This essay explores some social ramifications of two portraits of low-income African American New Orleanians that proliferated throughout the country since the arrival of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast. The dissemination of these portraits reveals much about America's cultural understandings of African Americans and urban poverty. Some recent ethnographic and qualitative-methodological work has striven to create new depictions of this constituency, but a divide persists between general-public readings of the African American urban poor and those of liberal-minded field researchers who have studied this population. This essay concludes with some reflection on issues concerning the potential for this research to bridge the divide, given the power of mainstream media outlets to construct and promote certain images of disadvantaged and disenfranchised social groups relative to the social power of academic scholarship to achieve the same end.
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