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CONVERSATIONS WITH RESEARCHERS Print

 

Our conversations with four university-based researchers in Toronto were about how Canadian Black men figure (or not) in the research landscape, what has been learned from research about Black men in Canada, gaps in the knowledge base, and their appraisal of research trajectories related to Black men and HIV.

All four researchers noted that, with a few exceptions, research with/among Black men in Canada was rather scarce. For example, when asked to name any researchers whose work demonstrates an interest in Black mens health, all four interviewees mentioned the same three or four researchers, and a similar number of research studies apart from their own. However, they underscored the need for and importance of research by noting how stereotypes prevail in the absence of good research. One researcher suggested that there is growing interest in peculiar health-related problems, rather than a broad range of health issues.18

Our research informants identified two main reasons for the apparent lack of Canadian research on Black mens health and wellbeing. First, as one of the research informants stated, in Canada there seems to be an aversion to informed discussion about the wellbeing of Black communities.19

Second, researchers seem reluctant to engage with issues of race. These silences, together with the more general problem of the shortage of research, result in huge gaps in the knowledge base related to Black mens health. In this regard, all four research informants mentioned issues of gender and masculinity in relation to Black mens health and wellbeing. One informant also identified religion as an important issue among Black communities that hardly emerges in research with/among those communities. For example, religion and spirituality may be important cultural assets for helping to address the transmission and management of HIV among Black communities.

The research informants also advised about methodological approaches to research on Black mens health. Three of the informants noted that health research appears to be driven by individual level approaches to risk, behaviour and behaviour change. They called for greater attention to structural factors. One researcher suggested that standard survey questions about individual behaviour (e.g., “Do you use condoms?” or “How many sexual partners do you have?”) may not yield useful results. In contrast, an approach that addresses structural issues may seek to understand the links between poverty, oppression and HIV, for example. Another informant speculated that standard questions about individual behaviour may in fact turn Black youth away from talking about sexuality.

One researcher observed that Black communities appeared ambivalent about the need for (or the role of) research to address community issues, and sometimes distrusted researchers. On the other hand, he suggested that researchers often neglect to disseminate information in a form that people can understand and support. He called for a major research effort on ‘the state of Black Canada’ where different groups of researchers collaborate on a cross-section of issues related education, economics, health, and so on.