Anti-Racism Grant Study Has Surprising Findings

By Julie Carle

A qualitative investigation of Black law enforcement officers that received a 2021 SIOP Anti-Racism Grant had surprising findings.

Lead investigator Melanie K. Prengler, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, said she and her research team wanted to understand how individuals targeted by racism are fighting back against it.

What they discovered was that the informants did not describe experiencing an identity conflict as Black law enforcement officers.

Prengler’s team included Nitya Chawla, an assistant professor of management at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School; Angelica Leigh, an assistant professor of management and organization at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business; and Kristie M. Rogers, an associate professor of management at Marquette University.

Their initial plan was to try a different approach to understanding systemic racism.

“Much of the research that’s been done to combat racism has focused on organizational policies or procedures, which is a critical—but we believe, only partial—aspect of how racism can be addressed,” Prengler said.

They wanted to determine if individual employees could fight systemic racism from the bottom up. The study focused on anti-racism of racial minority employees “because it is often these individuals who are on the frontlines of efforts to fight racism, and it is from these leaders that we have the most to learn,” she explained.

Participants in the study said that they entered law enforcement not despite its history of perpetuating racism but because of its history perpetuating racism. The findings indicate that racial minority employees join and stay in highly racialized organizations because of their desire to combat racism and its negative effect on their community.

Prengler said they called that “anti-racism motivation,” which prompts these employees to engage in anti-racism strategies directed at both the racialized organization and the community it targets.

“Their motivation was to go into an organization they identified as being highly racialized and combat racism from the inside out,” Prengler said. “This realization changed our research protocol and emergent model substantially early in the data collection and analysis process from one focused on identity conflict to one focused on anti-racism.

The change in direction also changed the study’s title to “Challenging Racism as a Black Police Officer: An Emergent Theory of Employee Anti-Racism” from “A Qualitative Investigation of Black Law Enforcement Officers: Mitigating Racism and Transforming Police Organizations.” You can read the abstract of their proposal.

Additionally, their findings suggest that the impact of these efforts can begin to transform the interface between a highly racialized organization and the racial community. Perceiving this transformation helps keep racial minority employees engaged in anti-racism, despite experiencing backlash, continual racial stigma, and stigma from the racial community for working for a highly racialized organization.

Prengler noted that although they focused on anti-racism of racial minority employees because “it is likely from these individuals that we have the most to learn about anti-racism,” future research will require determining how their model extends to the anti-racism efforts of White employees.

The SIOP grant funds were used to express gratitude for the participants’ willingness to share their time and experiences. Each individual could choose to have a donation made to the National Organization for Black Law Enforcement Officers, the Afro American Police League, the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the United Negro College Fund, or Black Lives Matter.

Additionally, some funds were used for automatic transcription services to allow more time to focus on data collection and analysis because they were on a very tight timeline.

“We are extremely grateful to the Black law enforcement officers who were willing to take time to share their stories with us. Their experiences engaging in anti-racism were often heavy and required a great deal of vulnerability to communicate; there would be no research on this without their willingness to share those stories with us,” Prengler said.

She also thanked the author team’s effort for completing the project. Their paper is under review at a top-tier journal.

“It is only with their dedication and expertise that we have been able to, so far, navigate everything successfully.”

In 2020, SIOP initiated the Anti-Racism Grant opportunity, which was aimed at enlarging the understanding of racism in the workplace, its causes, and its reduction. Of the 35 proposals submitted in the first year, five were funded. In 2021, four grants were awarded during a second round, which received 22 submissions. This update is the fourth in a series highlighting winners of the SIOP Anti-Racism Grants. You can read the first, the second, and the third articles on our website.

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