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This essay critically reflects on challenges and dilemmas I encountered when interviewing white women about their experiences with gender, racialization, and practices of whiteness. These challenges and dilemmas in the research setting relate to the researcher-participant relationship and, in particular, participants’ use of 1) a “rhetorical ethic,” in which their social justice narratives were contradicted by demonstrations of their own racist ideologies; and 2) how whiteness and femininity were sites of power and resources for “social desirability bias” and impression management in response to my positionality as a white woman with a Black spouse and two racially mixed children. Additionally, this essay grapples with the emotionally difficult journey of being a researcher with the feminist commitment of “giving voice” to women by developing a bond of mutual trust, while at the same time feeling compelled to conceal oneself in search of “honest” responses from the research participants. This reflection illuminates how a/symmetries of power between researcher and the researched are inscribed with race and gender dynamics that are not always discernible, yet have a tremendous influence on data gathering. These dynamics require recognizing the agency of the research participants to shape what are considered and interpreted as data. These dynamics also require treating the data with “critical skepticism” and subjecting the participants’ responses to a “radical reflexivity” rooted in understanding how the larger social, political and historical “facts of whiteness” inform the microcosm of the researcher-participant relationship.
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