Notes on: Tanksley, T & Estrada, C (2022): Toward a Critical Race RPP: how race, power and positionality inform Research Practice Partnerships, International Journal of Research & Method in Education, DOI: 10.1080/1743727X.2022.2097218

Dave Harris

Research – practice partnerships (RPP) look as if they are rectifying the power dynamic in educational research between researchers and practitioners to produce more relevant results, but they tend to ignore race and gender, and the effects of 'whiteness as property'  [they are 'race – evasive', their preferred term for colourblind], so they do not sufficiently disrupt power structures. They are women of colour (WOC) on a large grant awarded study who bumped into cases where whiteness was prioritised and niceness was 'weaponised' in order to 'protect education and research as the property of whites'. What is needed is a critical race RPP methodology (CR RPP). (1)

Researchers have been encouraged to work alongside practitioners to address problems of practice and to reduce the hierarchy and remove the distrust between researchers and practitioners arising from exclusion from traditional research. RPP is seen as more impactful and democratic, particularly with minority groups, but distortions and disruptions can persist in their dynamics, especially affecting the researchers' experience this time. They have experienced 'racialised sexism… Cloaked systems of power within RPP infrastructures' (2) that have silenced and excluded them.

RPP still have 'several racialised assumptions about power, collaboration and research identities'. Researchers have institutional privilege and so have inequitable amounts of power and privilege compared to practitioners; Practitioners are historically marginalised and risk further exclusion and exploitation by researchers; thus researchers should cede some of the institutional power. However, when researchers come from historically marginalised race and gender communities, and practitioners from privileged ones, new consequences can arise, and the domination that hinders racial equality can be preserved in RPP. [This is a problem with the whole piece — they see those traditional suspicions on the part of practitioners as racial discrimination and not the old micro politics]

They claim to be on the racial borderlines of society and academe and that this gives them 'robust epistemological advantage points' that has helped them see where RPP frameworks are ruptured by race and how you can theorise better ways to build them. RPP discourse sees the researcher as inherently privileged, laden with institutional power, and this has the effect of protecting whiteness if race gender and class are ignored as factors mediating access to that power. As a result RPP has downplayed the racialised sexism in higher education and failed to see how WOC researchers are 'uniquely oppressed'. RPPs must centre issues of race and racism within the partnership or they will 'unintentionally [NB](re)define equity in ways that uphold structures of whiteness and the oppressive status quo'.

They draw on their experience to show this and 'leverage' CRT to show how whiteness as property maintains partnership dynamics affecting WOC researchers. The conventional identities of researcher and practitioner get racialised, niceness and mutuality are institutionalised and together they uphold research as a white property right [still unintentionally?]. They offer counter stories to bring the issue to the forefront and 'reimagine' RPP that can bring about liberation, CR RPP.

They are a black womxn and a Chicana. They don't believe that unbiased research exists. They think conventional research is race evasive and rooted in whiteness. They have been trained in black feminist thought, Chicana feminism and CRT which they can leverage to critically read the world as a means of 'survival and transformational resistance', talk back and research back against oppressive paradigms. They are also first-generation college students from low income urban schools and have had personal experience really racial domination. This has meant they are '"outsiders within"' with both academic and experiential knowledge.

'Despite rhetorical commitments to equity' RPP left them hyper- vulnerable to and under protected from 'racial and gender microaggressions' (3). They experienced a 'cumulative weight of racialised sexism' within various settings and this led them to a 'nuanced theoretical approach' so they could grasp the permanence and pervasiveness of racism and challenge whiteness. Their particular project team, including faculty members and other researchers, have also focused on educational inequity and are very attuned to critical theories of race gender and education, so they are not being critiqued here. Instead it is 'a critical race interrogation this socio-– political infrastructure (i.e. norms, policies, practices et cetera and onto – epistemological underpinnings (i.e. how and why research is done, with whom, in what ways, and for what purpose) of RPP as a methodological framework' [it certainly looks as if it gets very personal lower down].

CRT says that race and racism decides who is included and who excluded from educational resources and opportunities. Matrices of domination reinforce the rationalisation of research identities defining 'who is able to conduct trustworthy and empirically sound research' and who can produce knowledge that shapes and defines education for minority groups. Then there is a series of tenets from CRT to render visible oppressive conditions assumptions and methodological practices of RPP [which are drawn more or less straight away from Ladson-Billings and Tate — the permanence of race and racism, the importance of intersectional analysis, the centrality of experiential knowledge, the challenge to dominant ideologies]. There are little bits making it fit RPP, more or less by assertion. For example racism in RPP is 'the endemic and institutionalised disease of white supremacy that not only creates socially constructed racial categories for researcher and practitioner but simultaneously allows for the institutionalised offering of WOC researchers as deviant and less than'; intersectionalism 'shows how constructions of race power and privilege further subjugate WOC researchers disallowing truly equitable research partnerships'; experiential knowledge 'recognises WOC researchers as holders and creators of knowledge… everyday experiences with micro aggressions can illuminate the vestiges of racialised sexism within RPP'; challenge to dominant ideologies in RPP addresses the issue of objectivity and meritocracy and how they are 'weaponised against WOC researchers to position them as deviant, aggressive and unprofessional' (4) [oh dear they have been hurt --maybe this whole thing is a response to the complaint made against CE by the disgruntled teacher? We don't know how that was resolved]

These are vital in the way they see the world, and help them see RPP not as inherently progressive and equity oriented but as offering interlocking systems of oppression and offering 'hegemonic ideologies' fostering 'rhetorical and discursive violence against marginalised researchers'.

Whiteness as property is the key analytic tool and it is protected in RPP 'under the guise of protecting "niceness"'. They cite Annamma [but it looks like Ladson – Billings originally?] Whiteness became joined to property because white people were free while black people were slaves and thereafter whiteness was a form of property involving the right to disposition, the right to use and enjoyment, the absolute right to exclude and the right to a good reputation [that is Bell surely?] They particularly focus on reputation [!], status and exclusion and in these cases they find that whites are inherently good and worthy of trust and respect, that whites are particularly privileged in matters of who conduct trustworthy research, and that RPP particularly functioned to protect these forms of property

[This whole issue here of using the American research and the legal origins of CRT to connect whiteness to property is suspect. It overdoes the legal determinism when it is applied to intellectual property, which is far less restricted than the usual forms of property. Nobody really owns ideas in the tight sense, despite flimsy notions of copyright and patent, no one has exclusive use of them, nobody can really control access to them in the sense of enforcing tight exclusion, and no one can prevent uses that lead to emergence. That is why HE requires all sorts of other social controls to conceal the arbitrariness of the selection of knowledge, substantial cooling out mechanisms and so on. The metaphor has led to ludicrous vulgar Marxist determinism in amateur sociology of knowledge]

Then there is a bit of a literature review on RPP and the way it tries to stress equity between researcher and practitioner. Researchers are supposed to reflect and check their institutional privilege by including historically excluded voices especially practitioners, but race, gender and class are often invisible even though they still shape institutional partnerships. CRT will reveal this. Until it does the notion of equity that animates RPP will not do anything about the subordination of marginalised groups [researchers though?].

Researchers regardless of their intersectional identities are seen as 'inherently privileged because of their institutional status' (5) and this is a 'foundational assumption of RPP'. This is bolstered by the whiteness of the Academy which often stands in contrast to public schools communities, so there is a 'racial chasm' as well. Nevertheless this 'monolithic racialised nation of researchers as "white and privileged"' gives problems for researchers of colour, and for research identities that are ahistoric and monolithic. It is these that are still being deployed by various RPP stakeholders 'as a way to protect and uphold research as a white property right' [but this is the problem — is this additional support for whiteness intentional or not? Who says it is there? Is it racism at an intentional level as is implied?].

They used counter story using autobiographical reflections to present narratives. Counterstory is a [reified?]  CRT method and methodology ' to bring the stories of those racially and socially marginalised to the forefront'.

[Bell uses them to let those who are afraid to speak speak, those who have been overlooked, those who would not dare expose themselves, and he also uses them in a kind of drama documentary way to generalise and dramatise. This is highly controversial, and, as Kennedy says, rather surprising, given that he had the facilities to do proper research, actual interviews with people. In this case, these people are articulate researchers in contact with other WOC, as a potential large sample, so what exactly is the point of the counter story? Kennedy says of course they had rhetorical and politicising uses in Bell as well].

Stories and experiences are valid sources of data [always?] They want to dispute the majoritarian story around RPP and show it is race evasive 'that often privileges whiteness in subtle and innocuous ways' (6). The counter story draws on their experiences as doctoral student researchers, over one academic school year, working with one designated partner school and one teacher partner. Each researcher had weekly site visits for 1 to 2 hours. Observations were recorded including visually and made 'candid' observer comments. They also discussed field notes with teachers and methods, the research team [it also seems they took part in a larger study for up to 5 years, but maybe not as participants?]. They collected analytic memos and recorded experiences confronting whiteness throughout and at collaborative and analysis meetings they 'leveraged' these autobiographical reflections. They practised researcher reflectivity after detailing their individual frustrations. They shared field notes with their partner teachers but wrote freely in their analytic memos especially about racial injustice. They insist these should be seen as '"valid and valuable data"'. They acted as colleagues and homegirls engaging in storytelling with one another, expressing sadness and anger and realised that this was opposing the majoritarian narrative about RPP. They met regularly to make meaning of their stories in collaborative analysis meetings and often included additional storytelling. They retold the two major incidents and shared new untold stories about their qualms. They began to realise that they were conceptualising 'a theory in the flesh, where our lived experiences as WOC researchers pushed us to create a "politic born out of necessity"', and they began to conceptualise a CR RPP. They 'reached a point of saturation' and then employed 'concept coding which allowed us to use key concepts and phrases that represented larger ideas' they use these to create categories collaboratively 'that allowed us to centre a unique narrative in order to provide nuance to the extant literature on RPPs' (7) [not much sign of this]

They experienced many microaggressions, but chose two particular stories [why? Typical? Pole case?]

[Little story follows with their meeting up on a cold day. One asks the other how the presentation went:

T says she was reminded of how unwelcome and invisible she was as a black woman and how violent RPP can be for women of colour… She was talking about equity challenges and tensions and she brings up what had happened to C while they were working in an RPP. Her partner was a white man who was questioning her qualifications. C had shared her field notes after an observation and he immediately dropped out of the study because he felt C was not qualified to be a researcher. She said it was a problem because a white man was questioning a woman of colour as if he knew more about research than she did.

[ I  can already see where the tension is here – it's between researchers and practitioners, and the researcher is the spiky one because a mere practitioner is telling her that he knows more about research than she does– They were  students after all. What on earth did she share in the field notes after the observation? Did the teacher partner mention her race?]

[Apparently he also sent an email complaining to T and the rest of the research team]

T explained this to the RPP team and said that this man had read the field notes that included practices referred to in scholarly research — 'in peer reviewed articles' [she puts this in capitals as if it's particularly important, rather ironic in the circumstances], and said that C needed to keep her own feelings out of the write up because it was unprofessional and unscholarly.   C was only using observer comments to document her initial analysis and reflect on her experience as a first-generation college graduate student and student of colour. [so we guess it was about racism]

C said she was legitimately using what we had learned and discussed in the research group. She separated her observer comments from the field notes and used the observer comment to make it known that it was separate. She just wanted to think through why students were not engaged in the course material. It was cool and engaging and the teacher was super enthusiastic and this was noted but the students didn't seem to be engaged and said it was boring. That made her think about her own experiences. Everyone in the room was Latinx like her so she thought she could maybe use her inside outsider knowledge [and comment about whiteness or something?]. However the teacher just read the field notes and the set of observer comments instead of all the other positive things and how she was just trying to understand.

[The irony here is that C is claiming she made observer comments separately and kept them separate from her other observations. She is almost splitting 'subjective' and 'personal' observations from 'objective' and 'technical' ones her. But her whole 'onto-epistemological' position and training in black feminism and CRT surely denies such a separation is possible! It is hardly surprising that the white teacher suspected  that too. We still don't know what she actually said, or what he actually complained about].

T I told them all this and explained that 'it was so obvious [!] that white fragility was at play. As a white man he was not about to let a womxn of colour depict him in a negative light' (8), that's why he emailed C and our bosses complaining about C's biased research and he then 'mansplained' to C what a classroom observation should look like  'when you're [she is telling C] a doctoral student at a well-known higher education institution studying education, is just mind blowing'

[Return of the micro-politics again — how dare this mere practitioner criticise a doctoral student at a well-known HEI, let alone a woman of colour! It is so obvious to T what happened, even though she wasn't there]

C. She was so nervous and under confident and felt impostor syndrome

[What happened to the complaint? Was it upheld? Did she have to withdraw?]

T. He missed learning so much, from you as a budding educational researcher and from the community. However she realised that she was [also] tired about discussing racial equity 'in front of a bunch of white folx who claim to do equity RPP' [She got a cool reception from the others?]

T. 'I'm telling this story is an obvious example of whiteness at work when this random conference attendee at my table starts coming for me... This white woman just assumed that the story that I had told was about me or not you'. She said I was too aggressive and too angry and needed to look at how I was presenting myself to work in good partnership

C. 'Not only did she make assumptions about who the story was about, but she called you – a black woman – "aggressive" and "angry"? That's literally by the book misogynoir!'

T "Eyeroll" [a microaggression?]  Yep... She told her that the stories about a colleague said there was a problem, that this woman assumed that she was angry just because she was black where she had given no evidence that the incident arose because she was aggressive and angry either in the actual story or in her 'calm and professional retelling' [any nonverbals?] , and said that the two words were 'profoundly racist sexist and stereotypical' ... She got red in the face, got visibly upset and started yelling and said being kind and understanding in RPP was important. She rolled her eyes [wrong this time?] and left. The whole episode was an occasion demonstrating 'micro-assault' when they were supposed to be doing equity. They were denigrating and attacking women of colour who were speaking up for those of the same communities.

C. They clearly need a stronger racial analysis.

This counterstory shows 'exemplifies the pervasiveness of race- evasive racism within RPP norms beliefs and infrastructures'  (9) [if indeed this is typical], shows how a commitment to equity fails to disrupt racism and even reproduces 'the racially oppressive status quo. 'Our countless experiences with racial hostility' confirm that race neutral norms are not enough to stop 'racially traumatising sentiments and behaviours'. Failure to intervene substantiates oppression. Failing to halt or redress racial microaggressions sustains a chilly and racially hostile environment for WOC researchers, 'directly linked to disproportionately high attrition rates… In STEM and in higher education research'. It has consequences for partner schools — removing practitioners denies participating schools resources. [Chilly and hostile are in quotes and there is a reference to STEM -- refers to a study somewhere --Ladson-Billings again?]

This can be understood as a form of whiteness as property, especially 'the right to a good reputation and the absolute right to exclude' these were 'the animating force beneath these racially hostile RPP interactions'

Here are some 'takeaways': the institutional power granted by academe 'is rendered illegitimate and ineffective when whiteness is prioritised' and minority race and gender identities are involved; 'niceness is weaponised' to protect the status quo in STEM and in academe [niceness is presumably what the members of the RPP were urging upon this black woman instead of her assertive argument? It is not what is meant below]

To take the first point first, the faltering RPP was assumed to be the fault of the minorities researcher. The one who shared her field notes with the white male practitioner was accused of not doing rigourous research because of the personal reflections she included even though those were 'separated observer comments'. [She separated the physically but was she claiming she could separate them from the more 'objective' observations after all? Surely not!]. She was called unqualified and unprofessional, lacking objectivity, incompetent, needing to be taught how to do appropriate research free of opinion '(i.e. traditional westernised notions of objective research)'.  But her approach was 'grounded in existing literature'. Her reflections were perceived as a threat to the sanctity of the research and the partnership. The practitioner refused to meet the boss [to smooth things over?] however despite this 'racialised rupture' but dropped out instead. When this example was shared at the subsequent conference in order to raise concerns, a white female attendee insisted that the second researcher did not know how to conduct adequate research either! Both critics admitted to having minimal experience 'with the research methods, theoretical frames, and coursework being leverage by the researchers' [they might have had other experience of course], leaving the implied reason for the ineffective partnership as 'the sole result of racial deviance, gendered incompetence and poor understandings of professionalism' [both seem to be rationalisations of the old micro-politics to me]. [I think maybe they suspected simple bias or naive accusations of racism?]

The 'wealth of knowledge and experience' by the WOC researchers were discounted, 'viewed as fraudulent', a manifestation of 'the absolute right to exclude', to question academic credentials, label us as suspicious and unqualified. Whiteness as property was protected, to preserve 'normative Eurocentric views of research and the perception of who can adequately enact' it (10). Both critics 'experienced a threatening feeling' to this right to exclude explaining their anger and disengagement. This suggests a limited commitment to equity with RPP unless biases concerning racial or gender deviance are addressed — they can seem rational [maybe the fragile partnership was threatened by the emergence of new considerations of racial etiquette? Or the university imposing new topics on the agenda?]

Niceness 'is a fundamental component of whiteness as property. Social norms of niceness and appropriateness protect white interests. Niceness is a relatively new construct governing judgements about controlling environment and defending privileges. For RPP, equitable partnerships require everybody to subscribe to normative '(read: white)' constructions of "niceness" that criminalise uncomfortable discussions about race, racism and oppression' this was shown when one of the researchers presented findings about a fractured moment and was blamed for the ineffective partnership, and lay behind the remarks of being too aggressive and too angry, even though she was not actually involved [on that occasion]'. WOC are urged to play nice and if they don't they may lose their rights to good reputation and elevated status. 'Honest conversations about intersexual oppression' can challenge this niceness and so can be prevented or circumvented. [The white attendee's annoyed response was not an attempt at an honest conversation but a attempt to exclude? She should have been nicer?]

We need CR RPPs. CRT demands [!] we go beyond surface levels issues of equity inclusivity and diversity. Racist structures are ubiquitous, deeply embedded in the 'onto-epistemological, theoretical and methodological fabric of RRPs', preventing 'truly transformative educational change'. [not much point in honest discussions then] We need exposure of racism and domination at macro and micro levels, breaking with niceness. Partners must recognise that:

The problem of practice is rooted in white supremacy and institutionalised racism, and these must be confronted not evaded. Open and meaningful conversations must be pursued about how practice is the direct result of white supremacy.

Power is dictated by matrices of domination which leave communities of colour hyper- invisible and under protected within RPP. The stories demonstrate our racism and sexism functioned to silence them. Active resistance is needed and an understanding of how disparate experiences for marginalised groups can arise especially for those on the margins of society.

Race, racism and other forms of oppression must be routinely addressed not dealt with in one specific meeting. We might need exercises reflecting on racial privileges or deal with assigned readings on the racist history of education. We should be willing to call people out '(letting someone know the racist behaviour is unacceptable) and be "called in" (engage in a deep discussion and period of reflection) to openly discuss racist incidents… White fragility has no place in these meetings' (11) [sounds quite terroristic].

Commit to privileging rather than just equally including the voices and experiences of people of colour and those impacted by systemic racism. These must be centred as valid sources of knowledge. Conversations about racial justice and equity in the 'intellectual histories, theoretical frameworks and analytic standpoints of people of colour' . [ie take over the agenda]

Collective responsibility must be shared with students and communities rather than to each other or institutions that partners represent, to develop trust effective partnership based on the experiences of the researcher and practitioner. There always will be issues between partners which we must confront but we have to remember that racially just research should be about students and communities.

These commitments are a crucial starting point if RRP are to produce more transformative racially just change. Race evasive policies, practices and ideologies must be pushed aside (12). Intersecting forms of oppression must be at the centre of partnerships and turned into action.