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'Racism Still Exists' Posters Part of a Study on Black Health

By Paul DeBenedetto | December 18, 2013 10:27am
 Provocative "Racism Still Exists" posters that ran from August through January were part of a study on black health.
Provocative "Racism Still Exists" posters that ran from August through January were part of a study on black health.
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DNAinfo/Paul DeBenedetto

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — A mysterious ad campaign about racism that popped up in Bed-Stuy last year was part of a study on the effects of bigotry on black health, the study's author has revealed.

The controversial posters, entitled "Racism Still Exists," started showing up on bus shelters in August 2012, first lambasting black representation in film with the line "Rewarding Black Women for Playing Servants for 73 Years."

More were posted over the next five more months with additional messages.

At a recent Brooklyn Community Board 3 meeting, the study's author, Dr. Naa Oyo A. Kwate of Rutgers University, revealed that the posters were part of "the Black Life Study."

"Researchers are increasingly looking at racism as a stresser that affects the body's physiology and, therefore, health outcomes," Kwate said.

Kwate surveyed black residents of Harlem and Bed-Stuy about their health before the six-part campaign, then measured their health outcomes after the campaign to look at whether or not health improved.

In addition to the poster about black people in film, Kwate's campaign targeted suspension rates for black youth at school, the marketing of unhealthy products in black neighborhoods, black-white wealth disparities and stop-and-frisk. Each poster included a brief explanation and a website URL with supporting essays and documentation.

Each of the ads was meant to attack the way racism affects people of color on a structural level, Kwate said.

"Typically, advertising in black neighborhoods has been shown to disproportionately contain toxic and harmful products and messages," Kwate said. "New Yorkers are subjected to harassment and arrest in retail settings under the premise that if they're black shoppers they couldn't possibly afford the luxury items that they're buying."

The results have not yet been peer reviewed or published, Kwate said, but in a powerpoint presentation, the professor revealed responses from anonymous survey-takers.

"When I go shopping, they follow you all around the store. They aren't looking at the white man stuffing his bags," read one testimonial.

"Often times going out, we have to wait extra time, or we get seated in places and we are thinking to ourselves, 'why do we have to sit here?'" read another.

The campaign also made an impact on social media, where photos on Twitter and Instagram were passed around.

"Wow this new ad campaign in bedstuy is bold as hell. But its true," read one comment from Instagram user classicbeatz.

The hope is that by the end of the study people will have a better understanding of the role racism plays in public health, Kwate said.

"We definitely continue to see racism," Kwate said.

"The goal here was to stimulate discussion and sort of give voice to the kinds of experiences that people face in the hope that that kind of discussion and consciousness raising could actually reduce the negative effects of racism on health."