“Take Me to the Water” - Community and Renewal among Aging Women: A Case Study of Social Interaction and Exercise among the “Polar Bears” of Martha’s Vineyard
Peters engages in participant observatory ethnographic field research in this case study. She investigates the Polar Bear group at Martha’s Vineyard. This group comprises middle-class, middle-aged and senior African American women. They are an all inclusive group dedicated to the development of spiritual, physical and emotional health in their community. Peters recognizes these atypical social and cultural values, and set out to investigate the way that these values differ from the stereotypical values the media exaggerates among African American communities.
I was not particularly charged or inspired to look deeper into this investigation for several reasons. Firstly, it is common sense that just because the media reinforces a certain stereotype, does not mean that such notions reflect reality. Secondly, poor health maintenance and lifestyle related diseases are conditions that are attributed to a larger degree to income level rather than race. It just happens to be the case that the majority of lower income families in the United States are minority groups such as American Americans.
I believe that in order for this study to be valid, Peters should have recognized to a larger degree that these women are middle-class. Their situation does not apply to the typical African American community. Nor are the practices that they engage in attainable for most working mothers. She could have also expanded her understanding of the family lives that these women lead. Are they married? Do they have children? What is a more accurate description of their standard of living? Are they upper-middle or lower-middle class?
This study could have benefited enormously from the application of visual research methods. Photographic visual aids could have enhanced the objectivity of this research by providing a means for Peters to reflect and more intelligently reconstruct the direction of her case study. It would also benefit the readership to have more visual documentation of the research to engage in critical evidence-based discussion, and refine a fact-based conclusion.
Peters often used evidence such as the following:
“At sunrise, in the morning, the salt air of the seemingly mystical-like isle blows across our faces. We come to the water. Outstretched hands guide us through rocky sand and mild waves to a circle of faith in cold healing water; a circle of love seems to envelop around us as we form a circle holding hands. Exercising at play, our outbursts of song and prayer are spontaneous and joyful. We are in another realm, and we are with our sisters (221).”
If Peters had photographic data of the events depicted in the previous quote, she might have been more aware of the situation she was analyzing. Maybe the oversized rocks poised on these lovely women’s hands or the Versace handbags waiting under the picnic table would have become more readily apparent. Either way, discussions and interviews with women about their experiences are not objective or even necessarily factual. It is really outstanding that Peters treated this ‘data’ as such.
The reality of this situation is that the Polar Bears are an outlying representation of the community that this research was supposed to impact. It is both unrealistic and sensational to suggest that the activities of this group could be applied to a working class family under current economic conditions. Not to mention that most low income, minority groups reside in inner city locations. Peters is entertaining a delusional fantasy, not conducting a study.