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Chapter 1-2

ANTHROP 3P03 Chapter Notes - Chapter 1-2: Alice Goffman, Erving Goffman, Craps

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Ellen Badone

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Reading Commentary: Prologue, Preface, Introduction, Chapters 1, 2 in On the
The prologue shows how quickly a life can change or even end. The author, Alice
Goffman begins the prologue by how Mike, Chuck, and Alex were engaging in rather normal
activities; gaming (craps), and making plans. The author proceeds to crosscut this scene with one
of vivid imagery where Mike and Alice were racing to meet Alex after he called Mike due to
receiving a gruesome beating. According to Goffman, Alex still talks with a lisp and cannot
breathe properly as a result of not going to a hospital, to avoid being arrested for breaking his
probation. What was shocking is how one minute life change in the blink of an eye, for Alex, I
would say his life was definitely changed, as a result of being mistaken for someone else. I
would want to know if Alex tried to find out why he was beaten from the attacker. Did he try to
find out if he was the intended target, and if he knew he was not, was he protecting his brother?
In the preface the author starts out with the shocking and contrasting statistics of
incarcerated Black males compared with Caucasian males, which was contrasted with the overall
prison and United States population. Goffman continues with what her ‘book’ is about and how
she came to meet Mike, Alex, and Chuck as well as her introduction to the world that would
become her ethnography. I was wondering why the author did not include more statistics;
especially to the neighbourhood she was studying.
The introduction is self-explanatory in that it serves as a transition from the preface and
prologue to introducing the reader to a further background on one of the major themes of the
ethnography; the war on drugs. Goffman starts with how Black Americans achieved full rights
only for the rights to be ‘impaired’ due to the war on drugs that started in the 1970s and rose
drastically in the 1980s. She goes on to explore 6th Street, which despite not being ‘the worst of
the worst’, still faced the drug and crime policies that criminalized even the smallest ‘illegal’
activities that rich Caucasians or Caucasians living in ‘safer’ neighbourhoods could get away
with. At least this is the impression that Goffman gives off in the introduction. If read between
the lines, it appears as if the residents of 6th Street, mainly the Black male residents are destined
to being imprisoned at least once, being constantly carded, and destined to living under constant
suspicion of criminal activities by the police. In my opinion, this cloud that hangs over Black
males especially on 6th Street is destructive and counterproductive; it provides constant
suspicion, which leads to being carded, and even arrest, which lead to fines and warrants, and
further crime which destroys reputations and creates lives of crime.
In the first chapter, Goffman shows how you cannot judge a book by its cover; how
someone and their life can appear one way but be completely different. Chuck was arrested and
seen as a criminal by the police officers, inmates, and people on the street, yet even in jail, he
tried to be a father figure for his youngest brother Tim, despite their mother being an addict, and
the boys working with local drug dealers. Mike, Chuck’s friend began his life of crime after
being arrested for carrying a small amount of marijuana, only after the police insisted on a body
search. This could be applied to a larger context for Black males; they get arrested because the
police believe they have a cause to stop and search them, which at times could be racial
profiling. This chapter also serves to introduce new ‘characters’ including Ronny, Alex, and
Anthony, as well as to show the fear that Black men on 6th Street live in. I felt that the author
should have used more dialogue between characters to the reader connect with more intense and
personal moments.
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