‘I Don’t Have a Project Mentality’. Stories of Crafting Life in the Context of Intersectional Stigmatization of Black Women Living in US Public Housing

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 18:30
Oral Presentation
Talja BLOKLAND, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, Germany
This paper asks how the stigma of public housing impacts the ways in which Black young mothers crafted their lives outside of a now demolished US housing project, addressing this question through ethnography. Much has changed since I conducted ethnographic fieldwork in a US public housing project in a small New England college town in the early 2000s, in how academia engages with studying intersectionality and marginalization and in how Black female experiences of racism and discrimination are publically discussed and perceived. This paper aims to highlight only one particular dimension of public housing stigmatization that brings together the intersection of housing stigma, race and gender, namely that which categorizes those with a ‘project mentality’ from those who lived in the projects but distinctively distanced themselves from this way of life. I explore how this idea was used in conversations of young Black female project residents, to what it referred, and how they constructed the notion in the context of the settings of marginalization they encounter when they are crafting their lives outside of the physical space of the projects. Similar to some categorizations also used by scholars between hoodlums and decent poor, these categorizations include aspects of behavior linked to violence, crime and ‘not doing the right thing’. However, I aim to show that an approach that orients on the women as agents crafting their urban lives rather than as subjects reacting to a stigma imposed requires us to rethink some of the standard understandings of stigmatization.