Claudia Nmai is a senior majoring in Sociology and minoring in African and African American Studies. She is from Twinsburg, Ohio, a suburban city in the Cleveland area. She has spent much of her time at Stanford understanding and researching the collateral consequences of the criminal-legal system in the United States. Her current work operates at the intersection of criminal-legal, immigration, race, and family studies. On campus, she is a peer advisor for Sociology and works at the Women’s Community Center.
A Privileged Positioning: The Role of Class and Ethnicity in Shaping Police Talk Narratives Among Black Immigrant and Black American Parents
Advisor: Matthew Clair
What is the focus of your current research?
My project explores the intergenerational consequences of policing on Black immigrant families living in the Cleveland area, primarily looking at how parents pass knowledge about police encounters to their children. I am interested in how these Black immigrant parents experience policing and then how they translate their experiences into strategies for their children to use to navigate potential encounters with the police.
What drew you to this topic?
Growing up in a Black immigrant household in the Cleveland area with much of my childhood has been shaped by high-profile police violence cases, I have always been surrounded by discussions about policing and police violence. Like many Black families around the country, my family had to respond to these realities. And despite the salience of policing in the lives of Black immigrant communities, there is little research that thoroughly focuses on how Black immigrants discuss potential encounters with the police at the familial level. My research intends to fill this gap in order to incorporate the experiences of Black immigrants into the current understandings of how Black parents generally navigate this reality.
How are you conducting your research?
I spent this past summer at home conducting interviews with Black immigrant parents living in the Cleveland, Ohio area. These interviews focused on parents’ experiences with the police, how they talk about these experiences to their children, as well as their attitudes towards the police and race relations. Additionally, I have done interviews with Black American parents living in Cleveland in order to compare the narratives of those who have lived generationally with policing in the U.S. against those who have not.
What would people be surprised to learn about the topic you are working on?
I think people would be surprised to learn about the diversity of the interactions that Black immigrants can have with the police. While one person may find their accent to be a detriment in encounters with the police, another person could find it to be a benefit. I also think people would be surprised to hear how early some of these parents start talking to their children about the police. I have learned that children as young as five years-old are hearing narratives about the police from their parents.
In your view, why is it valuable to study this topic?
I’m able to uncover how these Black immigrant families come to recognize the connection between their race and ethnicity to their vulnerability with the police, what their attitudes towards the police reveal about their understandings of racial, political, and economic relations in the U.S., and what this ultimately reveals about the control (or lack thereof) that Black immigrant parents feel they have in protecting their children from negative police interactions.
How is your honors thesis impacting you academically and/or personally?
While the entire project experience is both personally and academically exciting, the most rewarding part has been conducting the interviews with parents. Each person said something that surprised me, challenged my own beliefs and assumptions, and pushed me to think even more deeply about the world around me. To give a space for parents to share their feelings and experiences about the policing they face while living in Northeast Ohio has been an important part of my journey in growing as a scholar.
How do you anticipate the fellowship will be able to support your research?
I believe being a part of a cohort of undergraduate fellows will push each of us to make the act of research more communal. I’m excited that this fellowship will put me in an intellectually diverse community where I can share and receive a variety of interdisciplinary methods and perspectives to stimulate new and creative ideas about our respective research. I’m looking forward to sharing my sociology background with my peers and learning more about their intellectual frameworks as well.