RealSearch is the Youth Justice Coalition’s community action research center intended to give youth and communities opportunities to search for and distribute the truth about our lives, with our analysis and our solutions. We are answering questions that are important to us, will benefit us, and will be an accurate reflection of our worlds.
RealSearch projects are conducted by youth, families, people inside and returning home from jails and prisons, grassroots organizers, and other community members. Most research is conducted from the protection and isolation of a university tower, science laboratory, or corporate boardroom. Real Search takes those of us in the community out from under the microscope. Beyond the role of storyteller, we are claiming our rights as researchers, analysts, problem solvers, and the architects of programs and public policy.
Why RealSearch is Needed: Traditional research generally reflects the perceptions of white, middle and upper class people “exploring” low income communities and communities of color, taking our knowledge, experiences, and solutions, and publishing it for their own benefit and profit. At times, the work also benefits the researched community. But, more often, research spreads misinformation, flawed analysis and failed solutions leading to our further oppression.
The most serious harm includes:
- Dusty Shelf Research – “Research” that only uncovers what the community has always known. In other words re-searching the same conditions over and over again only to arrive at the same conclusions. The result of such studies is not to implement solutions, but to postpone or prevent action. The solutions that are so desperately needed to alleviate real suffering are proposed – but never enacted – for decades. Such studies not only replace the real need for policy change, but also weaken the community’s ability to hold governments or corporations accountable. How many times have we heard policy makers hide behind the claim that they have ordered “a study of the issue,” “an investigation the facts,” “the input of key stakeholders,” or “the gathering of more data.”
- Research that is not part of a larger movement-building effort – When research is not accountable to, and conducted in consultation with community leaders, it doesn’t have the people power needed to push for the implementation of proposed solutions. In other words, once the research is published, there is no follow-up organizing pressure put on the authorized government or corporate leaders.
- Research that Causes Irreparable Harm, Damage or Death – The majority of traditional academic, government, and private foundation researchers construct theories that serve to maintain or broaden inequalities in society. In fact, the idea that research is unbiased and ethical has been disproven over and over again throughout history – (eugenics, the syphilis experiments at Tuskegee and in Guatemala, and widespread experimentation on human subjects in Nazi Germany to name a few examples.) After all, research is a human creation, impacted by all the prejudices and hidden agendas that we carry as humans. When the means of funding and promoting research is almost entirely in the hands of people with more class, race, political and educational privileges, the results rarely challenge existing power dynamics, and lead to years – even decades – of harm. (Think Dilulio’s predictions of a generation of youth super-predators, or Wilson’s and Kelling’s theory of broken windows policing, and the impact both these theories have had on the massive incarceration rates of youth of color.)Yet, the myth that research results in unbiased truth remains a core part of society’s beliefs. Policy makers regularly site biased and failed research in their implementation of harmful policies. Mainstream media quotes study after study without any real investigation or counter-analysis. To add salt to the wound, the fame and financial fortunes collected are not shared with the people who have lived the studied experiences or who suffer the consequences.