A Black Feminist’s Love of Stats

Hi. My name is Amanda. I’m a Black feminist that enjoys statistics.

While statistics is often a content area that provokes sighs, headaches, and eye rolls, I find the content interesting. In fact, I optionally take statistics classes to improve my understanding of quantitative research. I like doing the math and using a numerical, scientific method to answer research questions. This enjoyment seems counterintuitive since most of the foundations of my approach to teaching and research are based on Black feminism.

To understand the reason my enjoyment of statistics seems counterintuitive, I should give more context. Historically, many researchers have used findings from quantitative research, i. e. statistics, to negatively stigmatize and exploit communities of color and women. Results from these studies have been used to validate the inferiority and discriminatory treatment of various groups of people for decades. In addition to justifying prejudiced behavior and beliefs, conducting statistics is a westernized approach to inquiry that is centered on the notion that there is one truth and a specific method of finding that truth. This approach can and, in some cases, has erased or minimized the voices and perspectives of research participants. The quantitative, i.e., the statistical form of inquiry, is different than critical approaches to research, like Black feminism, which see truth as subjective, meaning there is no one truth. Also, Black feminists typically approach research in a non-numerical way with a focus on using research participants’ experiences to reveal knowledge and understanding about a research area (i.e. qualitative research).

If I look at statistics and Black feminism as a researcher, I understand the division. Yet, for me, it is not that easy to separate. One reason is because I have reviewed several studies that use statistics to measure and analyze children and youth’s beliefs, preferences, and ideas related the self and others in the areas of race, gender, ethnicity, and other social identities. These findings have shown patterns and commonalities that help us understand how children and youth are making sense of themselves and others. These studies combined with my overall interest in statistics compel me to see the value of using both quantitative and qualitative research in my work. I see statistics as another way of telling a story, just as I see those methods traditionally used in Black feminism.

When I tell people my desire to use statistics in my work as a Black feminist, often people are in a state of confusion and wondering why and how I can incorporate both lens’ in my research. The areas are so separate that the vision I clearly see is very murky to others. I am finding that challenging established ways of knowing and being are not always welcomed. Sometimes I feel boxed and other times I feel alone or misunderstood. At this point in my Ph.D. journey, I don’t feel completely accepted by the statistics world nor the Black feminist world. In being fully me, it seems that I don’t fully belong to an established academic group.

In order to maintain sanity and feel that I am being true to myself, I am finding I have developed some strategies to help me through this period of struggle. One strategy is having and writing in several journals, including one completely devoted to my dissertation and research. Through writing, I am able to explore the emotions and thoughts that are happening within me, my purpose, and if I am staying on course with my work’s intention. Along with writing, I spend a fair amount of time alone. I may be sitting at a coffee shop, going for a hike or walk, being at my own place, or engaged in some other activity. I have found that the alone time allows me to stay connected to myself because I can hear myself and those guiding forces in my life clearer and make decisions from a space of clarity.

Even with writing and spending time alone, I have found making connections with other scholars to be essential. Through the use of online searches, social media, and meeting colleagues in person, I have found there are other people who are of varying ethnicities, races, sexual orientations, genders, and other social identities that are grappling with similar issues. Like me, they are striving to be their authentic, complex selves even when they feel the “you should” and “you’re supposed to” pressure from colleagues and social institutions. Through connecting with them, I feel the motivation to keep moving forward and doing my work from my perspective, even if it doesn’t fit the “should” and “supposed to” boxes.

My Ph.D. journey keeps revealing to me that being myself no matter what is the most liberating, energizing, and challenging decision and action to make on a daily basis. I am grateful for the strategies I’ve developed to help me thrive and the community I’ve built with colleagues who understand the quest for social justice may develop in ways that do and do not fit certain molds, like being a Black feminist that uses statistics in her research.

 

 

 

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