“Hey, y’all got to understand – y’all prolly scared of us… we scared of y’all too!”


Drawing by focus group participant

UPDATE: This post was reblogged at Ethnography Matters

Street-level recruiting, downtown Oakland, Broadway 13th to 16th, Oscar Grant Plaza (formerly but officially known as Frank Ogawa Plaza). We’ve been talking to all kinds of people – students, workers, merchants, customers, pimps, players, hustlers, dealers, addicts, sex workers and eyeballing the BART police roust a youth for nothing that I saw. I’m standing in clouds of cannabis smoke exhaled from the people we’re talking to, and no longer feel how cold my head is. We’ve finally got our posse of people walking back to the office, and I’m struck by how secure one feels in a mass of people traditionally feared. People walking in the opposite direction make a wide berth around us, and some look at me disapprovingly, and I wonder about what microaggressions these young men deal with as they move through their lives. And then the hardest and loudest of the bunch paces Rachelle and I talking strategy.

“Hey, y’all got to understand – y’all prolly scared of us… we scared of y’all too!”

There’s a smile, but it’s pointed, and I know they are checking my reaction. I smile at him as if to say, “I hear you,” but then gesture to my colleague known for being even more quiet than I am, saying with a chuckle, “You know, I’m not sure she and I can take all six of you in a head to head.”

Drawing by focus group participant

Drawing by focus group participant

Brother with the neck tattoo has been inside before. Jail. I know it without knowing it. We’re on the tail end of the three quarter mile walk back from street-level recruiting. One of the little hoppers (young hustlers) has already very pointedly asked if we’re FBI or with any kind of police. “Where? That building that got FBI in it?” He might as well not ask – my reassurances that they will leave our company unmolested are met with a tough-generous smirk and posture that lets me know he thinks the whole thing smells no matter what I say, but the steady footfalls and banter of the bigger, older muscle along with the joint being passed back and forth between them placates them enough for me to drawl, “They gone. They moved out of the building.”


“Dunno, and don’t want to. Ugh. We don’t get off into all that. Don’t nobody want to talk to the police more than they have to.”

Their thoughtful silent assent keeps us walking.  Continue reading

Another ‘ugly truth’ ad

Another ‘ugly truth’ ad

One of our first interview respondents, Jovante*, a 19-year-old African American artist, mentioned this ad from the ugly truth campaign (“the nation’s largest smoking prevention campaign for youth and young adults“):

For Jovante, this ad was suspicious. He thought it was over the top, did not make sense, and that it suggested ulterior motives on the part of the people behind it. Although the ad’s explicit message is anti-smoking, Jovante felt that its effect on some young people might be “the exact opposite,” especially in light of his broader sense of membership in a group that has been exploited and marginalized:

“They would rather we smoke tobacco and kill ourselves, because they get money from it.”

So then today I came across another ad from the ugly truth campaign. Unlike the ‘cat pee’ ad, I’d never seen this one before:

“This is from Big Tobacco’s files. It’s a plan to sell cigarettes to gays and homeless people, and they called it ‘Project Scum’… And the ones on the left are just some of the ways Big Tobacco labeled African Americans.”

I wondered what Jovante would think of it. Seems like he would find it more credible.

Scanning this working paper by Deborah Lupton (thanks Tamar!) on the use of disgust in public health campaigns, I’m struck by how the first ad plays to 3 out of 4 kinds of disgust described in the paper… There’s “animal reminder disgust”, “matter out of place disgust” and “liminality disgust”, all in one super disgusting ad.

The fourth disgust-egory is “moral disgust,” and maybe that’s what the second ad appeals to. But unlike the examples in the paper, it’s not moral disgust aimed at people who use cigarettes. Instead, the target is marketing tactics.

Big difference in how these two different kinds of messages may affect people who are already dealing with stigma and marginalization in other parts of their lives.

*’Jovante’ is a pseudonym