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NYU Reads

A selection of resources for engaging with the NYU Reads books.



Author Clint Smith states that he was trained largely by sociologists. He asserts that sociology in part demands in an engagement and interrogation of one's positionality related to the subject one is studying and researching.  

What is positionality? 

As per Salem Press, 2019, positionality refers to the idea that a person’s understanding of the world is unavoidably influenced by the opinions, values, and experiences the person holds. This is an important consideration when conducting research because it can have a significant effect on how the person conducts the research and the conclusions that are reached. This in turn can affect the outcomes of subsequent projects and studies that apply the information gathered through the initial research. Positionality is nearly impossible to avoid, but its impact can be minimized if the researcher identifies and discloses any personal background that may have affected the study and its results.

How is positionality relevant to How the Word Is Passed

Smith states, "I am mindful that my experience at each of these pages, are tied to various parts of my identity: being Black, being born and raised in the South, being a straight cisgendered man, and...a doctoral student at an Ivy League university" (p. 291). As Smith indicates, this is all part of his identity and his positioning related to our society, which is entrenched in systems of oppression. While our analytical and research approach cannot be solely reduced to these social locations (e.g. race, gender, class), understanding our positionality through our social locations provide us with insight into how he may be approaching our research which is embedded in a history and reality of power imbalances, and also how we may not be. For example, throughout the text, there is an assumption of the gender binary by using the words and categories "men and women," "boys and girls" and "mothers and fathers" (e.g., pgs. 61, 62, 172, 211, and 229). However, what about enslaved Black people who did not fit into a gender binary? Moreover, what about the critique that colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade perpetually impose and enforce a gender binary on Black people in the first place? While Queer and Trans Black people are not the only people who can have a queer analysis, positionality reminds us that experiencing a form of marginalization can inform our research lens and approach in the world in unique ways. Smith's statement of his positionality help us further our critical thinking and reflect on other avenues of research related to reckoning with the history and ongoing legacy of slavery in America. For example, we can ask, since Smith tends to engage with the gender binary, possibly given his positionality as a cisgendered straight Black man, what Black Queer and Trans perspectives can we also learn from in understanding and reckoning with the history of slavery? 

The following sections offer resources on Black Queer & Trans stories and analysis.

Read on for more information on positionality as it relates to intersectionality

Black Queer and Trans Scholarship: Articles


Black Queer and Trans Scholarship: Books