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Carwash Identity: an Ethnographic Exploration of Space and Identity in South Dallas

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Submitted By elishao
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On any given day a number of individuals travel to and through the South Dallas area where this initial research project took place. Many visitors to the area often stop at the few remaining mom-and-pop restaurants for a greasy cheeseburger, link, or fish basket where several of the public characters that took part in this research hustle for money to buy that day’s beverage, blunt, or bed. The participants in this research are constantly in the public’s eye. Their identities are not secret and often the ways in which they engage in informal economy are well known as well.
A select few of these individuals have participated in city meetings that are televised. Other anthropologists, sociologists, and curious academics have examined the decline of this southern sector of Dallas for one reason or another. Newspaper reporters and other media groups have often completed editorial pieces on this community and its residents (housed and un-housed). Identities are often made public; however, anonymity in regards to person or place is very much a component to this research in accordance with the anthropological guidelines of human subject protection. A pseudonym has been provided for each individual and place of business that participated in this research.

Society is not a mere sum of individuals. Rather, the system formed by their association represents a specific reality which has its own characteristics... The group thinks, feels, and acts quite differently from the way in which its members would were they isolated. If, then, we begin with the individual, we shall be able to understand nothing of what takes place in the group. -Ėmile Durkheim (1895)
Anthropology as a discipline makes important contributions to academic scholarship and research. The anthropological importance of this research is to examine the construction of individual and group identity associated with street corner space and to move the focus on the individual out of a category that has been socio-economically racialized and pathologized, placing the focus in a culturally relevant paradigm. This paper utilizes NSF research conducted in a large metropolitan city. Through participant observation, interviews, and social mapping techniques, the ways in which this marginalized population constructed a community around a carwash at the corner of a busy intersection is explored. This carwash not only serves as their place of employment in the day but also serves as a home for a select few during the night. For the sake of this paper, the term homeless will not be used. “Homeless” is a descriptive term that is often ascribed to individuals in a pathological sense. The use of this term can place these individuals into a category that creates difference and further marginalizes this group of people. It creates a type of structural violence that stigmatizes and pathologizes these public characters. The term “un-housed” will be used in place of homeless.
Public characters are defined as individuals who are highly visible parts of the community. In this case, the public characters are public characters who make up a community that is completely based on their ascribed and enacted identities. Membership in this community is exclusionary. Duneier indicates that the men and women who live and work on the streets share commonalities and that the street is a habitat that sustains their minimal existence (Duneir 1999:153). It is these commonalities that have made this a community that is exclusive; yet, at times there are brief lapses that allow others to be included within the community temporarily (Oliver 2009).
The purpose of this research was to concentrate on a metropolitan neighborhood of African-American Adults that consistently congregate at an area carwash with three underlying goals: (1) to develop an understanding of how public characters form and imagine their community (2) examines the ways in which space is used in the formation of community and (3) explore the various ways identity is performed by the public character. The dominant research question examines the meaning and function of the carwash as it pertains to identity and group membership.
This research offers important information and insight regarding a group that has often been categorized as sub-altern. The interests in this paper are derived from the ways in which implicit and explicit structural violence impacts community formation in public spaces and the role that spaces contribute to the identity of the denizens at the carwash.
In order to address these questions, a secondary analysis of previous work based on public characters at a self-service carwash in a metropolitan area was performed. The carwash is located at a busy thoroughfare that leads to a very popular fairground location. This has recently become an area of great interest from local government and business developers.
This research is not intended to sensationalize, fetishize, or exoticize a group of people marginalized as a result of their socio-economic status, race, or health conditions. Rather, this research describes the means by which public characters exist within a public space that reinforces their identities. It also briefly examines the much larger authority structures and the practices used to bind these individuals within a bounded area. Why do public characters perform varying identities to be included in the carwash community? How do they define the spaces, more specifically the carwash where they sell their goods and services, live, and socialize as a community (imagined and real)? How is the larger community impacted from the presence of the public character? With these questions in mind, we must get to know the public character and the carwash intimately. In the same way, we must understand their relationship with the carwash, and as a result, we can come to understand these individuals as a community.
Contributing to the current discourse and opening up a platform for future dialogue regarding identities of the un-housed and the role of space in communities are two of the more obvious ways in which this research contributes to the discipline of anthropology. In terms of the anthropological contributions specifically associated with identity, this research will provide a new lens from which to view identity and community related to space. Substantial and new contributions to the lines of inquiry regarding the various meanings and implications of community as a concept can be made through a secondary-analysis of existing literature and past research. At a later date, through continued mixed-method research that encompasses participant observation, collection of life histories and narratives the importance of community related to space and the powerful undertones of bio-politics and structural violence can be further explored.
The collection and analysis of data from the above mentioned methods can aide in the understanding of identity and community as dynamic and contextual, evolving, and adaptive. This anthropological understanding can result in the facilitation and implementation of various action oriented plans that influence policy, relying greatly on applied and action anthropology. These methods and contributions as they relate to the research of this paper are heavily situated within my personal research, both past and present.
Literature Review
The Public Character and the Carwash
Jane Jacobs identified public characters as “anyone who is in frequent contact with a wide circle of people” (Jacobs 1961:68). They were the eyes and ears of the community. The Public Character that Jacobs speaks about it is not the same type of public character that works, socializes and resides at the car wash but they share similar beliefs and ideas that surround this unusual space of imagined community. They believe that their previous historical memories, lived experiences, and second-hand associations (whether they know an individual or not) binds them to one another. They are more than what the eye sees. They are weaved into the fabric of society. They have an investment in the community and more specifically in the spaces where they work, socialize, and live. This investment is displayed in their attempts to maintain a decent and family-friendly environment at the carwash.
To paraphrase Elijah Anderson, “the black middle class has moved away from the inner city ghetto but decency, propriety, hard work, and perseverance remain (Anderson 1992:59).” While the South Dallas public character may not fit into the social stratification of “middle class”, this statement by Anderson personifies their character. They are committed to keeping their spaces respectable so that they continue to be communities of solidarity. In my original research I discussed that the commitment that the public characer has made to the carwash is in danger of being erased. It is not visualized from the casual observer as a community. It, the carwash, is not interpreted as a space that shapes identity and forms and reinforces lasting community bonds. This space is viewed and interpreted as a racialized and pathologized place of informal economy. In comparison with the plaza space in the article “Spatializing Culture,” the practices of informal economy in open-air spaces “lend to the perception” that these places are “unsafe” and “unpleasant” (Low1996:874). This is the perception held by many local government officials and residents that reside outside of this immediate area in Dallas. These perceptions fuel the controversy surrounding the Trinity River Corridor Project.
Threatened Space
The purpose of this project is neighborhood revitalization, tourism development, and the demolition of all places that contribute to “loitering”. This would include prohibiting socialization at the carwash. Many at the carwash fear that their community would be destroyed. The carwash serves as a space of significance and importance. It is a complex and contested space. According to members of this community, the destruction of the carwash would destroy a “piece of themselves.” Group members indicated that the carwash is a space steeped deep in tradition and culture for African-Americans in the southern sector of Dallas. History has shown that urban development moves geographic margins and boundaries and often leads to gentrification. P.A. Redfern (2003) argues that gentrification manifests itself in difference (Redfern 2003: 2359). As a result the difference in class status between these individuals in the carwash community and the outliers outside of the area are greatly illuminated. The public character’s social, economic, and cultural capital is challenged and compartmentalized via a mainstream upper class framework. This is not to say that all development is detrimental; however, it creates a larger class division among outsiders and the carwash community as well as reinforces the concerns regarding the metaphorical polluting of sacred space. Mary Douglas (1966/1965: 95-114) indicates that a particular danger attaches to those that cross boundaries that should not be crossed. In essence, they become polluting. The carwash community visualizes those seeking to revitalize and develop tourism as polluting forces that seek to destroy connections to their cultural life-ways. It threatens the imagined community constructed by the individuals at the carwash.
Imagined Communities
The notion of Imagined Communities is based on a concept derived by Benedict Anderson. Anderson (2006) suggests that national identity is constructed by members of a community sharing a common bond. This is the bond of nationality. Anderson indicates that this bond is steeped deep in the thoughts of individuals who are convinced they share the same attitudes regarding politics, religion, freedoms, and many other beliefs. While the focus of this paper is not aimed at a nation, it is focused on a type of marginalized “imagined community” that has been constructed by individuals, housed and un-housed, that shares a space at a carwash that share the same beliefs and attitudes regarding their identities, beliefs about local and national politics, and attitudes regarding many of the health disparities that are common among this population. This is an imagined community. “ It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion (Anderson 2006:6). They do not claim to know each and every individual that congregates at the wash; however, what they claim is the same cultural roots, the same lived experience and historical memories as the other. The following vignette from Mitchell Duneier’s work, “Slim’s Table,” illustrates the ways in which Anderson’s notion of imagined communities exists in spaces of congregation:
“Even more common were situations in which men would enter Wendy’s and, in the process of searching for friends, say hello to patrons from the cafeteria they had never greeted before. Or people who hadn’t addressed each other in the past would stand outside Valois together engaging in running commentary on the construction that was taking place inside (Mitchell Duneier 1994: 89).”
Anderson (2006) argues that communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined. Imagining that one has experienced a set of circumstances similar to one’s own often leads to statements such as this when describing persons within the social networks at the carwash: “I don’t know him personally but I hear his momma used to live on “such and such” street and everybody that lived on street had to put up with shit from the police. I don’t need to know him personally… that’s good enough for me” or “ Naw, I don’t know him but my “T-jones” (mother) say he was hurt in the army jus’ like me…we alike, you know?”
Language and Identity
Idioms like these suggest that space is significant in regards to the ways in which individuals identify one another within the carwash community. These idioms are significant ways in which identity is shared among the public characters at the carwash. At the carwash interactions between individuals occur in a language that has very specific registers for this group. These speech registers indicate an identity that is specific to the wash. This is a language that represents their beliefs and values.
Duranti (2004, 2006) indicates that members of speech communities can shape their discursive practices to represent their beliefs and values. This is evident within this population. These speech registers or ways in which the individuals at the wash communicate directly reflect the shared bond that Anderson indicates is characteristic of an imagined community. According to Jennifer Daily-O’Cain and Grit Liebscher (2011), language attitudes, after all (and language ideologies as their counterparts in wider society), do not occur in a vacuum in individual speakers’ minds, but are created and perpetuated through interaction as a part of socialization Daily-O’Cain and Liebsher 2011:93). Interactions and socialization are critical components of shared carwash identity. The importance of these components is best expressed from the individual. The following narratives provide a glimpse of the ways in which space, the carwash, influences and impacts individual identity.
An Ethnography of Space space, noun, verb I. the unlimited or incalculably great three-dimensional realm or expanse in which all material objects are located and all events occur.
II. the portion or extent of this in a given instance; extent or room in three dimensions: the space occupied by a body.
III. extent or area in two dimensions; a particular extent of surface: to fill out blank spaces in a document.
More than most social worlds, perhaps, the street corner world takes its shape and color from the structure and character of the face-to-face relationships of the people who live in it. -Elliot Liebow “I’ve been comin’ here since I was a boy. My momma useta sell fish and chicken baskets to the folks comin’ out the clubs. It was a good time then. Folks getting’ along and such, havin’ a good time. Things change though, things change (sighing heavily). The community ain’t the same no more but we still got the wash (smiling).” – Melvin (2009) “This is our spot….our space.”
On a warm Saturday morning in June, two men are seated on white plastic buckets in the back of a South Dallas carwash. A chess board rest on a gray plastic crate positioned between them. They are talking “noise,” an expression from Black English vernacular, meaning talking loudly and cajoling with one another over the next move. A worn large push-broom, that wears signs of repeated use, lies on the cement beside one of the men. A dust pan than has been crafted from a piece of cardboard and gray electrical tape rest on the rectangular cement casing that houses one of the machines used to vacuum out cars.
Joe, one of the men playing chess, is dressed in blue-jean farmer overalls. Gray pants peak beneath the overall legs. He is wearing a long-sleeve plaid red and black flannel shirt with a white t-shirt underneath. This is odd for a warm summer morning in Texas. A black knit hat is pulled snuggly over his head and rest just above his brow. Fishing boots encase his feet. His hands and face are weathered like chocolate brown leather but there is softness in his hazel eyes. Joe is fifty-three years old and has lived in the southern sector of Dallas all of his life except for a brief stint in the military. Joe lives at the car wash seventy- percent of the time. He is un-housed and has shared, that he battles continuously with post-traumatic stress disorder, diabetes, and alcoholism. He indicates that these are the terms of the man (white government doctors); however, to him he just has nerves, sugar, and a problem with the drink.
Tony T. is the other man playing chess. He is dressed in a plain white t-shirt and blue jean shorts that come to his knees. They are crisply starched and without blemish. He has on white leather tennis-shoes. He has beautiful creamy dark blue-black skin. A large crescent moon shaped scar extends from his right eye to the right corner of his mouth. It was a “battle scar” received at the hands of his mother he would later tell me. Tony T. has bright eyes and a gleaming smile that is comforting. He is in his late forty’s but refuses to give me an exact age. “I’m old enough to know better, Miss Lady,” he always tells me when I make attempts to convince him to reveal his true age. He often goes between being un-housed and housed due to his self-identified problems with alcohol. These aren’t the only two individuals at the carwash on this morning.
There is a man sleeping in one of the bays. A small dirty pillow rest under his head and the only covering he has are his clothes. His shirt is only half-buttoned and incorrectly so. His chest reveals a series of keloid braided type scars that suggest that he has experienced some traumatic event during his life. His plaid yellow and black pants are dingy with what resembles soot and he is fast asleep wearing tennis shoes that have long since been worn out. A woman is sleeping in an adjacent bay. Her name is Annie-mae.
Annie-mae is sleeping in a sitting position with her back resting against the brick divider of the bay. On first glance, it would be difficult to discern that Annie-mae is a woman. She is dressed in black jeans and a Dallas Maverick t-shirt. Black flip-flops cover her feet and a purple baseball cap, advertising Royal Crown liquor is pulled tightly over her head, hiding her eyes. A worn paperback book, Addicted, by Zane rests in her lap. Several plastic yellow Dollar General and white Wal-Mart bags containing clothes, and a number of other items surround her. The scent of sex, urine, and alcohol are overwhelming as I pass the bay in which she sleeps. These are the individuals that have spent the night at the wash (carwash). More would soon be on their way.
Individuals would soon arrive by foot, bike, and car to become an organic component of the carwash space. Chess games would be played, link baskets would be shared and eaten, drinks would be passed around, and several members of this small carwash community would eventually engage in some form of informal economy. “This is our spot, our space in Sunny South Dallas,” I would be told when I asked what drew these individuals to the wash. Social networks and a sense of community would be identifiable even both to the trained and novice observer.
Research Design
The purpose of this research is to (1) develop an understanding of how street vendors regulate public spaces in their effort to produce income and create life-sustaining places and (2) identify factors influencing the need for informal economy in a public space. This research identifies the political and economic factors that contribute to the informal economy of this area and examines the social hierarchies of the public spaces.
Beginning in July 2009, I spent several weeks observing public characters in open-air spaces in Southern Dallas on varying days and at different times of the day and night. On two occasions, an overnight stay occurred. Participant observation took place for up to eight hours per day (with varying hours), four times a week for an initial two month period, for an initial total of 512 hours of observation. These led to recorded individual interviews that encompassed spatial, cognitive, and social network mapping exercises. As this project has continued, less time has and is currently being spent at the research site.
Private, face-to-face interviews with individual members of the carwash community were conducted throughout the two-month observation period. The interviews were conducted in a public place that ensured the participant’s privacy, such as a private office at a nearby community center and local church. The interviews were usually conducted in the morning before the usual time of migration to the carwash. I did not conduct the interview if the participant appeared to be having a psychotic episode, heavily intoxicated, or “high.” Data were also collected formally and informally from adult family and neighborhood members and formal community members through casual conversation that occurred during the observation period, structured interviews, or attendance at community (both the carwash and city of Dallas) events. One example of these naturally occurring opportunities was the “going home” celebration for a former carwash community member that I attended. This event was held at a local “hole-in-the-wall” club. All field notes and qualitative data were transcribed and open and focused coded to establish patterns, themes, and behaviors.
Presentation and Analysis of Data
I will examine first the carwash space as a space of community and identity. This space is a crucial element in the life of the public character. Next, I will look at the code at the carwash. A brief exploration of informal codes and unwritten rules transitions the focus of the findings to the public character and identity. I will examine the role of the public character as a regulator of community space. Finally, I will examine the ways that space is controlled at the carwash.

“Small urban spaces are priceless and the city street is the river of life…where we come together-the pathway to the center.” – William Whyte

This quote from William Whyte exemplifies the importance of urban space in the lives of both the public character and those interactions he has with others. Public characters are the visible men and women who socialize, work, and live in the public spaces of the community. They are those individuals that appear to be un-housed. They sell a variety of goods and services to provide for their daily needs. This research was conducted in an extremely marginalized at-risk area of what I shall call Trinity in South Dallas. This is an area that geographically is juxtaposed to an area whose population is not marginalized, considered the bourgeois of Dallas, and is rich in social capital. This is an area that I recognized, contradictorily, as both new and familiar when I began my fieldwork. It was an area that I had visited often as a child. I spent much of my youth fifteen minutes south from Trinity. As a young girl, my mother and father would regularly bring my sister and I to this area to pick up plates of soul food from one of the area restaurants or to attend the State Fair located in the Trinity area.
After the early to mid-1970’s, this area, like a many others in Dallas, has become transformed into an area of informal economy, poverty, and extreme socio-political marginalization. The most prominent and graphic indicator of the transformative process with which the social, political, and economic climate has changed comes from a recent report from the City of Dallas that details the continuous decline of this once historically and culturally rich area of Dallas.
The King, a small strip of spaces that share the same channel as the carwash is lined with liquor stores and a few small mom-and-pop restaurants. There are also tobacco stores stocked with single as well cigarettes, packs and cartons of cigarettes, cigarillos and cigars, rolling papers, loose tobacco, incense, lighters, and matches for sale. The office for the Nation of Islam, hole-in-the-wall clubs, a hormone therapy clinic, convalescent center, and the historic Wood Theater also sit on this street. As in most marginalized and poverty stricken neighborhoods, grocery stores, major market chains, banks, health care facilities and service providers, healthy food restaurants, and are noticeably absent along this corridor (Oliver 2009).
By day residents of this community walk along the sidewalks that skirt this busy street with only the intent of getting from point A to point B. At other times, their intent is purposed and often involves performing some form of transaction. At night the shops and sidewalks are mostly vacant except for the bars and the areas that are homes to the un-housed. Those that are un-housed are looking for a place to lay their head or are returning to their familiar and usual spot of rest.
Trinity remains one of the most poverty stricken areas of Dallas despite drawing several millions in revenue each year to the fair and being less than five minutes away from High Place, one of the wealthiest areas in Dallas. Well established landmarks once outlined Trinity, but by the early 1980’s, the boundaries around this culturally rich neighborhood known for jazz, blues, down-home Southern food, and affluent African-American churches, had become increasingly effusive as residents and business owners expanded outward east and north to nearby areas. Frequent incidents of crime, drugs, prostitution, and lack of commerce forced many of the residents to take refuge in nearby neighborhoods. Those that were left or selected to remain in the area began to adapt to their changing environment. Those families and individuals that left Trinity visit their friends and relatives that remained in the area. They worship at the remaining churches and when they are looking for a “great deal” on merchandise they frequent the carwash.
The Trinity area provides an advantageous and culturally rich research site for examining community and identity because it has been and continues to be in a constant state of change. Although affluent Jewish families and later affluent African-American families populated this area in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, it was not these individuals who experienced the greatest community change. It was the arrival of the working class in the late 1960’s when a significant change was first recognized. As a culturally rich community that has undergone such drastic transformation over the last fifty years, Trinity provided and provides an ideal vantage point for developing an understanding of the ongoing community shifts and changes as they relate to power, agency and identity.
Informal Economy, Identity, and Attitudes
“I have to sell to whatever I can get my hands on to survive.” – Lennell (2009)
The carwash spaces these individuals utilize to sell their merchandise provides an apparatus that assists them in sustaining the basic daily needs of their lives. The city streets and the spaces that define them such as the carwash are not only areas for provision but communities that value their spaces. Residents who value space for its use value - sentiment, neighborliness, daily round often develop self-conscious strategies to resist the growth machine and its exclusive priority on exchange value (Williams 2008:32). The marginalized population of my research site is viewed as the “other” through the privileged lens of those residing outside of this area. A report for the Mayor’s Southern Dallas Task Force shows that area representatives and council members believes that South Dallas can be revitalized and is a prime urban space for tourism if panhandling and all the other forms of informal economy are eradicated. They believe that this change is crucial in saving the community. The individuals at the carwash feel differently.

“You know them folks don’t care nothing bout no niggas like us and I ain’t just talkin bout them White folks either. They’se got some niggas don’t care none either. Just gone let them water things break like Katrina. I know you heard about that. They ain’t about nobody but them –just some educated fools don’t give a damn about me or anyone else but they pocketbook. Folk ain’t never had to hustle a day to make it. Plenty of food…plenty of money.”
Joe B. 2009 The beliefs and attitudes of the privileged differ greatly from those living in this gray area of Dallas and do not often see these individuals as public characters but as deviant merchants of trade. The carwash community members sees themselves as public characters looking out for the community they love and making a living the best way they know how. Former residents from the southern sector of Dallas have a different view of these individuals.

“It used to be a wonderful area. My great-grandfather built a house for my great-grandmother there. Stanley Marcus of the Neiman-Marcus Empire grew up there. Now it’s just a place for prostitutes, zombies-you know lifeless crackheads, and pan-handlers. I wouldn’t live there if I had to. Hopefully, the Trinity project breathes changes it to the way it used to be.”
Ann 2009
Code of the Carwash
While there is no formal code of space regulation unwritten rules exist. The regulation of these spatial arenas is of enforced by the public character. I met Green on a morning of observation at a known area of informal economy in Southern Dallas. He was engaged in a chess game. I heard what appeared to be arguing but realized quickly that an intense game of chess had just ended. I walked to the back and enthusiastically took interest in the game that had just ended. I was cordially invited to sit down and take part in a game with Green. He is the prominent chess champion of the carwash. He became a key informant for this research.
Green is an African-American male that refused to reveal his age. He has a self-admitted alcohol abuse problem and is a Vietnam veteran. He has often had to sleep in the very carwash for which he is the care-taker. He is the “go-to guy” for anyone interested in occupying a space at the carwash to sell their goods or services. He is the gate-keeper for this community and often serves in a variety of capacities. He does not self-identify as an un-housed person. He indicates that his identity is that of a resident of a community that “has long since been forgotten.”
This carwash is a prominent economic producing space. Green explained how space is defined, occupied, and regulated to make insure equal distribution. The statement made by Green provides insight into the importance of egalitarian space regulation for this community.
“You can’t just come down here and start selling stuff or spending the night. You know? I mean you have to ask around. Even if you was somebody’s kinfolk, there’s still rules. You may be trying to set-up shop in somebody’s spot…you know their home. Look at it like this. If somebody came to your home trying to set-up, you’d be pissed. You got to ask around. Each place usually has a caretaker like me. You know. I’m the eyes and ears of the wash. I can tell you where you can sell and where you can’t…where you can sleep and where you can’t….where you can shit and where you can’t ….scuse my French, Miss Lady, but this place is a place for regulars. You know, people who been here a while……people with ties to the community. They the ones usually get to sell here, sleep here, and stuff. Now, there are other places down the street and in different lots and stuff that anybody can grab. This is all most of us got. There ain’t no real jobs down here so we have to sell what we can sell. If we don’t have a home the wash becomes one and for some of us that do, well, the wash is better than that (the “real” home-you know?) That’s the only way most of us can survive.” In a way we been conditioned in one way or another.
-Green 2009
Nicknames and Identity
Public characters often go by nicknames according to their appearance, stature, or the types of merchandise or services they offer at the carwash. The nickname becomes their identity. Their identity constitutes the ways in which space is regulated and occupied. Earlier in this paper we met Green. He is known as “care-taker” on the streets and at the carwash. His duties are to make sure that everything runs smoothly and is kept clean. He also arrives early each morning, when he hasn’t slept at the wash, for one reason or another, to make sure that those that live at the carwash survived the night.

“Care-taker looks after this place. He make sure everything be just right.”
Al 2009.
During my time at the carwash, I became known as “Miss Lady” or “School Girl.” The individuals at the carwash explained that my presentation of self, informed this ascription.
Ascription, Proscription, and Prescription
Ascribe, verb (used with an object)
I. to credit or assign, as to a cause or source; attribute; impute.
II. to attribute or think of as belonging, as a quality or characteristic.
Proscribe, verb (used with an object)
I. to denounce or condemn (a thing) as dangerous or harmful; prohibit.
II. to put outside the protection of the law; outlaw.
III. to banish or exile.
IV. to announce the name of (a person) as condemned to death and subject to confiscation of property.
Prescribe, verb (used with an object)
I. to lay down, in writing or otherwise, as a rule or a course of action to be followed; appoint, ordain, or enjoin.
II. Medicine/Medical . to designate or order the use of (a medicine, remedy, treatment, etc.).
(used without an object)
III. to lay down rules; direct; dictate.
IV. Medicine/Medical . to designate remedies, treatment, etc., to be used.
V. Law . to claim a right or title by virtue of long use and enjoyment; make a prescriptive claim. (usually followed by for or to ).
The carwash space is powerful in the sense that the public characters that migrate to these spaces ascribe social meaning to this space which in turn leads to the proscription and prescription of their identity. Public characters ascribe importance to the carwash. The carwash embodies the individual. The outsider or casual observer has proscribed identity to both the carwash as a space and the individual that occupies the space. Researchers and scholars have prescribed, through discourse and scholarship and through the construction of categories an identity that is often racialized and pathologized.
The Study Participants and the Observer
The individuals that participated in this study live in the well-kept historic homes of this neighborhood, on the streets of this neighborhood and in dilapidated homes and apartments on the surrounding streets. Those that reside in these less than idea homes are at the will and command of their landlords. The landlords are less than corrigible; don’t often fix problems such as heating and air conditioning, plumbing, or pest infestations in a timely and efficient manner.
Despite the various living conditions many of these individuals consider themselves fortunate to have a community in which they can participate fully. For the purpose of this paper participation refers to the ways in which individuals communicate and interact with one another. It is also the ways in which they identify themselves and others in their social networks. It is the ways in which they communicate with one another to those they live along side of and to those that are outsiders. Blommaert (2005) suggests that people speak from a place. She further indicates that given the deep connections between forms of language and particular places, the use of specific varieties sets people in a particular social and or physical place and conveys the attributive qualities of that place to what they say. This was evident as I became more engaged in conversations with my participants. They would often switch from standard varieties of talk into a more regional marked variety of conversation based on their comfort level with the topics being discussed that were associated with the carwash as a space.
In soliciting participants for this research, I had determined that I would select residents that were diverse in backgrounds, status, and gender but sharing a common thread that ties them to the carwash community. Many respondents have resided in this community from birth. All of the twenty-eight men and women that took part in this study reside in the Trinity community and have familial ties that either rooted them here or as one participant indicated, “brought them back home to roost” (Miss Tiny 2009, 2011).
When I met them, most of these men and women were engaging in some form of informal economy to either supplement their income or serve as the primary source of income for their families. Six of the participants did not engage in any type of informal economy but often enlisted the domestic services of a small sample of the participants that did. These are some of the people commonly described, in Trinity vernacular, as “Burgeoisie Negroes, highfalutin, or Uppity Niggas.” It was surprising to learn that these terms of classification that were used in the 1960’s were still in use in 2011.
Initially, I recruited study participants by “hanging out” at the carwash and engaging in games of chess by the vacuum cleaner stations. Eventually, as I built rapport I began to ask those individuals who I spent many hours with for names of others who might be willing to participate in the study. I was well aware of the fact that utilizing this snowball technique would more than likely lend itself to a homogenous participant group; however, it did not. My participants were diverse in many ways. Eventually, I was welcomed into the community and invited to a variety of celebrations and into their homes. I was protected by the wash caretakers when I opted to spend the night, dozing (not fully sleeping) in a hard plastic lawn chair.
This research has produced astonishing revelations. There is a powerful continuum between the individual and space. This is a space that is occupied by a racialized and pathologized body. Foucault (1995:2) posits that power has its principle not so much in a person as in a concerted distribution of bodies, surfaces, lights, gazes; in an arrangement whose internal mechanisms produce the relation in which individuals are caught up. The carwash space is a link between human geography and identity. Soja (1989:11) suggests that Human geography has emphasized the link between space and identity. The concept of a “sense of place” focuses on how human understanding and experience of space are what make it meaningful, while the meanings of spatial experience are simultaneously the basis of self-understanding or identity.
It was discovered that many public characters suffer from a series of illnesses that prevent them from obtaining formal employment. Many haven’t worked in years and this is also a preventative mechanism for formal employment. Some members of the carwash community are relying strongly on the carwash as a means to make money to provide for their daily needs; therefore, the carwash space takes on an even greater meaning in that it serves as a space of sustainability and subsistence. The carwash serves not only as a community space but as a “cover” for the multifarious forms of informal economy that take place. To the untrained observer, it would appear that people are washing and detailing cars while visiting with friends, they’re sharing link baskets and beers over games of chess, and dancing along the fence, a boundary that separates this community from the greater whole, that surrounds the perimeter of the carwash however, in all actuality economic exchange is taking place. This type of activity is against the law in the city of Dallas and several signs that read of police surveillance are posted on the telephone poles surrounding the carwash. This is the new type of implied panoptican designed by city government that lends itself to future research regarding notions of structural violence and bio-power. Regulation of the public character is often a forceful enforcement made by city government. Power in these spaces is both implicit and explicit. The type of power constructed by both the public character and the city official, as Foucault suggests:
“ it must be understood in the first instance as the multiplicity of force relations immanent in the sphere in which they operate and which constitute their own organization; as the process which, through ceaseless struggles and confrontations, transforms, strengthens, or reverses them; as the support which these force relations find in on another, thus forming a chain or a system, or on the contrary, the disjunctions and contradictions which isolate them from one another; and lastly, as the strategies in which they take effect, whose general design or institutional crystallization is embodied in the state apparatus, in the formulation of the law, in the various social hegemonies” ( Foucault 1990: 92-93). The public character is constantly faced with struggles and confrontations both in and outside of their social network. Projects designed to force individuals to comply with city rules and regulations in which they lack knowledge endanger their notion of community; however, they continue to use their skill-sets to produce mechanisms needed to sustain their lives and provide a sense of support for other community members. These mechanisms are often disregarded and frowned upon by the systems of authority in local government. The city believes that through appropriate methods of enforcement, public characters and residents can be shaped and molded into model citizens. One of the first proposed methods of enforcement is to place cameras in the areas surrounding fairgrounds and to demolish any structures that may prohibit or limit surveillance. This is to reassure tourist that measures have been taken to protect their safety. This new form of the panoptican also serves as a deterrent for loitering. The proposed city regulations will undoubtedly affect the carwash community; however, there is much to be learned about the sense of community and identity when exploring marginal spaces.
Bell Hooks (1990) writes in regards to the Katrina catastrophe, that there is recognition of space, which has been delegated to the margins in social interaction, as a location of insight and power. Antoinette Jackson (2011) reinforces this argument by Hooks. She posits that much can be learned from internally displaced persons and the spaces they occupy, both social and geographical (Jackson 2011: 6). As researchers and scholars we must be weary of the categories in which construct when examining individuals and the ways in which they participate in their communities. David Valentine (2007) posits that “we need to attend to differences beyond identity categories or the categories we use to describe the experiences which underpin them (Valentine 2007: 249).”
Many applied anthropologist use their skill-sets to not only contribute to academic discourse but to use methods and theories to solve problems and issues with the intent of activism. More research needs to be conducted in this area of Dallas. Complete explorations of the role of open-air spaces, such as the carwash and the ways in which personal and historical meaning and importance is attached to this space should be examined. This under-taking would provide tools to create a dialog between city leaders, developers, and residents of the community. Valentine (2007) suggests that anthropologists have strong ethical obligations-both in their interactions with their study participants and in presenting their findings-to work against the local realities of violence, discrimination, and suffering that they witness (Valentine 2007:247).
It is my intent to conduct further research based on the concepts presented in this paper. My interest in those residing in the southern sector of Dallas is situated in my interest in urban socio-cultural and medical anthropology. Initially, it was this interest that prompted me to conduct a research study of housed and un-housed public characters and the ways in which they regulate their space at the carwash to maximize sustainability and subsistence. Through this research my interest expanded to include health disparity issues of the African-American homeless population, discourse analysis, and issues of identity related to space.

Interview Questions
Public characters
Street Vendor Terminology and Experience
1. How do you refer to or identify yourself?
2. How do you refer to or identify the carwash?
3. I’m interested in what brought you to the carwash. Can you explain why you congregate at the carwash?
4. What does the carwash mean to you?
5. Do you consider yourself homeless?
6. Could you describe a typical day at the carwash?
7. Could you draw a map of the spaces occupied at the carwash and explain to me what it’s like?
8. What are all the different ways you make money at the carwash?
9. What is the average amount of money you make in a day?
10. Can you explain all the terms that are used to identify individuals that either are regulars or patrons at the carwash?
11. You have probably had some interesting experiences on the street. Can you tell me about some of them?
12. Are there different types of space at the carwash?
13. How do you refer to the space at the carwash?
14. How do regulars at the carwash decide who gets to participate in the carwash networks?
15. Is there a system of who is in charge among carwash regulars?
16. Who decides who is in charge and how is it decided?
17. Is there a process for determining who gets what space?
18. Can you explain the ways for getting street/carwash space?
19. How is space shared among public characters or those who congregate at the carwash?
20. Are there ever any problems at the carwash? If so, describe the type of problem and how it handled.
21. If there were any “beefs” between individuals at the carwash how would they be handled?

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