Hate Research and Emotionality by David Wilkin, PhD,Honorary Fellow, School of Criminology University of Leicester.
A somewhat overused phrase these days is that used to describe the pitches and troughs of everyday personal feelings: ‘the whole thing was an emotional rollercoaster’, to relate changing moods. What I did not expect during my recent research into disability hate crime, and indeed through my entire research journey, is how important that phrase was to become. My research was to culminate in a PhD. The focus of which was to reveal the everyday occurrences of prejudice, spite and hostility which are inflicted on disabled people. My particular spotlight shone on incidents which took place on public transport. The original motivation came from me being a victim of these incidents during my childhood. In applying myself to this task; it seems germane that the more that you put into a piece of work the more you get out of it. My PhD journey was not just reading, research and writing. That journey consisted of multiple public and stakeholder engagements, much academic and public speaking and meeting many victims of these crimes, with numerous victims relating traumatic and violent events. It was therefore a truly emotional rollercoaster!
I knew that I was motivated because of those early incidents and the scarceness of understanding and help which I looked for in those days, support that never came. I know the emotionality of the victim, misunderstood, ridiculed and left to be further victimised because their problems had no place on the agenda of others’. I had to do something about it. The rage within me had boiled for years became almost a mission. I had to reveal the indignities of disability hate crimes that have psychologically and emotionally affected me for decades. Of course, in no way did I think that I was alone in this familiarity. I have witnessed disabled people being victimised on many occasions. What were their stories? What emotions ensued? How did they cope?
In my research study, from an original 277 responses I chose 56 participants. These interviews and focus groups were not abstracted from emotion. I was amazed at how participant experiences chimed so closely with mine – albeit my victimisation was many decades before. The same approaches were used by assailants, the false friendships, the banter, the justification for them having a duty to indicate that you are not normal, not of value, not worth the air that you breathe. How it would have been a social duty to have killed you at birth, how you should have special buses because you need to be separated from normal people, how you are a bloody nuisance and a burden on society. What kindness are they providing when they trip you up, knock you over or laugh at your bodily mannerisms? It’s one thing for these events to occur and live inside you for years; it’s quite another to hear that you’re not alone, not the only victim, not the only one who feels stupid and let down. Aside from the emotion of my mission to speak with other victims, the second wave of the emotional rollercoaster was about to hit – the emotionality experienced through shared understandings. As kindred spirits during the interviews we nodded to each other in recognition of similarity. We laughed at the banality of the supposed justification used for the acts of abuse and then the tears were shed. The loneliness of victimisation is palpable when others do not understand – or wish to understand your plight. But when someone comes along who knows exactly how you feel and can share your anger, the emotional release is there for both to experience. Perhaps there was a danger here. For academic objectivity to be maintained an emotional engagement with your participant is not a welcome facet. However, for any researcher who has invested months of their lives, multiple challenges and the emotional disparities involved with success and disappointment, how can you be totally objective. So with my emotionality recognised and, hopefully, compensated for, I hugged some of my participants, cried with others and cared with them all.
Other emotions came to the surface during my recent study, voiced, and often displayed by people who are central to helping achieve a fairer society. The frustrations held by long-serving police officers who genuinely want to help reduce social inequalities but are constrained either by financial shortfalls or by operational demands. The passion held by social workers and local authority officers’ who want to tackle the range of abuse which happens on their turf, but are constrained from doing so by long lists of other work which is given precedence. Also evident was the tiredness of the supposedly tireless helpers who pour their souls into providing help for the vulnerable without recognition, resource or remuneration.
In hate crime research, to which I am a relative newcomer, I have also met some of the nicest people that I have ever met and this experience has generated another set of emotions. In my opinion, to be committed to a relatively less popular line of research and yourself to be the victim of bias, bigotry and even death threats, you have to have a constructive and optimistic outlook. Hate crime researchers have been a guiding light to me, from the depth of experience shown by my supervisors Dr Stevie-Jade Hardy and Prof. Neil Chakraborti, to encounters at meetings with Professors: Jon Garland; Barbara Perry and Mark Walters and so many inspirational others, I have been so fortunate. I genuinely find people who research hate to be so uplifting in their viewpoints. When I learn from, and get to admire the work of, others in such a specialist field it brought forth another wave of emotion. People who have sometimes fought against adversity to continue to fight against adversity bring qualities that are difficult to find in everyday life – I have discovered few in my 60 years of living. I would estimate that the chances of great international notoriety in hate crime research are hard to bring to fruition. Therefore, those who do research this area must surely be emotionally tied to it. To uncover its ravages and notify the wider populous of its potential dangers is an undertaking, I would argue, that is fraught with overcoming academic and political bias – before you can even think about getting to grips with societal bias.
Now I personally face another emotional rock face. I am truly honoured to begin an Honorary Fellowship with the University of Leicester. In challenging, changing and fractious times, I am going to explore this facet that is research emotionality. It seems to me that while we must be professionally objective in striving to understand society and what happens within it, we cannot afford to ignore this circumstantial behemoth which must, surely, dynamically involve itself in every qualitative study into hate crime. Hate offences involve emotion, ask any victim who has been queerbashed, had their faith ridiculed, their transition attacked or had their background questioned. This may be a sensitive foray – but it’s a necessary one.