is found. Google search tips:

  • Keep in mind that Google itself uses biased algorithms, so searching must be specific and incorporate various terms to represent one concept.
  • The following example shows one possible search strategy for housing discrimination: "marginalized voices in housing."
  • You might also try using keywords of interest plus "site:.org" which tells a search engine (e.g., Google, DuckDuckGo) that you are looking for an organization rather than a company or government site. Keep in mind that prior to 2003, ".org" was reserved for non-profit organizations, but since then this top-level domain has been obtainable for other purposes, including private companies.

Archives also feature marginalized voices through collections of oral histories, documents, and interviews. Where to start:

 

Search for BIPOC scholars through professional organizations

It is not yet possible to search for an author's race in literature databases - the following is a flawed, yet workable, solution to that problem: 

  • Search Google for organizations that represent marginalized groups and search their websites for special interest groups, experts, publications, data, etc. For example, perusing the digital magazine available on the National Society of Black Engineer's website to find leaders in the field.
  • Seek out a networking organization, such as ColorComm, which is an essential organization for women of color in all areas of communications including public relations, advertising print media, broadcast, and more. To look for such groups, use a variety of terms - one might be "research organizations run by people of color."
  • It can be helpful to look for underrepresented speakers at conferences. One example is this interactive tool by Diversify STEM Conferences which has compiled a list of prominent underrepresented researchers across every field of STEM and medicine.
  • Search for biographies that are led by BIPOC non-profits, such as SACNAS, an online archive of first-person stories by and about Chicano/Hispanic and Native American scientists with advanced degrees in science.

 

Utilize smaller, lesser known databases 

The list below is not exhaustive, but it features a handful of indexes focused on BIPOC issues as well as a selection of local BIPOC-led news outlets that - by nature - feature scholars who are BIPOC:

 

For more information on bias in scholarly publication, see: 

Acknowledge that search algorithms are racist

Algorithms existed pre-internet, but in today's world, they serve as a sequence of instructions to perform computation. There is evidence that algorithms - even those in academic databases - are sometimes racist. Proprietary algorithms (e.g., Google) are customized to users and lack transparency, making it unclear why search results vary from person to person. For this reason alone, you may be missing important information unless you know to search specifically for it. Mitigate this problematic system:

 

Use inclusive search terminology on topics of racism

Terminology used to describe race and ethnicity have evolved over time. This variability in language can make searching comprehensively for literature on race/ethnicity difficult. If you are performing a comprehensive literature search (e.g., systematic review, scoping review, historical perspective), you must include outdated terminology in your search strategy or check to see if old terminology has been included in the databases’ subject headings (e.g., illegal aliens). And other times, you will need to use terms that were common from the preferred date range of the research.

This health sciences example from Ovid MEDLINE shows that older terminology from 1963 forward has been added to the new subject heading “African Americans.”

Searching for literature about racism requires a sophisticated search strategy to not only include “racism,” but also biases and discrimination against specific races and ethnicities. The example below is a search strategy for racism in Ovid MEDLINE. It uses both MeSH terms and keywords for racism, and also MeSH terms and keywords for bias, discrimination, stigma, stereotyping, and prejudice grouped with MeSH terms and keywords for specific races and ethnicities. Remember that terms evolve. For example, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and BBIPOC (Black, Brown, Indigenous, and People of Color) should be added to the racism search example below, which was only constructed a year ago.

 

For more information on bias in algorithms, see: 

Acknowledge that library cataloging systems are racist

When incorporating anti-racism into research, it’s important to acknowledge the context in which information has been shared through library systems. Dewey Decimal, the Library of Congress, and smaller discipline-specific cataloging approaches were designed in a racist and white-centered system. The following excerpt from The Racist Problem with Library Subject Classifications (link to article below) provides an example of the challenges this creates for a linguist researcher, for example: "Of the twelve subclasses dedicated to languages, seven are dedicated to European (western) languages. Non-western languages do not get this same courtesy. 'Oriental languages,' ...Indo-Iranian languages, all languages from Eastern Asia, Africa, and Oceania, and Hyperborean, Indian, and 'artificial' languages are each lumped together into four classifications (PJ, PK, PL, and PM, respectively). Not only is it racist to lump all non-western languages, usually spoken by POCs, into generalized categories ...but it’s also incredibly problematic that the term 'artificial languages' is categorized with non-western languages, othering them and implying that the non-western languages are not real and should not be taken seriously." Mitigate this problematic system:

 

Know that librarians are fighting for change

As a researcher, it is important to be aware of this information, but there is no action you can take to change it. Just know that librarians are advocating for anti-racist cataloging, a long-term process.

 

For more information on bias in cataloging, see: 

Who we are

This guide was developed by two librarians, Shanda Hunt and Amy Riegelman, and Sophia Myers-Kelley, a library intern, from the University of Minnesota (UMN), - all white-identifying - with invited input from all other UMN librarians. We approached this project from the perspective of library staff at a large research institution within the cultural context of the United States of America. Ours is not the only perspective - perhaps we are not seeing the ways that this guide misses or marginalizes other points of view. We invite you to contact us to share your input for consideration for website content (Email addresses in the left pane).

Last Updated: Feb 25, 2021 9:28 PM