Why Research?

Graduate school is a journey. Ask anyone, and they’ll tell you doing your own research and navigating academia is a marathon with all the obstacles you could think of, and even more that you could never conceptualize. Many times, the biggest obstacle you face is yourself.

I once dreamed about when I would be able to collect data. Fortunately, I have now reached that point. While I’m thankful, I’ve also found myself in front of another wall created by my own mind:

Why does my little study matter?

I’ve been intentional from the beginning to focus my research on something that could be applicable and relevant to my community. As I fleshed out what that meant for me, I became more convinced about the relevance of what I was doing, not just from my own perspective, but also from those within the Black community who I told about my intentions.

But now that I’m in the thick of it, I feel an enormous sense of doubt.

While I think that there are relevant reasons for the doubt, I also recognize the voice of anxiety and uncertainty that’s been a constant in my life. So here’s a list of the reasons why I’m doing what I do:

  1. Language is a part of culture. Language makes culture and culture makes language.
  2. Black language makes Black culture. Black culture makes Black language.
  3. The reality of Black languages today in the West is that they were targeted for elimination as a part of the African cultures brought over through slavery.
  4. As a result of this oppression, indigenous African languages only survived as they could be integrated into colonial languages—in ways that could be disguised.
  5. This linguistic evolution has been categorized as broken and deficient according to the White colonial gaze. This view that developed over centuries was largely unchallenged until about 60 years ago.
  6. Stigma still remains about language birthed from Black communities, especially when used by Black people.
  7. While the implications of this stigma have been recognized, there has been considerable backlash to action based in White colonial thought.
  8. Suggestions for challenging this stigma have been limited in the U.S., especially since the Oakland Ebonics resolution debate in the late 1990s.
  9. The situation has become more complicated by the increase in Black immigration to the United States, and overall greater communication internationally because of the Internet.
  10. Disentangling Black language use from the White colonial gaze in addition to understanding the diversity of Black cultures and their complicated relationships with each other deserves more attention than it is currently receiving. This includes how the African diaspora relates to and interacts with Africa.
  11. Black identity should not be limiting.

In real-time, writing all of this has really made me conscious of how complex my research is. Just in what I am acknowledging, there is so much that I am barely touching on, and given that its context goes back centuries, I cannot expect to have a firm perfect solution to resolve all the problems even my own lifetime, let alone a few years of grad school. What’s more, I cannot expect it to be perfect given I don’t even know what that would ultimately mean.

But work needs to be done, and it’s got to start somewhere.

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