My subjectivity is the basis for the story that I am able to tell. It is a strength on which I build. It makes me who I am as a person and as a researcher, equipping me with the perspectives and insights that shape all that I do as a researcher, from the selection of topic clear through to the emphasis I make in my writing... subjectivity is something to capitalize on rather than to exorcize (Glesne & Peshkin, 1992:104).
In fourth grade, I learned my father could not read basic sentences, utility bills or road signs. When he injured his head in second grade, his grandmother withdrew him from school, and he never returned. I knew little about Jim Crow segregation then, but I understood that my father, born in rural South Carolina, had fallen through the cracks of the US educational system. As a father, he could offer only limited financial resources and could not guide me through bureaucratic requirements of schooling. Despite these challenges, he emphasized that I had the ability to succeed in engaging extracurricular activities, challenging AP coursework and attend college.
My father’s focus on ability rather than circumstance paid off. I graduated from College of Charleston in 2010, and aware since childhood that education could facilitate or constrain mobility for black youth, decided to become an educator. During my second year teaching sixth grade in Charlotte, North Carolina, I met a student named Rashawn and realized that many institutions that would mediate his trajectory devalue the cultural logics and meaning-making black males bring to those institutions. As a result, I have committed to a career of researching domains predominated by marginalized groups, in which evaluation of worth hinge upon their cultural logics.
Unlike the affirmative support my father gave me, Rashawn started sixth grade bombarded by messages that he lacked the ability to achieve academically. Despite his popularity among students, my colleagues warned me early that he was a “bad” kid whose father was in prison and who received free lunch and special education services. Evidently, the adults who directly influenced Rashawn’s trajectory took his stigmatized status seriously. In contrast, his classmates recognized a special ability in him. With few exceptions, each day, he wore a crisp white uniform shirt, khakis and pristine sneakers. His classmates, also exploring their senses of fashion and self-expression, recognized him as an especially able manager of his image.
Inspired by Rashawn, I currently research sneaker consumption of black men. Employing in-depth unstructured interviews and ethnographic observation, I examine how black men use sneakers to perform cultural boundary work, construct meaning and resist racial stigma in spontaneous social interactions. Mass media, academic accounts and the authority figures in their lives often regard these men as conspicuous consumers who engage in profligate spending, drug sales, theft and acts of violence to...